Chapter 6 ~ Searching for Dad, “Joe Visits His Fiesty Gramma”

Chapter Six ~ Joe Visits His Fiesty Gramma

Joe pulled his black BMW into the Loving Care Assisted Care Facility. His stomach hurt. He knew his mom would never place her mother here. He felt a flash of anger toward his aunt Estelle, then backed off. Maybe his gramma failed since he last saw her, he thought. He kicked himself for being a poor grandson. He got out of his car, took in the finely manicured lawn, and saw a smattering of gold and red maple leaves on the lawn. He love autumn. He loved everything about it, the turning of the leaves, the cooler crisp air, and football. He loved football, especially Ohio State football. Today was almost to good to do anything by play golf with Tony instead of visiting his gramma. He felt an instant rush of guilt, took a deep breath and walked up to the building entrance. The entrance was under a portico in front of an automatic double door. The double doors slid open when he was still five feet away.

Joe walked through the entrance. When Joe entered the assisted care facility, the smell hit him. It was a strong, institutional cleaning smell, strong enough to make Joe start breathing through his mouth. He noticed the entry hall. The floor was polished granite tile, three large red vases of synthetic tropical plants were placed against the walls. There was a small, polished cherry table with brochures and forms to his right. In front on him, twenty feet away was the receptionist. She was staring at a computer screen and paid no attention to him. He walked toward her. There were three long corridors one in front of him, and one to either side of him. He saw a man wearing green scrubs, pushing a small table with some food and meds on it down the hall in front of him. Joe assumed the man was a nurses aide. The nurses aide and the receptionist were the only evidence of life. Joe knew something was seriously wrong with his gramma.

Joe walked to the receptionist’s desk and stood silently for a moment. The receptionist was chewing gum, and looking at her Facebook page. He cleared his throat. She turned slightly toward him and said, “I’ll be with you in a minute. I’m busy.”

Joe’s face turned red, and he felt his jaw clenching. He said, “I want to see my grandmother. Can you tell what room, she’s in?”

The receptionist rolled her eyes, closed her Facebook page and said, “What’s your grandmother’s name?”

Joe said, “Teresa Rigeri.”

The receptionist turned back to the computer, and said, “How do you spell it.”

Joe said, “The first name or the last name?” He knew he said it sarcastically. He wished he hadn’t answered so quickly.

The receptionist made a slight turn toward Joe and said, “Last name?”

Joe spelled his gramma’s name. The receptionist blew a bubble with the gum and popped it while she typed it in. She turned back to Joe and said who are you?”

Joe said, “I’m Joe Astore, her grandson. She was my mother’s mother.”

“Who’s your mother? I don’t see any Astore on the list of approved visitors,” said the receptionist.

“My mother was recently killed in a car crash.”

“Oh. Give me your driver’s license.”

Joe snapped, “What are you going to do with it?”

The receptionist gave him a look and said, “Are you serious? I don’t have to let you in here if you have an attitude.”

Jack said, “I’ll show it to you, but you can’t have it.”

The receptionist said, “Then you can’t come in.”

Joe said, “You are creating major issues for yourself. I’m sure you’re aware of State Statute 101.322.6 that says, and I quote, ‘No one has the right to make a copy of another’s driver’s license without the permission of said person. Violations are punishable by up to five years in prison.’ You don’t have my permission and I’m going to report you to police if you don’t let me see my grandmother.” Joe felt pleased with himself and how he crafted a lie on the spot as if it were the truth.

“Hey, I’m cool. You’re grandmothers in room 110 C. The C stands for center hall,” said the receptionist. She pointed down the corridor in front of Joe. Then she added, “I’m only doing a job. They don’t pay enough, there’s no insurance, and …”

Before the receptionist could continue her litany of work related grievances, Joe was walking down the center corridor searching for room 110 C. The odd numbered rooms were to his left, the even numbered rooms were to his right. Ahead of him, he spotted the nurse’s aide coming out of one room and pushing his cart. The aide stopped at an even numbered room half way down the corridor.

