Chapter 9: The White Bird
May 12, 2017
I race into the kitchen, grab my morning protein shake, as usual, and head out the door.
While driving to work I rack my brain trying to think who that man on the street could’ve been. I look down at the all of raised hair follicles on my arm. These townhomes could not get any stranger! Geez.
I roll down my window. Spring is in full effect. Pollen is scattered all over the windshield. The flowers are in bloom, the trees look flush and green, the air is warm, the birds are singing, and the sun is new again. I love the spring. I just wish I could enjoy it from the comforts of my old home. My home!
I gulp down my protein shake, adjust my skirt, and walk through the sliding glass doors.
“Good morning, Rain,” the receptionist smiles, that ridiculous fake grin.
“It’s Raines. Good morning,” I snap.
I walk through the gray door quickly and into my cubicle.
There is a large pile of invoices waiting on my gray chair. I start sorting through the stack alphabetically and entering them into my spreadsheet.
Swish . . . swish . . . swoooosh
The toilets flush one by one.
I am just waiting for that creepy Heather to stalk me for something at any moment. I turn to look at her. She isn’t at her desk. Neither is Suzie.
Hmmmm . . .
Where are they? They are usually always there—just sitting and typing.
I pretend that I need to print something, so I can walk to the printer which is right in front of Mr. Fluffle’s office.
You see, I don’t have a printer at my desk. Our department has a shared printer down the hall, and unfortunately, I have to walk to the printer at least a hundred times a day. And maybe that’s why I have lost all this weight. Who knows.
I walk across the gray carpet like a cat burglar as I slip on my readers. I can see Heather and Suzie sitting in Mr. Fluffle’s office. The doors are shut. My nostrils flare of their own accord. Hmmmmmm . . . It looks like they are discussing something. Oh God, what if it’s me!? Maybe, they are tattling on me about that CSV file fiasco! Or maybe, they realized they need someone with better computer skills! Oh geez, I am going to get fired! I know it. How embarrassing!
Just as I dart back to my seat, one of my heels snag into the gray carpet and I trip and fall like a butterfingered buffoon, luckily saving myself at the last second along the corner of the cubicle wall. Whew. That was close. I plop down on my seat and start writing today’s date, over and over, on top of all my invoices. This place gives a new meaning to the word redundancy.
I rotate my chair around.
Cliff Yarborough is perched over my cubicle.
“Hello, oh, how did I forget—lunch. How long have you been relishing over my gray wall?” I muster.
“Just a few seconds,” he whispers.
His tall frame, pale skin and salt n’ pepper hair startle me. He looks different today.
“I came to tell you that I can’t go to lunch today. Hopefully we can go later next week,” he mopes.
“Oh, no problem! I am super busy today, anyways.”
I am thrilled to death.
“Aren’t you going to ask why I can’t eat lunch?” he quizzes me.
“Oh, um, yes, why can’t you eat lunch today Cliff?”
His face whitens like a ghost and his lips quiver.
“Because I have a meeting in Mr. Fluffle’s office in a few minutes.”
“What for?” I ask.
“I don’t know yet,” his eyes widen.
“Did you do anything wrong? Why are you so worried?” I try to pretend like he is being silly.
He stutters, “Um-I-I-I was late on Monday. I can’t really think of—oh wait—and I almost fell asleep at my desk five times this week.”
Is he serious?
“I’m sure your just being paranoid, don’t worry! I did the same thing!” I plaster a grin on my face.
Mr. Fluffle’s office slams and Heather rudely knocks on my wall.
“Sorry to interrupt your conversation, but have you seen my gray stapler? It’s missing! I had it yesterday and it’s gone.”
I watch Cliff whimper down the hall into Mr. Fluffle’s office, easing the door shut behind him.
I wrinkle my forehead, “Heather, I have not seen it. I promise.”
I frantically look all over my desk for it—Did I borrow that?
“Someone took it,” her eyes fire up like a torch.
“Can’t you go into the office supply room and get another one?”
Her head is now a nuclear war missile about to launch.
Ring. Ring. Ring . . . the 1970’s gray phone rings on my desk and I can see Mr. Fluffle’s extension appear on the caller ID.
Skeptically, I pick it up as Heather’s head slowly disappears behind my cubicle.
“Raines Lawrence with Account Payables,” I try to project as much confidence as I possibly can through the phone.
“It’s Mr. Fluffle. Can you meet me in my office in one hour, please?’
Oh no. I think I may vomit.
I can’t afford to lose this job. I really need this job!
Several minutes pass. I hear Suzie and Heather typing away.
Click. Click. Clickety-click. Click. Click. Click. Clickety-click.
All of the clicks rebound off the boring gray walls as my mind races.
