Loneliness. An emotion I fought with every single day. I have no family, except for my father who has been in a nursing home, because of early-onset dementia, since I was 17. The doctors said it could have been caused by the severe trauma he experienced after losing my mother in a plane crash on her way home from a weekend getaway with her two best friends. Ironic, right? Either way, I wasn’t enough.
You would think I’d be used to being alone after almost 10 years, but it never got any easier. Every day I walked the streets of this huge city, watching families playing frisbee in the park or older couples, who have obviously enjoyed many years together, holding hands while they walk along the lakefront.
What was funny about my life is, I have a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Hardware Engineering and an Associate degree in Marketing and Business Management. Yet, I was a server in a quaint little Mom & Pops making minimum wage only when the tips were good. My studio apartment was barely livable, and my fridge was almost always empty.
I digress. I am not here to earn votes of sympathy or pity. No this is a tale of self-progression, a journey of trust, and a story of an accidental friendship.
Every Wednesday I walked forty-five minutes to work, sunshine, rain, sleet, or snow. I don’t really know why, just my own little tradition, I guess. It was about three years ago on one particularly rainy Wednesday morning that my life changed.
As a walked to work, I received a phone call from the nursing home where my father was. They told me there was an accident and that he wanted to see me. I immediately changed my course and took that one-hour bus ride to the quiet little town right outside the city. When I arrived and asked to see my father, and with no hesitation they took me straight to him.
Seeing my father was always bittersweet. Some days he’d remember me. We would reminisce about the good days with mom and our big house in the countryside next to the lake. Then other days he’d throw things at me, usually while screaming out insults. I wondered which father I would get this day.
When they took me into his room, he was completely disheveled, erratically pacing the floor. I expected to have a shoe thrown at my face. But, to my surprise, when he turned to look at me, his demeanor changed. It was as if relief washed over him and he even began to smile. Then just as quickly, he burst into a fit of rage, mumbling and tossing things around. He was searching for something. Then he stopped, turned to the nurses, and screamed for them to get out. I started to follow them, but he grabbed my arm and forced me back, and gently whispered, “Stay, please”. I was afraid but his eyes told me that he truly needed me for the first time in 10 years. I nodded for the nurses to leave and I quietly took my seat in the rocking chair on the opposite side of the room.
I sat patiently as he began to slowly pace back and forth, softly mumbling to himself again. He reached into his back pocket as he sat down at the edge of his queen-sized bed with what seems like a trillion pillows pushed to one side. He refused to get rid of the bed and pillows, even though it made his room much smaller. He says it reminds him of mom.
As he sat there, trembling, tears began to fall. Now I was really intrigued. He hasn’t cried since we lost mom. He unfolded the paper that he pulled from his back pocket. He started repeating over and over, “I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry.” He then stood up and walked over to me.
“I will always love you. Take this paper and please find it in your heart to forgive me. It’s time for you to leave now. Goodbye, Flower.”
I grimaced but found the strength to reply, “Ok daddy. I love you more.”
As I left his room, I remembered what the nurse who called me earlier had said. “Your father has had an accident.” I went to question them as to what the accident was.
“Honestly, we aren’t sure. He received a visitor about one hour before we called you. We heard screaming and what sounded like a fight. We ran to his room but by the time we got there he was on the floor and the visitor was gone. He refused to file a police report or tell anyone what happened. All he said was he needed to see you.”
“Who was this visitor?”
“He signed the guest check-in book...here it is. ‘Robert Manning’. Does that name sound familiar to you?”
“No, not even a little. What about the security cameras?”
“He kept his face down and sunglasses on. I’m sorry, but that’s all we have.”
“Ok, thank you.”
I left with sadness and anger weighing my heart down. I was so confused and bothered by all that just happened. Then I remembered the paper. I took it out and unfolded it. There was an address. I looked at my watch. I still had plenty of daylight to investigate.
The address took me to an old house. It looked like it had been abandoned for quite some time. The block was empty of movement. Just moderately nice cars parked on the street and in a few driveways.
I took a deep breath and climbed the front stairs. The mailbox had the name, V. Carmichael. I wasn’t sure at that moment what to think. Then I remembered my mother’s maiden name. I had a grandmother who passed away when I was just a baby. My mom would tell me stories of her childhood with my grandmother, Victoria. This was the house that my mother grew up in.
I jiggled the handle. Of course, the door was locked. I searched around the whole house. Nothing, no broken windows to sneak in, no loose handles to force doors open. It was surprisingly secure for it to be an abandoned house, unlike the ones portrayed in the movies.
I decided to just sit on the porch and enjoy the weather. The rain had stopped and there was a beautiful rainbow lining the sky. I began daydreaming about my childhood and when that became too emotional, I decided to explore more of the property. There was a little tool shed in the corner of the backyard. It was beaten up and the wood seemed to have been infested with termites at one point. I used the rotten wood to my advantage and kicked the door in. It worked! It hurt like heck, but it worked.
No electricity. I used the flashlight on my soon-to-be-dead cell phone to explore the place. At first, all I saw was a bunch of rusted gardening tools and old planting pots. Then I noticed a box labeled "Flower"…my mother’s childhood nickname. I climbed a wooden ladder to reach it. I opened the box and it was full of old pictures and little trinkets. My heart melted to have this box of memories that belonged to my mother. Then I got to the bottom of the box and found this little black notebook. It was inscribed on the cover “To My Sunshine” and my heart dropped. “Sunshine”, I repeated softly. I opened the notebook and read the first page.
“To My Sunshine,
If you are reading this then your father and I have failed to be a part of your life when all your dreams were coming true. For that, I deeply apologize. We wanted nothing more than your complete happiness and to help you along the way as you sailed through this crazy thing called life. Please rest assured that even in our absence, we couldn’t be prouder of you. Always remember that as you live your life, trust yourself because you are strong enough. Never give up on yourself and never, ever settle for anything less than the absolute best. You deserve all that this life has to offer. I want you to find peace among all this chaos.
In the back of this book, you will find a key glued to the last page that opens the back door. Use it. Find my old bedroom. Once you do, find the loose floorboard under my bed. There you will find some things that I hope will help you on your journey.
The tears poured from my face as I cautiously proceeded to follow the instructions momma gave me.
I searched every inch of this house, looking for clues about the momma I didn’t know, the grandmother I never met. I was looking for "me". I finally found her room. It was small but cozy, aside from the spider webs and all the dust. I moved the bed and found that loose floorboard she spoke of in the notebook. I took a deep breath and removed the floorboard. Inside I found a box that contained the deed for my grandmother’s house, already in my name. I also found a golden locket with a picture of me, my mom, and my dad in it. Oh yeah, and $20,000 cash.
I was shocked. I put everything back in the box and took the bus back towards my apartment, box in hand. I had no idea that today would be a day of thrill and mystery. I knew that this was no coincidence. I had to take this situation as it was – an unexpected gift that should not be wasted frivolously. I decided to invest in myself.
Using my degrees and the $20,000 I started my own Marketing Firm and got a nice one-bedroom apartment closer to my dad. About a year ago I finished the renovations on my grandmother’s house and turned it into Youth Center, focusing on teaching computer skills, managing business, and tutoring to help kids stay on track in school.
Ever since the move, my father and I have made more good memories. We never spoke about the day he gave me that little piece of paper with an address on it. But that’s fine. I enjoy him being at peace. Every day is a new memory and a new opportunity. I am not lonely anymore and I realize that being alone is ok.
But there is still one question that floats in the back of my mind…
Who the heck is Robert Manning?