Joe realized the aide went into room 110 C. Joe was about to enter the room and stopped when he heard the aide say, “Teresa you have to take your medicine. It’s on your sheet.”

“I don’t need no medicine,” Joe’s gramma said.

“Will you drink this juice for me?” said the aide.

“I not gonna drink your juice. You trying to drug me like you drug everybody else in this place.”

“I’m going to report you to the nurse and they’ll make you take your medicine,” said the aide.

Joe opened the door, the aide turned around. He looked at Joe and said, “You’ll have to step out until I’m finished.”

Joe’s gramma said, “That’s my grandson, he can stay. You get your skinny ass out of my room before I tell my grandson to smack you. And take your pills with you.”

The aide stood up, and said, “When I finish my rounds, I’m putting you on report. You’re in big trouble.” He turned, ignored Joe and pushed his cart out into the corridor.

Joe walked over and kissed his grandmother on the cheek and hugged her. He stepped back and said, “Gramma, what’s going on?”

“You don’t wanna know. Joe, let me tell you something, growing old is hell. You think your kids gonna love you and take care of you, it’s a big mistake. When your grandpa, Patrice, died, God bless his holy soul, I lived on my own, in my house. I don’t need nobody to take care of me. Annette always comes to visit me. Your mother is a saint, she’s talking to Patrice now telling him about the hell I’m living. Estelle, she’s not like Annette. She’s different. All she thinks about is money. I spell it for you C A S H. She never bought me a present. Never once. Annette, never forgot my birthday or Christmas. Why God took Annette and not Estelle I have no answer. Estelle talked me into coming to this place, says it’s going to be nice for me. Your mom told me not to go. After your mom and dad died, Estelle begged me to try it for two weeks. Okay, I try anything once. I’m here and Estelle tells me I’m staying here. She going to get power of attorney for me to sign so she can control everything for me. She told me if I don’t sign it when she brings the papers she’s going to a judge and the judge will give it to her.”
Joe said, “She can’t make you sign what you don’t want to sign. You’re competent.”

“That’s why I don’t want to take no pills. They drug you up and you don’t know what day it is.”

Joe said, “You want to get out of here?”

“Do I wanna get out of here? You don’t have to ask me twice. You gonna help me?”

“Get dressed and get your things, we’re going to walk out of here and you never have to come back.”

“You just like your mother, Joe. Just like her. God bless you.”

“Actually, Gramma, that’s why I came.”


Searching for Dad ~ Chapter 5 ~ A Starting Place

Chapter Five ~ A Starting Place

Tony was waiting on the porch steps, a mug of coffee in his hand, when Joe pulled into the driveway. Joe waved and reached over to the passenger seat and grabbed his backpack.

He got out of his car, closed the door and looked over at Tony. He said, “I hope you made enough coffee. I didn’t fall asleep until four. I only got three hours of shuteye. I’m blaming you for making talk last night.” He tossed Tony a big grin.

“Don’t blame me. If Marie was in bed with you, you wouldn’t have had a sleep problem,” Tony laughed.

“Sleeping single in a double bed is no fun, I agree. I’m going to get used to it until I find this guy. Let’s get started,” said Joe as he and Tony hugged. Joe followed Tony into the house.

While Joe was getting set his laptop up on the table, Tony went to the coffee pot and poured a fresh cup of coffee for both of them. He turned his head toward Joe and said, “I got a head start on our search this morning.”

“You find anything?” asked Joe half expecting Tony to have all the answers he needed.

Tony picked up two mugs of coffee and carried them over to the table. He set one down in front on Joe and the other to right side of his laptop. He went back to the counter and brought over a bag. He set the bag down, “There are bagels and cream cheese in the bag. Help yourself.”

Tony opened the bag, peered in and pulled out a pumpernickel bagel, a container of plain cream cheese and a plastic knife. He looked up at Tony, and said, “Well? What did you find?”

