Note: This story is a “factional” story … based on something that happened to someone my mother knew many years ago. Some of the details are fictionalized.
by Linda Van Fleet
Life just isn’t fair, Jenny thought dispassionately as she stared unseeing at the trees across the road from where she was sitting on a scarred and dirty park bench. She was alone. She was hungry. She had no money, no job and her boyfriend had disappeared leaving her with the unpaid rent and utility bills. The landlord told her to pay up or get out. She had spent three days going from store to store, office to office, restaurant to restaurant seeking employment. No one was hiring. No one. She had nowhere to turn. She couldn’t go back home — her father had told her unceremoniously, “You made your bed — you lay in it.” Her mother had stood there with unshed tears in her eyes as she watched her only child throwing her things into the duffle bag saying nothing. She knew it was a hopeless situation.
Now she was pregnant. Almost eighteen, unmarried and pregnant.
She could still see her father’s face lined with utter disgust when he found her in an uncompromising situation with her boyfriend that awful day. Although her father’s accusations were unfounded at the time it happened, she knew it wouldn’t have been long before they were, in fact, a reality. Her boyfriend was very aggressive and had been well on the way to taking her to the point she knew she should not go. When her father had come home suddenly and surprised them in the den she was humiliated and ashamed. He was livid and had told her to “Get out!” So she had left home under a cloud of hurt and anger to make her own way in the world.
Now her world was crashing in around her. What to do? she wondered. Can’t call home. Can’t give him the satisfaction of knowing he was “right” about her. She knew she shouldn’t hold a grudge but she couldn’t help the feelings of hurt that welled up inside her. She almost hated him. She pushed aside the guilty feelings the thought evoked and lifted her head with stubborn resolve. I’ll find a way, she promised herself.
Her resolve vanished, however, when she arrived back at the little apartment where she and her boyfriend had lived for six months and found her duffle bag sitting in front of the door. Heart in her throat, she put the key in the lock and attempted to open the door. Her key would not turn the lock. She glanced toward the landlord’s apartment door and saw the door close quickly. He had been watching her. No need to blame him, she told herself. He had warned her to pay up or get out.
She stooped to pick up her duffle bag–so stuffed with her things it wouldn’t zip–but as she did so several items fell out and rolled across the hall. She dropped the bag and started reaching for the items — a hairbrush, her curling iron, a box of facial powder. So intent on her task she didn’t notice the man who had walked up beside her until she reached to retrieve her clock radio and saw the black, wing-tip shoes. Her heart wrenched inside her. Daddy’s shoes.
“Are you moving out?” his voice was soft and gentle but she recognized it immediately. What was her father doing here?
“What are you doing here? How did you find me? Why?” she whispered with a hoarse voice, not daring to lift her head to look him full in the face fearing the hatred, the anger, the bitterness she would see reflected in his eyes.
“I’ve come to say I am sorry. I’ve come to ask you to forgive me and to please come back home. I was wrong. I love you. Please come home!”
Jenny squeezed her eyes tight and sank back against the wall. She still had not looked up. She breathed deeply. “Why now?” she whispered, her voice trembling. He didn’t answer. “Why now?” she repeated a little louder and lifted her head to face him for the first time in six months.
But he wasn’t there! Quickly she scrambled to her feet and ran to the door of the building. He was nowhere to be seen.
Puzzled, Jenny walked back inside the building and looked at the duffle bag overflowing with
all her personal belongings. She knew it was her Dad, there was no mistaking his voice — nor the shoes. But, why had he left so suddenly? If he wanted her to come home, why didn’t he wait for her to gather her things?
Out of the corner of her eye she saw her landlord silently watching her from his barely opened door. She walked toward him and he opened the door wider, a concerned look on his face. “Look,” he began, “My hands are –“
“May I use your phone?” Jenny interrupted him. “It’s long distance and I can’t pay you but -“
He held the door open for her gestured toward the phone on the table. Quickly, she dialed her parent’s telephone number. No answer. Feeling helpless she hung up the phone. “How can I go home?” she asked aloud, frustration and despair evident in her voice. “I’ve no money at all! None.” A lone tear rolled down her cheek and splattered on her hand.
She turned away from the phone and started walking to the door. “I need a clock radio,” her landlord’s voice broke through her misery. “I’ll buy yours if its for sale.”
“What?” Jenny looked up in surprise. He was holding her clock radio, the one her parent’s had given her for Christmas two years ago. “How much can you give me?” she asked.
“Enough to buy a bus ticket and a hotdog, I think.” He handed her a wad of bills and smiled. “Go home, Jenny.”
When Jenny arrived at her parent’s house five hours later there was no one home. Nervously she unlocked the front door and entered the house. “Dad? Mom?” Her voice echoed through the entrance hall but the house was eerily silent. Placing her duffle bag on the hall tree, Jenny walked quickly through the living room into the big familiar kitchen where she had spent so many wonderful childhood days with her mother. She stopped in amazement at the scene that greeted her. Her mother’s kitchen, usually a place of warmth and beauty was now a mess of unwashed dishes and food sitting on the table. From the looks of it the food had been there for several days.
“Your father is in the hospital in ICU,” a neighbor informed her a few minutes later. “Your mom has hardly been home all week.”
Upon arrival at the hospital, Jenny found her mother sitting quietly beside her father’s bedside, her eyes closed, her head leaning against the back of the chair. “Mom?” Jenny spoke quietly.
“Oh Jenny! Thank God you are here! He’s been asking for you over and over!”
She pulled Jenny to the bedside where her father was lying. Her eyes took in the oxygen tube, IV’s and the monitors that were attached to him. When had this happened? Did he have a wreck on the way back from seeing her?
“Dad, I’m here,” Jenny whispered, grasping his right hand in her own. “Why did you leave in such a hurry?” She turned to her mom. “Did he have a wreck on the way back home today?”
“Jenny, your father has been here for a week,” her mother exclaimed in a hushed voice. “He had a heart attack last Sunday while we were having dinner. He’s had two strokes since being in the hospital. What on earth are you talking about?”
Jenny was quiet for a few minutes, thinking about what her mother had told her. If her Dad didn’t come to see her today, then who did? There was only one answer.
“God must have sent an angel who looks just like Daddy to see me today, Mom. He told me he is sorry and asked me to come home.”
“Jenny?” His voice was so faint they almost didn’t hear him. “Jenny?”
“Daddy, I am here.” Jenny leaned down to kiss his brow.
“I — sorry.” He stammered the words. ” … love ….you.”
“I love you, too, Daddy.” Jenny whispered, her heart swelling in thanksgiving to God who loved her so much he had sent an angel to bring the message of her father’s love and forgiveness.