Oh dear god. I can see it about to happen. The words “You’re fired” ring loud and clear in my head.
I look up my wall and start splashing red, white, and maroon paints in the shape of a heart. Engulfed in the heart, I picture Leo’s sweet face looking at me with his innocent brown eyes. I’m sorry, Leo. God, I have messed everything up!
Click.Click. Clickety-Click. Click. Click. Clickety-Click.
I peek around my wall. I see the back of Cliff’s head walk out of Mr. Fluffle’s office and down the hall.
I hope Cliff is ok. Geez.
Five minutes pass. I hear whispers in Suzie’s cubicle.
Now it’s a mix of whispers and clicks.
I feel sick to my stomach.
After an hour of agony, I nervously manage to walk down the hall to Mr. Fluffle’s office. And I walk carefully this time, making sure I don’t trip.
His door is open.
I knock once on the glass door anyway. “Hello, Mr. Fluffle. You wanted to see me?” I walk inside, pausing in front of his large desk for a second.
“Have a seat,” his voice is pleasant, yet domineering.
I sit down, slouching at first, but then I straighten up. I can feel the top of my shirt sink down right above my cleavage and then, SNAP! Oh dear Lord, the clasp of my bra just came undone! I clear my throat and throw my shoulders forward.
“Are you ok?” he asks.
“Yes! Yes!” I laugh, hoping that it would mask the embarrassment.
Thank God I wore this thick camisole underneath the blouse today. He can’t see what’s happened. Play it cool, Raines, play it cool.
“Ok, well I just wanted to brief you on a few things,” he mumbles.
“Yes, Mr. Fluffle,” my voice is trembling now.
“So . . . you have been here for about . . .?”
Oh god, it’s coming. I don’t know what I am going to do. I have about three hundred dollars in my bank account. That’s it. Unemployment office, here I come.
“Two weeks now, and . . .”
I look up at the picture frames hanging above his desk. Awards and motivational quotes with pictures of serene waterfalls hang caddy corner to each other. One of them reads, “To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence. – Mark Twain.”
Huh? I don’t really get that one.
“. . . and so we are going to let you decide . . .”
Heather Bumblebee walks by the office, to the printer. She creepily eyes us through the glass door. I wonder if she can hear through the walls. She’s probably the one that convinced Mr. Fluffle that it was best to let me go.
“. . . the flavor of doughnuts we buy this Friday.”
What? Flavor of doughnuts!!!
“Mr. Fluffle, did you just say that you want me to decide what doughnuts the company will eat this Friday?” I shriek.
“Yes. Heather, Suzie, and I arrived at this decision today; we are going to let you be the key decision maker on this project. So, this is very important. Take a few minutes. Look over this menu. And email us your decision by 11:45 a.m., so I can order them. Make sure to cc Suzie and Heather in your email.”
What? Is this really happening? Did he just ask me to do that? I thought I was getting fired with my bra unsnapped.
“Ok, uh—yes, no problem Mr. Fluffle! I will get right on that!” I relax my shoulders and snatch up the menu.
“Thank you Raines,” his eyebrows furrow again, an awkward look on his face.
I stand up, glance at that motivational poster over the top of his balding head, seeing that, at least, there is plenty of Mark Twain’s ingredient to success in this company. Ignorance sure is in abundance here.
I carry the menu over to my desk, examining the varieties of doughnuts.
Okay, there is raspberry, chocolate, birthday cake, vanilla, blueberry, chocolate chip, lemon custard, and the list goes on forever.
Never have I seen so many flavors.
What do I choose? What if I choose a flavor that no one likes? Then, the whole company will whisper behind closed doors, even more than they do now, whenever I walk by. I can’t have that.
I look at the time on my computer. I have about ten minutes to email my decision.
But first, I must do something else. Luckily for me, the ladies restroom is only a few steps away from my desk. I waltz to the bathroom. As I stand there, buckling up the clasp of my bra, a brilliant idea pops in my head.
I march back to my desk resolutely.
I slide the keyboard closer to my arms and start typing:
CC: Heatherbumblehand@greenenterprise.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Mr. Fluffle,
I have thought of a different approach. Instead of picking one flavor of doughnuts on the menu, how about we order a large variety of them. That way, we will have a few of each, and everyone can choose the doughnut they want on Friday.