Tony reached for the bagel bag and said, “I figure your mom was about twenty, maybe twenty-one when you were born.”
Joe nodded.

Tony continued, “She was in college at St. Clare University. It was all women at the time. So we know Joe Wright wasn’t a student at St. Clare’s unless he was a cross-dresser.”
Joe rolled his eyes, and said, “I hope you got more than this.”

“Bear with me, Joe. I’m laying this out so a guy with your low level intellect can understand.”

They both laughed. Tony continued, “Just because he was in the army when he wrote the letter to your mom, doesn’t mean he was in the army when they met and started sleeping together.”

“Man, that hurts,Tony. Mom was such a saint in my mind. Then I see her in a skimpy bikini and now you toss in sleeping with guy who walked out on her. What next?”

“Give your mom a break, Tony. She was no different from you and me. What were you doing when you were 20? I remember a girl named Nina in high school. So, your mom got caught up with the wrong guy and got pregnant. You think she was the only woman on the planet that this ever happened to?”

Joe shook his head. He said, “You’re right, Tony.” Joe raised his head toward the ceiling, “Forgive me, Mom. My bad.”

Tony continued, “At the same time St. Clare’s was an all women university, across town was St. Bernard University. It was all male. A little Internet checking and the two universities held mixers throughout the year. You know, they wanted to make sure Catholics were marrying Catholics. Now, St. Bernard, like St. Clare’s is male and female. What if, Joe Wright was a student at St. Bernard’s? Think about it. St. Bernard’s had and still has an ROTC program. Students who joined the ROTC got their education paid for by the government in exchange for four years of military service and they were commissioned as officers when they graduated.”

Joe waited for moment. Then he said, “What you said is all true, but it’s pure speculation. You’re just guessing. The only thing I agree with is that he went to college. His being an officer in the army means he most likely went to college. It doesn’t mean he went to either Catholic college. If he’s local, it’s more likely he went OSU. They have a big ROTC program. Here’s another thought, what if he was in the army and home on leave and they got together. He could be six years older than mom.”

“You’re not making it easy, Joe.”

“I just did a quick search for the surname Wright and it is one of the most common in the US. There are nearly a half million people with that last name. All I need is a starting place and I think the rest will unfold. I’ll find a trail I can follow right to its end. If this guy is living or dead I want to know so I can close this chapter. It’s something I need to do or it’s going to eat at me for the rest of my life.”

“The logical first step is to ask your grandmother or your aunt Estelle. They both would know your mom was pregnant and not married,” said Tony.

A look of pain crossed Joe’s face. He said, “Gramma just went to a nursing home about two weeks ago. I hate to bring up a bad memory. She’s all alone. After mom was killed, all she has is Estelle. Estelle was four years younger than mom. I don’t think they were close when they were growing up.”

Tony said, “Why don’t you want to talk to them? I’ve never know you to be afraid of anything, now you’re afraid of talking to your gramma and aunt? If you really want to find Joe Wright, you’ve got to suck up and do what you don’t want to do. Your gramma is probably going to be happy to see you. When was the last time you visited her?”

Joe turned away from his friend. A flash of anger crossed his face. He knew if said what he wanted to say, he’d regret it and maybe lose a friend. He felt his jaw tighten. He looked down at his hands, they were balled into big fists, his fingernails were digging into his palms. After an eternal moment, he turned back toward Tony and said, “Anybody but you who said that to me, we would have taken it out into the street. You’re right, Tony. I haven’t been a good grandson. I haven’t stopped by to see her in six months.”

Tony said, “Your gramma is the first step. See what she can tell you.”

“Good idea, Tony. We have some time, let’s see what we can find. I’ll hit People Finder.

You try some other location services, maybe obituaries, that sort of thing. I’ll head to gramma’s this afternoon.

Joe nodded and fist bumped Tony.

