It was a rainy day when my life and perspectives were forever changed. In a rush, I called the office to tell them I would be late yet again. During the call, I tripped on a piece of sidewalk and fell into the nearby mud. Just my luck. My trench coat was covered. As I was getting up, I saw an object slightly wet and covered in mud. Ordinarily I would not have picked it up, but something felt different about today. A book? The binding was creased, and its color had faded. It appeared to be someone’s private journal. In the back, was an “If found please return to” section. It had a name and address: Maria Wright.
I turned a page, and suddenly crumpled dollar bills fell out of the small black book’s pages along with a brochure for Retreat Psychiatric Hospital.
I gasped at the allotted sum of money. It was $20,000. Someone had to be missing it. I hadn’t decided whether to keep or return the money. I was leaning on the former rather than the latter but wanted to investigate a bit further. Why would anybody hoard that amount of cash in a book? I was beginning to feel lucky after all. Screw work today, I’m calling and telling them I’m out. I smiled and turned to the first page.
One day soon I hope to meet you. I know you don’t know me, but you will. I truly believe that. When we meet, will you caress my face and kiss me? Will you know who I am the moment you see me? Have you seen me in your dreams just as I’ve seen you? Sometimes I think my visions of you are part of what makes this life worth living. Sometimes you laugh with me. Sometimes you sing to me, though you aren’t a particularly good singer. You tell me you are “making a joyful noise unto the Lord.” I tell you, “it is a noise indeed!” That is when I laugh the loudest. After I laugh, I look up and my eyes are blurry. I try to find you, but in your place, I see a woman dressed in white. I see many women in white, but they all look different when I see them. They all seem nice and try to make me feel better. She asks me how I am feeling, and I ask her where you went. I ask her to fix my eyes so I can see you. She hands me a couple of pills and asks me to take them. She says they will make me feel better. In the meantime, she places drops in my eyes and wipes them.
I tell her thank you, and she leaves. You aren’t there anymore either. I feel alone, but I know you haven’t abandoned me.
Every week I see a doctor. He tells me you don’t exist, but I don’t believe him. I know I am right, and that you won’t fail me. Sometimes I hear a voice; sometimes I hear many voices. I think the Lord you make a noise unto is onto us. He knows about our affair.
I have a cousin who comes to visit me in between when I see the women in white. Sometimes I even stay at her house with my aunt. You’d like them both. My cousin asks me about you. I think she cares the most. I tell her we are getting married but haven’t decided on a date. She gives me money and these journals to write in. She tells me not to spend it all on the wedding, and to save some for myself. I don’t listen. What do I have to buy for just me? Money doesn’t really make sense to me, but I do count it sometimes. I hear the average wedding costs $20,000. I’ll save up, just you see! The house and the honeymoon are on you.
I’ve been told I can’t work and must be medicated. I don’t understand why. I tell the doctor and women in white that I’m fine. The women in white try to understand, but the doctor seems very cold toward me. I ask my cousin if we can see a new doctor, but she tells me that this one is the best and that he “tells me what I need to hear.” When I feel sad, I just think about our life together. Should we honeymoon in Bermuda or the Bahamas? Should we leave this city and move to an island? Maybe we will live in a rural area and be farmers. I’ve imagined all the possibilities. Ultimately, it is up to you. Wherever we go, I want you to know that I love you and always will. I can’t wait to meet you, Robert! You are my forever love! I give you my heart, and can’t wait to say, “I do” and start our lives together.
I wondered if I should feel dirty about reading a woman’s private thoughts, especially when she had some sort of mental illness. I looked at the pamphlet for Retreat Psychiatric Hospital. It wasn’t far from here.
I entered the lobby and was greeted by the receptionist. I made an inquiry and explained the notebook, not the money. She informed me that Maria had been discharged to her relative’s house, prior to passing a couple days ago. She told me I was welcome to deliver the book to the funeral home if I was so concerned, and that details of the funeral were in this morning’s paper. Part of me thought it would be a waste of time, but since I was planning on pocketing the money, I thought it was the least I owed Maria.
When I arrived, the ceremony was only an hour away with Reverend Robert Ryan as the officiating reverend. Robert. How uncanny. It was a small ceremony. Most of the guests appeared to be employees of the hospital attending on their lunch breaks.
“She was a kind woman, delusional, but kind. Much better than a lot of our other patients really.” they murmured.
Family talked about how relieved they were that she was no longer a burden or hassle then prayed to God for her soul.