Junior Account Specialist
Greene Enterprises, INC
I toss the doughnut menu over to the side of my desk and browse my remaining emails. Let’s see. An email from the office manager, reminding us to close the window blinds. Delete. An email from Suzie Valentino of the invoice deadlines. Save. Another email from Suzie Valentino regarding a team meeting on Mondays at 9:00 a.m. Oh lovely. Oh, here is another email from the office manager, reminding us to limit the amount of soap we use in the break room. Delete. Ding. A new email pops up in my box:
CC: Darrinfluffle@greeneenterprises.com; email@example.com
Greene Enterprises appreciates your forward-thinking attitude, but I think this breaks our Friday doughnut tradition, and seeing that our company’s motto is to hold true to its values, we should stick to company traditions, as I don’t think our owner, Harry Stimpleton would appreciate this unconservative approach. And make sure to order two extra for Cliff Yarborough. He was promoted today.
Have a Blessed Day!
Senior Account Specialist
Greene Enterprises, INC.
Oh geez. I look back up at the gray walls, groaning ever so slightly, realizing that I will just have to dumb it down working here. Quirky office politics are not my thing. Ok, Chocolate doughnuts it is then. Just as I am about to type my response in the email, Heather walks by my desk.
“Here are some more invoices, please have them keyed in by the end of today!”
May 13, 2017
I walk outside onto the porch and try to soak in a few minutes of peace before I drive back to another day of sitting on my ass all day behind a computer.
I look over across the street to see if that man is there again. Nope. The streets are empty.
I sip on my coffee noticing that the birds aren’t chirping in the trees like they usually do. The air starts swirling and the sky looks like it’s about to let loose a torrential, pouring rain. Ironically, specks of the sun are still shining out from the thick clouds.
My cell phone rings. I don’t recognize the number.
“Hi—um Raines? This is Anna. I am sorry to call like this . . . but your father passed away this morning.”
I freeze. My eyes well up with tears. Anna, whom I had never met, was my father’s new girlfriend. I remember that name from the last time he called. I hold the phone down, looking across the street. Despite the news, everything around me continues its normal routine—I hear the annoying new neighbor’s barking dog; the cars driving up and down the street; a plane flies through the dark clouds; the sound of the buzzing weed eater. Tears are now streaming down my face, while the tiny rays of the sun touch my face. I drop the phone. “Don’t they know? Can’t they see?” I whisper to myself, “—My father just passed away. And I didn’t even get to say goodbye.”
May 15, 2017
I manage to convince Mr. Fluffle to give me a few days off work, so I pack a few clothes, and my sister and I head to the airport for St. Petersburg, Florida. We had planned on a small cremation ceremony for my father with my uncle and a few other family members. My uncle had a boat. He lived on Tampa Bay, and so, we were going to scatter my father’s ashes in the ocean, as that was his last wish.
Luckily, my friend Sarah agreed to watch Leo over the weekend. The insurmountable pain I felt over the past week resonated through every inch of me, day and night. Not one second went by that I wasn’t thinking about my father. All the lost years. Could I have changed this? Should I have just picked up the phone more often? Had I not pushed him away all those years ago, maybe we would’ve been closer. I cried in the shower. I cried every morning waking up. I even cried in my sleep. What little relation I had, is now gone.
My sister and I board the plane. We laugh, cry, and revisit our old childhood memories, but most of all, we both know we have missed out on a “real father.” Most of our childhood memories with him were at the beach. He loved the beach and the ocean. My sister and I had a pretty good relationship. We were different, but we had always understood these differences. She knows all about Ben and the heartache I have suffered over the years, and she supported me through it all.
But my sister doesn’t struggle with the loss of our father like I do. What I needed was different somehow. I needed reconciliation with myself and my father. I needed to let go and forgive. Death is so final. So finite. So real. Everything is clear. And the one thing you will always remember from that person is when they told you those words, I love you. I remembered when he would tell me he loved me, you know, during those phone calls. It wasn’t until now, that I realize he really did. I should have known better. I’m a mother, and I know the love you have for a child—it’s undeniable. Beyond all his issues, he loved me. Truly. Everyone in this world is so different yet so very much the same.
The plane lands, and we arrive at our uncle’s house a little after six. Sadly, we haven’t seen him in over twenty years. All ties with my father’s side of the family were completely cut off after my parents’ divorce.
My aunt answers the front door and my sister and I make some small talk with as we walk inside the house. My uncle emerges from the living room to greet us. He is the spitting image of my father. It is like turning back the hands of the clock, fond memories resurface from the time I was only five years old. All my childhood memories with my father start flooding back in my mind. It is all slightly a blur.
It is almost sun down. We all make our way into my uncle’s fishing boat, and we ride through a small canal behind all these huge Spanish-style houses leading into the Tampa Bay. No one really speaks a word on the boat. We all feel the pain. I look at the box that holds my father’s ashes, and a huge sadness grips me. The water shines a gorgeous blue, and the sky is perfectly clear.
The sun is starting to set over the water, and then, I see this beautiful white bird, very big, fly across the canal. My soul is overcome with peace. I know that bird is God.