Chapter 4, “Searching for Dad,” A Dark Secret Revealed

Chapter Four ~ A Dark Secret Revealed
Present Day

Joe picked up his beer and swirled the bottle. He stared in the dark gold liquid searching for answers. After a moment, he set the bottle down, looked over to Tony and said, “I never again set foot again in the attic until the other day. That part of the house was taken away from me in an instant. For a long while, I believed I did something terribly wrong. I didn’t understand what I did, but I I knew I crossed a line I should have never crossed. Mom never mentioned it. It is as if that moment never happened.

Tony couldn’t help himself, “I think I remember your mom being angry with you. At the time, I felt bad because I told her we looked all over for you. She called for you and you didn’t answer. Then, all of a sudden, she heard a thump in the attic and got this look on her face and took off. The next thing Anna and I knew was we had to go home. Were you ever curious as to what was in the metal box?”

“I thought about it every now and then. I wasn’t sure if it was what was inside the metal box or the fact that I was in the footlocker and messed things up. I hadn’t thought about it in years. I wasn’t sure until I cut the duct tape on the metal box and opened the box. The old hook latch I had so much trouble with when we were playing hide and seek was broken. I wondered for a moment if I broke it. For an instant, I felt guilty.”

Tony looked at his friend. He wanted to prod him. He could see the struggle in Joe’s face. Tony wondered what was in the box that was eating at his best friend. Joe was always the toughest of the two. He protected Tony, stood up to bullies. He’d just as soon fight on the playground as to backdown.

Joe said, “Look at me, Tony. Who do I favor, my mom or my dad?”

Tony thought the question was coming in from an aircraft not on his radar. He said,

“Don’t take it the wrong way, you’ve got a big nose. Neither your mom or dad have a big nose.”

Joe cracked a half smile, “I know. Who do I favor? Maybe my eyes, cheeks, mouth. I know neither mom or dad have a nose this big.”

“Your nose is big but it’s in proportion to your face. You don’t favor your dad. Your mom had dark brown eyes and your eyes are dark brown. That’s a similarity. You’re taller than both. You have any tall aunts or uncles?”

“No, both sides of the family were on the shorter side. I’m six one. I don’t think there is anyone over five feet eleven inches. I’m making a point, let me go on without interrupting me.”

Tony knew enough to back off. He waited.

Joe said, “When I opened the box, I found cards, letters, documents, and some photos.”

He paused and took a sip of his beer. Then he continued, “I’m a bastard.”

Tony looked surprised, “Everyone knows that.” Tony failed in his attempt to add humor.

“Seriously, Tony. Dad is not my dad.” Joe held up his hand to stop Tony from speaking. He continued. I picked up an old photo. It was of mom. It was weird looking at photo of my mom in a bikini on the beach. In the photo she was being carried by a tall guy, about her age, with a nose like mine. Her arm was around his neck, and he was holding her off the ground. They were both smiling. You could tell they were in love.”

“This doesn’t mean anything,” said Tony instantly realizing he should be quiet.

Joe ignored Tony’s comment and said, “There were a couple of other photos. There was one with them kissing. There was another with mom and the guy, this time he was in an army uniform. My heart was racing when I saw the photos. I didn’t know or suspect anything. But, I had this feeling, you know the kind of feeling you get when you know something is not going to turn out the way you want it to turn out if you keep on going?”
Tony nodded and stayed silent.

“I set the photos on the table. I began digging through what else was in the box. Mom saved letters and things like that. All this was before the Internet and email. I don’t even know if people write letters anymore, do you?”

Tony was unsure if he should speak. He shook his head no indicating he didn’t know anyone who wrote letters. He shrugged his shoulders.

Joe continued, “I read some letters between mom and aunt Estelle. That was mom’s older sister.”

Joe looked over a Tony, “You know my birthday, right?”

Tony said, “Yah, November 29 …”

Joe cut him off, “That’s right. “I’ll be twenty-nine this year. I asked because the postage stamp date on the envelope was dated twenty-eight years ago. It actually came December 27th, nearly a month after I was born. Mom and dad married eight months later. I never thought much about me being born before mom and dad were married. Mom told me things like that happen when people are in love and not to think anything of it. When your five or six you believe everything your parents tell you. I opened the envelope and read the letter. The letter wasn’t long, maybe a couple of paragraphs.”

