Lena was in disbelief about her fathers death, but the worst part was finding out that he lived so close to her while she spent years trying to find him and his family who never had a relationship with her or her mom. She never believed in miracles until the day the balloon crossed her path. A balloon with a letter attached to it that was written by his landlord, Roberto Gustavo Rodriguez. A humble and kind Mexican-American man who had two apartments he rented above his house. Lena’s father, Edward Bartnik, was a US Veteran that fought in World War II. He was never the same when he returned and when she was 17, he disappeared. Lena had spent over twenty years trying to find him. She knew something was wrong with her father, but she never asked or questioned him or his actions. She sat in her car in front of Roberto’s house crying. She was nervous to find out what Roberto had found as well as to read the details of her father’s tormented soul. Lena held Roberto’s letter in her hand as she reread it in pain. Her hands shook from a severe nerve problem that she needed surgery for, but couldn’t afford. She had spent all her money moving and looking for her dad so as a result, she opted for meds. However, the meds weren’t as effective. The letter read…
I don’t dare say “dear” because during the time I knew you, there was nothing dear about you. Quite often, you would make me angry with your constant yelling, especially during the winter. “F#$& YOU, ROBERTO, TURN UP THE HEAT!” I always had it as high as I could without overheating my family and my home. At the time when I purchased this house, little did I know, I would inherit you as a tenant. You were grumpy, mean and hard to get along with unless you were in a good mood, which was rare. The only time you were nice to me was when you needed something. I never minded going to get you the pack of White Castle hamburgers because I knew it made you happy and pleasant for a while. Although you upset me, I never had the heart to show you my anger because something kept telling me there was something wrong with you. I would watch your brother come and try to get you to visit your mother and father when they were alive, but you always refused. The only person you hung out with is that drunk down the street, who often stole from you, in case you didn’t know. I knew he would wait for you to fall asleep after a day of drinking and take what you left out. Quite often, I had to go upstairs to close your door because your neighbor’s kids would laugh and mock you. They would watch you as you routinely fell asleep on the recliner with your pants unbuttoned and a drink in your hand. Just so you know, I kept your gray cat you talked to and yelled at everyday. He's doing well but I quite often find him sitting in front of your door. I know he misses you. I never realized how cold your apartment would get until after you died. Why didn’t you tell me to come inspect the apartment? You never wanted me to come into your apartment and I never knew why. I always thought, because you were always drunk, that you didn’t realize I had the heat turned up, which is weird because drunks are usually warm. One day while cleaning up your apartment, I found your little black moleskin notebook you always carried. I really thought you would be buried with this book because of how much you seemed to love it. You never left home without it and always guarded it with your life. I will admit, I was always curious as to what was inside of it. Now that I know everything you went through during the war and how much you suffered inside, it all makes sense. I learned quite a bit about history that was never mentioned in history books. That mission you had in Spain was the most fascinating experience I could have read. I can’t believe all you uncovered and experienced. I want to say that I am sorry for not understanding you, for leaving you in a cold apartment that I should have demanded to inspect. When I purchased this house from the previous owner, he warned me to leave you alone. He also said that you were a good tenant who always paid his rent and only expected his privacy in return. I want to say thank you for your service, for fighting for this country and for our rights. I want to say thank you for always paying your rent on time and for opening my eyes to what it’s like in a veteran’s mind. Those coins I found in the attic, that you wanted to hide, will be given to your daughter, that’s if I can ever find her. I pray that this letter reaches you and somehow brings her to me.
Dear Ed, now that I know everything, I would like to end this letter by saying that you were a brave soul and I wish you knew how valuable, respected, and honored you would have been treated if you would have only told someone about all you went through instead of drinking your life away on Old Milwaukee. Deep down inside, I know that is what you wanted. May your soul rest in peace and may our souls meet in another life. LT. Edward Bartnik, I know we could have been great friends.
Roberto Gustavo Rodriguez
Little did Lena know that those coins had the value of $20,000, which was the cost of her operation. Without even knowing it, her life would be changed by better understanding who her father was, how much he loved her, and why he held onto all those dark secrets he uncovered during World War II. Ed didn’t want to torment his family and that is why he left, lived alone, and drank his life away.