Letters From My Fathers
Autumn was upon the City. Bobby's favorite time of year. Crisp air in the mornings that invigorated him –energizing him for the workday, in contrast to the muggy summer mornings that seemed to stifle his breath and sap his strength. He loved taking weekend drives when the days were still warmed by the sun –warm enough to drop the ragtop on his car and meander along winding country roads, surrounded by the glory of nature's treetop display of blazing reds, oranges and yellows against the azure sky. On days like that he was happy to be alive.
But then, there were autumn days like today. Dreary days – rainy and raw, with a chill that seemed to seep deep down into his bones – his soul. He was glad to be home on this Friday night. Not that the workweek had been so bad, but he was tired and just wanted to relax.
He ate his Chinese take-out straight from the container, twisting ample amounts of lo mein around his fork and savoring the oriental spices and extra garlic sauce he'd requested tonight – something he never ordered when dining with Alex. Biting into his spring roll, he flipped through the TV channels and paused for a moment on "Crime TV." I think I've had enough of that this week he joked to himself. Before he could press the 'channel up' button, the narrator began speaking: "This week we delve into the mind of the serial killer…"
Bobby quickly hit the button, bringing his mind back to the safety of The Discovery Channel. Damn. As if I needed a reminder. Well, I guess there's no escaping, he acquiesced to his life situation and let it go.
Once he was done eating, there was little left to do. He tossed his fork into the sink and his empty beer bottle into the recycle bin. He had already looked through his mail for the day – junk and flyers. He found himself suddenly bored and wondering why he hadn't joined Lewis for drinks and billiards.
Bobby walked down the hallway to his spare room; a room that could function as a guest bedroom if it was decorated and fitted accordingly, but it was more like an office/storage room. A convenient place to dump items that he didn't want to deal with – out of sight, out of mind, the saying goes. Such as boxes from when he'd cleaned out the apartments of his father, mother and, most recently, brother.
Unwittingly, and unknowing as to why he was compelled to 'torture' himself so, he reached for a box in the farthest corner. It was still sealed; the packing tape yellowed with age. Bobby reached in his pocket for his switchblade and cut the tape. The scent of musty paper filled his nose, bringing on a sneeze. Bobby carried the box back to his living room and set it on the coffee table. He reached for an old photo album, looking forlornly as he opened the cover and saw the pictures on the first page: his mom and dad on their wedding day; his mom sitting atop the front fender of his dad's new '67 Chevy. Look how happy she looks. She was beautiful when she was young. –and his dad and his uncle Tony, arms around each other's shoulders, each holding up a bottle of beer. It looks like our backyard. Must've been some party or bar-b-que.
Bobby turned each page gingerly. Most of them stuck together from the old-fashioned cellophane pages having been pressed closed for so long. When he finally reached the last page, turning to the back cover, an envelope slipped out onto his lap. It landed face down, so Bobby picked it up and turned it over. He recognized his father's writing –even after all these years. It read: "To Robert."
Bobby was surprise as he realized his heart was racing at this new discovery. He once again retrieved his pocket knife and carefully slit the top of the envelope. He removed a sheet of paper, unfolded it and began reading:
If you're reading this, it means that I'm gone. And to be honest, it means that I'm a coward because I never found the courage to give you this letter while I was still alive.
You're probably wondering how I knew you'd find this letter, but there's no wondering for me – no question in my mind that you'd be the one cleaning out my apartment and taking care of things once I'm gone. Not my namesake, Frank, but you -- the dutiful son upon whose shoulders all the responsibilities and the weight of all our family's problems have fallen.
You're also probably wondering about my purpose in writing this letter, so I won't keep you wondering any longer. God knows you've waited long enough to hear anything positive from me, so here is what I want to –no, need to, say to you.
I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I wasn't a better father to you. I'm sorry that I let the problems between your mother and me dictate the way I treated you. I'm sorry for every time I yelled at you, or hit you or, perhaps even worse, ignored you. You were always a good little boy –obedient and eager to please. You always did well in school and made your mother and me proud. I'm sorry I never came to any of your basketball games. As I sit here now writing this, alone in my apartment, alone in life, it makes me wonder how alone you must have felt seeing all the other parents in the stands cheering on their children, but no one there for you. Your mother was always in and out of the hospital –too ill to attend your school activities, but I have no excuse. None other than my selfishness – too busy with my drinking and racetrack and poker games to spare any time on you.
I'm ashamed that I never told you how proud I was of you for all of your accomplishments, from winning the 4th Grade Science Fair, to your perfect SAT scores, to your military service and your career as a police officer. You'd make any father proud.
I know I have no right to ask for, or expect your forgiveness, but I'll ask just the same.
It's a terrible thing to be old and to live with regret. I know you've always carved your own path through life; made the best of your situation. You've grown to be the opposite of me –into an exemplary man.
I wish only the best for you, my son, and want you to be secure in the knowledge of these two things: (1) I am truly sorry for any wrong I've ever done to you, and (2) I love you.
Bobby sniffed his running nose as he carefully tucked the letter back into the envelope. He leaned back into the comfort of his sofa and held the letter against his chest as his tears –a mixture of sad regret and happiness began to flow.
His chest heaved a heavy sigh of relief. He was overcome by a strange sense of comfort.
I was loved.
End Part 1. Part 2 will cover the letter Bobby finds from MFB.