Joe stopped, put his right elbow on the table and cupped his chin in his right hand. He drifted away from Tony for a minute, and gathered his thoughts. Joe took a deep breath and sat back in the booth, then leaned forward as if he were telling Tony a state secret. He said, “The letter starts, ‘Dear Annette. I met someone else. Whatever we had between us is over. I hope you won’t be mad at me.'”

“Is that all he said?” asked Tony.

“No, he said he loved her for a little while, but being away in the army caused things to happen he didn’t expect to happen. Then he added the killer sentence, he said, ‘Give little Joe a hug and kiss for me each night.'” When I read that line,Tony, I wanted to punch the son of a bitch in face and break his nose. That’s how I felt.”

“But you have the same last name as your dad. How do you explain that,” asked Tony.

“That’s easy. I did some digging. In this state you can change the name on the birth certificate up to one year without going to court. All you have to do is fill out some forms. The letter was signed, yours affectionately, Joe. He didn’t even have the guts to say I love you to her. I picked up the envelope and looked at the return address. His name was Joe Wright. He was a Lieutenant at the time and stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas. I’m going to find him. I don’t know what I’m going to say to him, but I’m going to find him.”

“You don’t want to do that, Joe. Let it go. For all you know, he’s dead.”

“If he’s dead, I’ll spit on his grave. I’m going to find him, Tony. I’ll find him even I have to

spend every cent I have.”

“Think about it first, Joe. Don’t let your emotions run away with you. What do you know about this guy other than a name, Joe Wright? In this city, Columbus, Ohio, there have to be hundreds of people with the last name, Wright. You thinking about hiring an investigator?” said Tony.

“I’m going to find him by myself. While I’m looking for him, maybe I’ll learn something about me. I’ve always felt there was a missing piece in my life, this could be it,” said Joe.

Tony leaned closer, “Besides an envelope, letter, and a few photos, what else do you have?”

“I have the bastard’s DNA and a no quit attitude. I’ll find him. Oh, yes. I’ll find him.

“Look, Joe. If your mind is set. I’ll take tomorrow off. Come over to my house. We’ll both work online and see if we can dig something up about him. Maybe we’ll find an obituary, you never know.”

Joe nodded. They clinked bottles. Tony took the leftover pizza home. Joe went back to his apartment. It was empty since Marie left. Even though it was ten at night, he changed clothes and put on his workout gear and headed out for a five mile run.

Chapter 3 “Searching for Dad” Be Careful For What You Find

Chapter Three ~ Be Careful for What you Might Find

Twenty Years Earlier

It was a lazy summer’s day in the middle of July. The sky was nearly perfectly blue with the exception of a few cotton ball clouds. The outdoor temperature was pushing 98 degrees and the heat index was close to 107 degrees. Air conditioners hummed. In homes without air conditioning, portable fans worked overtime to give residents relief. The Astore household had the air conditioner running on 78 degrees. Eight year old Joe and his two friends, Tony and Tony’s older sister Anna sat in the living room watching TV. Tony was a year younger than Anna.

“Turn off the TV. You kids need to play. Go outside and get some fresh air,” Joe’s mom called from the kitchen.

“It’s too hot, Mom. Can we have some ice cream?” asked Joe.

“No, you may not have some ice cream. It’s for dinner. And, how many times have I asked you to say please?” said his mother, making more of a statement than asking a question.

Joe picked up the remote and turned the TV off. The four kids looked at each other as if life support tubes were disconnected from their bodies.

Joe said, “We can go outside and ride our bikes over to the school parking lot and race around the light poles.”

Anna said, “Are you serious? It’s too hot to do anything.”

“We can go to the playground and see who can go the highest on the swings,” said Tony.

From the kitchen, his mother hollered, “That’s too dangerous.”

“Does your mom hear everything?” asked Anna.

