During the winter season of 2010, I painted and installed fences with constant splinters lodged into my girly hands.
“I'm sorry I'm not the son you wanted.”
Words I'd mumble to myself as I fell off my dad's old ladder while trying to reach the highest part of the home overhang with my brush. Bruises and cuts would form around my legs and arms, lasting for a good week or more until they too would fade away, just like my father's voice as he cursed my clumsiness.
“What if I were born a boy?”
A constant question lingering over me as my father had been hopeful for a son at the time of my birth. Yet he ended up with me, his second daughter of three, possibly another failure I saw in his eyes from time to time.
“This can't be my life. I'm not meant to do this forever.”
I was foolish to think that working with my father would only be temporary, transforming me on and off as the years passed by. My father was strong, showed no signs of slowing down with me at his side until spring of 2019 when I heard his final breaths of life. His dark, sunbaked skin faded alongside the color in his eyes as I wrapped my trembling hands around his thick calloused fingers, cold to the touch. I struggled to find air within my lungs as tears blurred my vision when he left my world.
The next few months were emotionally draining as I immersed myself in my art, anything to drown out his deep wheezing noise that lingered in my nightmares. With a family trip planned before his passing, I took this as a chance for me to clear my mind from my past and move forward to find my future. While walking to a nature trail in New Mexico, I witnessed my own reflection, captured in a young boy's face. Dark skinned, about fourteen, his gloves slipping as he carried a 4x10 board across the yard where a man, possibly his father, was waiting to screw it to a fence. My heart sank as I recognized his expression of struggle, though it also gave me answers. My father’s passing set me free, ended my old doubts so that I could finally live life the way I wanted.
All those relentless days working with my father taught me to be strong. With every slam of wood and aching shoulders, my tears softened to the point I would no longer cry over a small splinter, it was only minor, I could handle it now. Even if I wasn’t a boy, my father eventually considered me the son he never had. As I looked back into that young boy’s face, he became a man. I felt my father's spirit with me, letting me know that he, too, was free. Free from his own father's curse of staying in the same carpentry field he thought was temporary as a teen.
As I continue to move forward with my life, I see that all the struggles of my past were necessary for me to become the woman I am today. I’m finding my hidden strength to pull myself out of what I thought was the end of my life, and am instead opening a new chapter of what is to come. My future is still unknown, but for now I wish to focus on the present moments I have and know that whatever happens, happens. My father’s strength will always be inside of me and I know without a doubt he is watching, guiding and smiling down at me, whispering loving words in my mind, “Go find your own path in life. You're now free.”
Ash Nicole is a graduate of Lindenwood University’s MFA in writing program, and is a lover of fantasy fiction and spiritual writing. In addition to writing, she’s an avid painter and is now pursuing a lifelong dream of obtaining an art degree.