One relative murmured to whom I assumed must have been the caregiving cousin; “Do you ever know what happened to the money you gave her?”
“No, I cleaned her room but couldn’t find it. Silly woman, she should have bought something nice. If she bought anything with it, I couldn’t tell.”
“She may have flushed it” the other woman said, giggling.
“You’re probably right. Fortunately, it couldn’t have been more than a couple grand a year I gave her, which is much cheaper than keeping her hospitalized.”
“You took care of her for ten years off and on. That must have been rough. All that money you gave her could have paid for her funeral expenses instead.”
“Well, like you said it’s down the drain now, and thankfully I took out a substantial life insurance policy on her when I began caring for her. That money is chump change compared to that.”
“Oh, smart. Must be nice to have the extra income.” the woman said laughing.
I was thankful they didn’t pay much attention to me. Reverend Robert began to speak a few words. He looked over at the woman in the coffin for the first time, and gasped.
After the ceremony was over, he greeted me and offered his consolation. I asked him about his shock, and he mentioned simply “I felt like I had seen the woman many times in my dreams.” He gave me a wistful smile.
“I think you may be interested in this book, sir. Why don’t we talk about things over dinner? My treat.”
“This old man could use some company. I’ll meet you at Meehan’s tonight at 7, does that sound alright?”
“Isn’t that a bar?”
“I may be Catholic, but I’m also Irish.” he said and gave me a wink. I chuckled and went on my way.
We met at Meehan’s.
“Will I need a drink before reading that?” the Reverend asked and pointed toward the book.
“Yes. Drinks are on me!” I responded.
“You may regret that.” he chuckled. “A whiskey and the best beer on tap, sir.” he told the bartender. “So, son, what is your name?”
“Keegan, Keegan Small. Pleasure.” I responded.
“Well Keegan, how did you know Ms. Wright?”
“Well that’s bit of a complicated story. Why don’t you tell me a little about her?”
“I hadn’t met her prior to seeing her corpse today. I read her obituary but had been randomly selected by the church to preside over her ceremony. Still, somehow she was beyond familiar to me.”
“I’d dreamed of a woman named Maria that shared an uncanny resemblance to the woman in the coffin today. The woman only ever appeared in my dreams. I’d caress her face, kiss her, and she’d make fun of my terrible singing. I never married y’know.”
I was taken aback for a moment, but somehow none of this truly shocked me. You hear about fairy tales like this from time to time. This one just happened to be bittersweet. Not knowing what to say, I handed the reverend the black book.
I watched him read its contents with teary eyes. He slowly sipped his whiskey. He put his arm around me when he was finished.
“All my life I’ve wondered if it was just my imagination” he said, “Can you imagine being that convicted of your belief without seeing, touching, hearing, and knowing it to be true?”
I knew it was a tense moment, but chuckled anyway, “I don’t know, Reverend, isn’t that what members of the clergy are experienced in?”
“Call me Robert, and not entirely. Just because one believes doesn’t mean one doesn’t have their doubts, and convictions are another thing entirely.”
“You know she was in and out of a mental hospital.”
“What we in the world see as crazy, may be divine.”
“So there’s a fine line between faithful and crazy?” I ask.
“Most assuredly,” he said.
The Reverend became thoughtful. He asked me if I had a special someone in my life.
I told him she had gotten away just a couple weeks ago. It had been a rough breakup, mostly over how I’d changed because of my job.
Then, he asked the question I’d hoped no one had asked me. “Wonder whatever happened to that wedding money. Do you know?” a smile spread across his face.
The look on my face gave me away.
“Well young man, you didn’t have to dig this far, and I don’t want the money. You brought me a bit of closure. Plus, you’re paying my tab, and the night isn’t over yet.” he said.
We were out late. We drank and talked about his dreams, my job, my dreams, and my ex-girlfriend. We exchanged contact information and said our goodbyes.
A few days later, I received an unexpected call from an executor with All Saints Catholic Church. Reverend Robert Ryan had passed away from a long-term illness he’d struggled with. The church and I were his designated beneficiaries. Robert had an extensive life insurance policy and bank account savings he prepared for a family he never had. Robert passed on his hopes and dreams to a man he barely knew in hopes that I could have what he couldn’t. That night, I dreamed of Maria and Robert’s wedding. Did I believe in its existence? Well, I wanted to. A year after Robert’s passing, I was standing at the altar waiting for my own. I gave up my former job, opened a restaurant, and began working there with my soon to be wife, my former ex-girlfriend. My life changed because of a muddy black notebook and the people behind it.