“Sometimes, I think she has a hearing super power,” said Joe.

Anna whispered, “Let’s play hide and seek inside. We’ll be cool and the TV will be off. Since I thought of it, one of you two will be it.”

Tony and Joe looked at each other and nodded. Tony said, “Can we hide outside?”

Joe said, “Mom is in the kitchen. We can hide in the garage, the basement, the bedrooms, or the attic. We’ll stay out of the kitchen. If you’re found, you’re out. We can’t run, mom will send us outside for sure. Since I came up with this, you’re it, Tony.”

“Why do I have to be it first all the time?” asked Tony.

“You won’t be it in the next round. Come on, let’s have some fun. Tony, lie face down on the sofa and count to one-hundred by 5’s,” said Anna.

Tony lied down on the sofa. Joe gave him a throw pillow to hold on top of his head. Tony said, “Ready, set, go. Then he started counting, “Five, ten, fifteen …”

Joe and Anna scattered. Anna headed into the garage. Joe quietly opened the door to the attic and stealthily climbed the stairs. When he reached the attic door, he twisted the knob slowly and gently pushed the door open, closing it behind him. He looked around the attic for the perfect hiding place.

“Here I come, ready or not,” hollered Tony.

Joe could hear Tony scurrying around below him. He had to think fast. The attic was nearly barren with the exception of his dad’s old footlocker from the days he was in the army. Joe walked over to it. He unclipped the hinges, and opened it. He thought he could fit inside if he curled his knees up to his chest. The only items he saw were his dad’s army uniforms, that was all. He lifted the top two uniforms out and saw a small metal box at the bottom. He was about to take it out and set it on the attic floor, when he heard Tony say. “I got you Anna. I think Joe’s in the attic.”

Joe stepped into the footlocker. He picked up his dad’s two uniforms and placed them on top of himself. He carefully stuck an arm out on the side of the uniforms and lowered the cover. He then pulled his arms under the uniforms and curled up in a ball. His head rested on the small metal box.

Joe heard the door to attic open. He heard Tony say, “I gotcha. You might as well give up. I know you’re in here.”

Joe held his breath while he lied in the box. He heard the attic floor creaking. At first the sounds moved away from him; then they came toward him and stopped next to the footlocker. Tony gave the footlocker a kick and said, “You can get out, Joe. I found you.”
Joe stifled a laugh and squeezed his eyes shut thinking if he couldn’t see Tony, Tony couldn’t see him. Joe heard the locker open. He heard Anna say, “I told you, he’s not in there. There are only old army clothes. He’s not in the attic. Did you look under his bed?”
Tony said, “No. Let’s go.”

Joe heard Tony and Anna close the door to the attic. He heard their footsteps walking down the stairs. Each step growing further away. He waited another minute. Then he pushed the footlocker open and sat up. Joe climbed out of the footlocker, turned and began to rearrange the clothes. He spotted the small metal box. He picked it up. He shook it. Something was inside. He could feel it sliding back and forth as he shook the box. He sat down with his back against the footlocker and put the metal box on his lap.
The metal box had a small, hook clasp with the hook under a protruding metal ball holding the top secure to the box. Joe tried to slide the hook to the right, it didn’t move. He tried to wedge the fingernail of his right forefinger under the hook, that didn’t work. Joe stood up and carried the metal box around the attic looking for something to push the hook. He spotted a wire coat hanger lying on the attic floor by the heating unit. Joe was hurried to get the coat hanger, in his haste he tripped over his untied shoestring. The metal box fell out of his hands. He picked it up, and remained still, hoping no one heard him. He didn’t hear any sounds. He retrieved the coat hanger, walked back to the footlocker and sat on the floor, resting his back against the footlocker. The metal box sat on his lap. His right hand held the coat hanger.

Joe straightened out the hook part of the coat hanger and jammed it against the hook on the box. The hook moved. He hit it again, the hook slid to the side. Joe put the coat hanger down on the attic floor, and turned the metal box so that it would open facing him.

