Chapter 46 ~ The Search Ends – Joe Meets His Dad
“Is this everything?” asked Joe.
“Why the rush, Joe? Jody said you quit your job to search for your father. I’m not being critical, please don’t take offense. I assume you want to meet Joe. If that is the case, there is a lot of context about Joe you need to know. I’m not trying to influence how you feel about Joe. How you feel and act toward Joe is something you have to decide. No one can make these decisions for you,” replied Father Oscar.
Jody put her hand on Joe’s back and gently rubbed it. She said, “It’s been a tough journey for Joe, Father. Do you know all of Joe Ritchie’s history?”
Father Oscar smiled, “I’m not sure anyone knows all of their personal history. There’s the history we create and we interpret the history we create through a personal prism. Others who are touched by our history perceive our actions through their prism, which is quite different than the one we use. More importantly, why we do what we do is often a mystery. Psychologists and others try to explain it in a way to rip away the mystery. They sound convincing, it is my opinion anything they say is speculation at best.”
“What about the women and men he mistreated and hurt? I can give you a partial list. I sure he filled pages,” said Joe with a biting edge to his words.
Father Oscar viewed an emotional movie cross Joe’s face and ripple down his arms into balled fists. After a moment, Father Oscar said, “Do you want to hear more of the story, Joe?”
Joe took a deep breath, “Okay. Yes. It’s just …”
Father Oscar held up a hand, “No need to explain, Joe. I get angry when I see how society has forgotten about the homeless. I get angry when I see young girls and boys pulled into sex trafficking. I get angry when I hold a young man dying from a heroin overdose. I can understand your anger when you met people Joe hurt. I’m not aware of anything prior to the time I met him in the ER. After Joe came out of the coma he went into a great depression. He didn’t want to live. If his arms weren’t in casts, he may have committed suicide. He was on suicide watch for two weeks. He had to go through months of counseling and therapy. Slowly, very slowly, he chose to live and he chose to walk again. He started in a wheel chair, moved to crutches, and eventually began taking steps without assistance. He lived in our house during this time.
“Is he still living in your house?” asked Joe.
“Not any longer. He lived with us for more than three years. After Joe learned to walk and become independent, he asked us if he could stay with us and help us in our work. He washed floors. He did dishes. He did whatever he was asked to do and he never complained. He was filled with an inner happiness. When Brother George and I went out at night, he was right by our side.”
“Did he have some kind of conversion?” asked Jody.
“To be honest with you, I’m not aware of any religious conversion. I don’t know anything about Joe’s past. I don’t want to know about his past. I didn’t dig into it. I knew his name was Joe Ritchie from what was in his wallet and the papers that were in the glove compartment of his car. As far as I’m concerned, my history with Joe began the day I was called to give him the last rites.”
“Didn’t he ever talk about singing and his group, Joe and the Flamingos?” asked Joe.
“This is new to me. I know he liked to play the guitar. I thought he was pretty good. He played guitar at our masses. He has a very good voice, but then again I’m not a talent scout.”
“He had a good reason to hide his past from you,” said Joe.
“Yes, he did,” said Father Oscar. His beating was so severe, he had a traumatic brain injury. Doctors call it TBI. He gets glimpses now and then of his past, but much of his past is fuzzy. Counseling helped him grapple with it. The Joe Ritchie I know is a good man. He doesn’t ask for anything. He works tirelessly to help others. He laughs easily. If you didn’t know anything about his history, you’d wouldn’t think twice about wanting to be friends with him.”
A silence fell over the table. Jody held Joe’s hand. Sam pushed away from the table and returned with a cup of coffee. Sam was the first to speak, “I guess there’s hope for all of us.”
“It’s how I look at life, Sam. Even you and me,” said Father Oscar with a smile.
Sam chuckled. Then he looked at Joe, “Suck it up, Joe, and do the right thing. You know what you have to do. You want me to tell you the story of Kyle Watson who faced the same kind of decision you are trying to make? I hope you do better than Kyle Watson did. That’s all I’ll say.”
“Sam’s right, Joe,” said Jody. “Do the right thing.”
Joe took a deep breath, stretched out his fingers, and turned his hands over palms up. Joe stared at his palms trying to pull an answer out of them. He looked up at Father Oscar, “Where is he? I’d like to see him. He probably doesn’t even know he has a son. I’ll only say hello. That’s all.”
“Before we go. There’s one more thing you need to know,” said Father Oscar.
“What’s that?” asked Joe.
“Joe worked here at Sister’s Jeans Hospice. Sometimes he spent the whole night with someone who was dying who didn’t have any family to be with them.”
“Is he working today?” asked Joe.
“Not exactly. Joe has cancer. He’s dying. It’s a miracle you’re here. He can die any moment. He’s just down the hall. Before he became sick, he was a healthy specimen. He was about your height, weighed about one-ninety. Now he’s close to one-twenty. There’s not much left to him, physically that is.”
Joe stood. “Let’s go.”
Jody gave Joe another squeeze on his hand. Father Oscar led Joe past the receptionist desk and down the corridor to the right. Half way down the corridor, Father Oscar stopped in front of a partially opened door. He said in a soft voice, “Joe’s in here. I don’t know if he’s awake. He doesn’t like morphine, but he’s had to take it recently. The pain has become too much for him.”
Joe nodded. Father Oscar pushed the door gently open and walked in the room. Joe followed him. Father Oscar walked to the side of the bed. Joe stood at the foot of the bed and looked at his father covered with a thin white blanket over a white sheet. An IV in his arm hooked to morphine. Tubes from his nose connected to a feeding bottle hanging from a metal stand to his right. His eyes were closed. His face gaunt. What was left of his hair was thin and barely covered his scalp.
Father Oscar took hold of a frail, boney hand and said, “Joe? It’s Oscar. I’m here with a friend who wanted to say hello.”
Joe stared at the silent figure. He saw the boney hand make an effort to squeeze Father Oscar’s hand.
Father Oscar said, “Joe come over here and introduce yourself.” Then Father Oscar said, “Joe meet Joe.”
Joe took his Father’s hand. He felt a slight squeeze. Tears filled his eyes and flowed over the edges and began to streak down his cheeks. He said, “Hi Joe. I’m from Ohio and I happened to be passing through. Father Oscar told me there was someone I should meet. I’m pleased to meet you. I’ve heard many good things about you.”
Joe felt his father squeeze his hand and thought he saw a tiny smile on his face. His father released his grip. Joe looked at the monitor. It still showed a beating heart.
Father Oscar said, “Joe’s tired. We’ll let him rest.” Father Oscar put his forehand on Joe’s forehead traced a cross with his thumb, and said, “We love you, Joe. God loves you.”
Father Oscar and Joe left the room. Joe took one last look at his father before leaving the room. When they were in the hallway, he said, “Thank you Father Oscar. Thank you.”
Two days after Joe left Las Vegas. Father Oscar called him and told him Joe Ritchie died. Joe and Sam turned around returned to Las Vegas for the second time. Jody flew back from Columbus to join him at his father’s funeral and burial. After the funeral, Joe returned to Columbus, Ohio, and rejoined the TV station as their top sports announcer. Six months later Joe and Jody announced the engagement on television and were married in the spring by Father Oscar. On the way back to Columbus, Sam asked to be let off in Wichita. He took the maintenance job at Blessed Sacrament. Four months later he and Rosa married.