We ride further out into the Tampa Bay. The water is choppy here, and the current pulls the boat. My absolute favorite thing about the ocean is its power. Only God can create something with strength of such magnitude.
My uncle finds a spot in the ocean for anchoring the boat. The silence on the boat continues.
I bow my head and utter a prayer for my father.
“Heavenly father, release my father’s soul and every piece of mine with his,
Release the sweet memories,
Release the chained love,
Release his sense of humor,
Release his God-gifted uniqueness,
Release his transgressions,
Release his goodwill,
Release the pain,
Into an ocean full of forgiveness.”
I head to the box of ashes on the boat and pick it up.
We each take turns to pour the ashes over the bow of the boat, into the ocean. Pouring my father’s ashes into the ocean, it’s just like giving dust back to the earth, where it belongs. At this moment, I just let it all go. I forgive. The love I feel for my father right now is greater than ever before in my life, because I have forgiven.
I had tried to put him on a pedestal for far too long. I expected perfection from a father instead of accepting him for who he was. He was who he was. And no, he wasn’t a great father. And he wasn’t there like a father should have been. But I still forgive him. I do.
I sit there watching the sun dip lower past a few billowing clouds lighting them up like a bright red fire. My dad is up there. He is basking in the red and pink hues that seamlessly dance around the big flaming ball submerging into the water. I keep my eyes fixed on the scene until the last tiny tip of the sun is no longer visible. The big white bird flies through the air again, disappearing into the orange, pink, and red sky.
And I realize that life is a cycle of love and forgiveness. In small ways and big. Every day, the sun sets only to rise again. And every day, the ocean tides come in and then out, bringing the ocean waves closer and pushing it backwards, time and again. It’s reconciliation that mends a soul. It keeps us together. Whether it’s the tiniest error in our ways or a huge mistake, forgiveness, is necessary. And it connects our lives with each other and to God. And if you refrain from forgiving, it will wait for you as long as it takes.
May 18, 2017
The rest of the trip is a blur. The airport, the plane ride, everything is a blur. My sister and I say our goodbyes at the airport, and we drive back home to our individual simple little lives.
When I arrive at the house, the first thing I notice is that same red car parked right in front of my house. I walk into my place, spilled cereal is on the kitchen table and everywhere all over the floor.
I need to call Leo and tell him to come home from Sarah’s house after school. How am I going to explain all of this to him? He hasn’t really asked much about my father. I can’t blame him though. He has never even met him once in his life.
I sit down on the oversized brown twill armchair in the living room. My eyes scan around. My décor is just what I wanted. Lots of blues and taupes—a quaint farmhouse appeal. But still, I think, what a cruel twist of fate, coming from my dream home to this tiny 1600 sq. ft. townhome.
I look out the window and there Fiona stands with her bright pink lipstick and strange yellow dress!
I get up and to open the door and then stop.
“Open the door. It’s important darling!” She yells on the porch.
I crack the door a little, “Yes? I have been out of town and I just got home and-”
“I know I am sorry to bother you darling, but that person came back to your house again yesterday.”
“Yes,” I try to concentrate. I had forgotten. My emotions are swirling of my father.
“I saw him at your window yesterday just standing there and looking in so I came over to confront him. It was a young man about the age of your son I think. He wore a black hooded sweatshirt, jeans and boots.”
“What did he say?” I ask impatiently.
“He asked for Leo. He wanted to see him. I told him to leave the property and that I would let Leo know he is looking for him. He gritted his teeth and stood there inwardly seething. Then he left.”
“Ok. I will talk to Leo when he gets home. What did he look like?” I ask in a huff.
“He had a large build and curly brown hair. He was a young man. He was a little bit scary.”
“Ok thank you, Fiona. I will talk to Leo as soon as he gets home. He has been staying at my friend’s house but he should be coming home when school is out. I will make sure to figure this out!!”
I shut the door and drag my suitcase upstairs, fuss around the room, while unpacking all my clothes. The room is spinning with worries of Leo and the loss of my father.
Memories of my father wave in and out of my head as I fold my shirt like a zombie. He is gone. And the only tangible memories I have left of him are the pictures I had kept safely in the bottom drawer of my dresser in my old bedroom. I forgot to pack them! This drawer was my place of keepsakes of all things dear. Pictures from childhood . . . poems I had written . . . old love letters . . . meaningful cards I had received. I left them. How could I have left these? I know what I must do. I have to go back over there and get them before Ben throws anything away!
I pick up my cell phone and dial Ben. No answer. It has now been four weeks, and I have not heard a single word from him.
I can’t take this anymore.
I put on a hat and race downstairs.
I am going to do what I know I shouldn’t. I am going back to my house.