“What are you doing?”

Joe turned and saw his mother standing in the attic doorway, her arms akimbo. He said, “Nothing, Mom. Just looking through things.”

In a flash his mom was standing next to him and grabbed the box out of his hands. She held the box close to her chest and gestured toward Joe with her right forefinger extended, “Don’t you dare go snooping up here again. Tell your friends to go home and you go to your room.”

Trees ~ A Poem by Joyce Kilmer


by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Chapter 2 – Searching for Day, “A Secret Discovered”

Chapter Two ~ A Secret Discovered
Joe and Tony watched the waiter set a sixteen inch pepperoni pizza on the metal stand in the center of the table. The waiter put a slice on each of their plates.

When the waiter left, Joe raised his bottle toward Tony and said, “Salute.”

Tony clinked his beer bottle to Joe’s and responded, “Salute.”

They each took a short drink from their bottles, set them down, and began eating their pizza. The pizza was New York style, thin crust, with fresh buffalo mozzarella, and pepperoni imported from Italy. Joe folded his slice and took a healthy bite. He closed his eyes for a moment as he slowly chewed it. He said nothing. When he finished his slice, he used the small spatula to take another piece and set it on his plate. He took a sip of his beer, put the bottle down and said, “Tony, how long have you know me?”

Tony was surprised at the comment. He said, “Hey, we grew up together. You’re six months older than me that makes you 29 in two more months. So?”

“You knew my mom and dad, right?” asked Joe.

Tony looked confused, “Your mom and dad were like second parents to me. I loved them almost as much as my own. I still have a hard time with the way they got killed in the car accident last month. It wasn’t right. Your dad was what, 55 years old? And, your mom a couple years younger.”

Joe took a deep breath, and began, “I know, Tony. I’m still grieving. Some days, it hurts like hell.”

“Maybe you need to go to counseling,” said Tony.

“Maybe you don’t need to interrupt me, just listen, okay?” said Joe.

Tony held up both hands in surrender, he said, “Not another word.”

Joe took a bite of his slice, put it down and then took a sip of beer. He took a deep breath and began. “You ever hear the old saying, things are never as seem.”

Tony nodded, being careful not to say anything.

Joe continued as if he were talking to a tree, “I’m their only child. They are the only parents I’ve ever known. Everything I’ve accomplished I owe to them. They were so good to me. They wouldn’t let me take out college loans. Instead, they took a second mortgage on their house to put me through to make sure I was debt free when I graduated. I can never repay them for what they did for me.”

Joe stopped talking and he looked away staring out the window into the parking lot. He felt a surge of emotions beginning to flood through him. He felt regret he never told them as much as he wanted that he loved them. He felt regret he couldn’t prevent a DWI from running a stop sign and careening broadside into them. He felt regret he was always too busy with work and his social life during the past ten years to make much room for them.

Tony sat across from his brooding friend, a thousand questions ran through his mind. Every question slamming it brakes on at a stop sign he mentally placed in front of them.
Joe turned back to Tony, “I’m the sole beneficiary to their estate. It’s no big deal. They were still paying off the second mortgage they took out for me. Dad had a 401K account, it’s worth three hundred thousand dollars. They didn’t live long enough to collect their retirement. There is a money market, savings account, and checking account all together they’re under a hundred thousand. They didn’t believe in life insurance. The driver who hit them didn’t have insurance and was unemployed. I’m going through all this stuff now. You don’t think about this stuff and them boom, it’s hits you all at once and you’re not prepared.”

Joe stopped, took a sip of his beer, then a bite of his slice. When he finished, he continued, This past weekend, I went over to the house. I want to get it ready to call a realtor to put it on the market. I don’t want to live in it. It’s painful just opening the door. As soon as I walked in, I expected to see dad sitting on the sofa watching the Sox play. I expected mom to rush out of the kitchen and hug me and give me a kiss. I can’t shake the feeling they’re still alive and will suddenly show up. You know, it’s like they went away for a few days and suddenly come back home.”

Tony wanted to tell Joe, ‘It’s going to take time.’ But, he knew better. He took hold of his bottle and took a sip, not because he was thirsty, but because he wanted to let his best friend talk without him asking a question.

Joe gave a slight, wistful shake of his head and said, “They were packrats, they must have kept everything they ever bought from the day they were married. I started to go through a large box of photos and had to stop. It was too painful. I closed it up. I don’t know what I’ll do with them. Then there’s the Christmas boxes. Mom loved Christmas. There was box after box of Christmas lights and ornaments.”

Joe stopped for a moment. He finished his slice and put another slice on his plate. He took a bite, then looked at Tony and said, “If I keep going down memory lane, we’ll be here until they close.”

Tony waved him off with a swipe of his hand.

“I appreciate it, Tony. You’re a good friend. I’ll get straight to the point. I climbed the stairs into the attic. I wanted to make sure they were no boxes hiding up there. I found two boxes. One box was filled with tax returns going back twenty years. Why they kept them, I have no clue. I need to have them shredded. I opened the other box and it was filled with dad’s old army clothes. They’re more than thirty years old. He must have thought he’d get called back in.” Joe stopped for a moment and laughed at his joke. Then he continued, “I closed both boxes and moved them toward the attic opening. The box of taxes was the heaviest. They must have kept every tax return and documenting papers going back through every year of the marriage. It must have weighed a hundred pounds. I made sure I carefully picked it up. I didn’t want to hurt my back.”

Tony nodded.

Joe continued, “I picked up the box of clothes. It was light compared to the tax documents. When I set it down, I felt something shift inside, like a box within in a box. I didn’t see another box in there, but I didn’t poke around. I assumed it was all clothes. I opened the box and dug in and moved dad’s army clothes around. I found a metal box wrapped tight with duct tape. I shook the metal box, and I head something sliding around. I didn’t think much of it at the moment. I thought there might be some important papers I need to read regarding Mom and Dad’s estate. I carried the metal box out of the attic and took it home. I spent enough time trying to deal with memories.
“When I got home, I set the metal box on the table. I fetched a pair of scissors, and sat down at the table. Before I began cutting the duct tape, I carefully scanned the box to see if there was anything printed on it. I didn’t find anything. When I opened it, I thought my eyes were going to pop out of my head.”

Joe closed his eyes and he began the journey to a time when he was eight years old.

The Courtesy of the Blind ~ Poem by Wisława Szymborska

The Courtesy of the Blind

The poet reads his lines to the blind.
He hadn’t guessed that it would be so hard.
His voice trembles.
His hands shake.

He senses that every sentence
is put to the test of darkness.
He must muddle through alone,
without colors or lights.

A treacherous endeavor
for his poems’ stars,
dawns, rainbows, clouds, their neon lights, their moon,
for the fish so silvery thus far beneath the water
and the hawk so high and quiet in the sky.

He reads—since it’s too late to stop now—
about the boy in a yellow jacket on a green field,
red roofs that can be counted in the valley,
the restless numbers on soccer players’ shirts,
and the naked stranger standing in a half-shut door.

He’d like to skip—although it can’t be done—
all the saints on that cathedral ceiling,
the parting wave from a train,
the microscope lens, the ring casting a glow,
the movie screens, the mirrors, the photo albums.

But great is the courtesy of the blind,
great is their forbearance, their largesse.
They listen, smile, and applaud.

One of them even comes up
with a book turned wrongside out
asking for an unseen autograph.

—Wisława Szymborska

“The Courtesy of the Blind” from MONOLOGUE OF A DOG: New Poems by Wisława Szymborska, translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh.

English translation copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

What Are Heavy ~ Poem by Christina Rossetti

What Are Heavy?

By Christina Rossetti

What are heavy? Sea-sand and sorrow;
What are brief? Today and tomorrow;
What are frail? Spring blossoms and youth;
What are deep? The ocean and truth.