I arrived home to the faint sound of coughing. I sighed before opening the front door of our three-flat. I knew what the sound meant and wished it would go away. But deep down, I was sure the only thing that could make it go away had already left this Earth – my mother.
Despite being a pharmacist and knowing better, my father refused to take care of himself. My mother had always done that for him. When she died, a part of him died too. They had been married forty-one years and never spent a night apart.
The night of her funeral, he went for a quick trip to the store, but never came back. It was completely out of character for my dad. Despite his age – pushing sixty – the man was strong, both physically and mentally. However, something had happened when she died, as if their souls were entwined and hers was pulling his through a cosmic sifter, string by ethereal string.
It was raining that night and I searched frantically, but he was nowhere to be found. I grew worried and didn’t know what to do.
I stayed up all night desperately waiting, watching the door, hoping he would stroll through as upbeat as ever. But it never happened. We had a freak, flash storm early that morning, which only added to the eerie atmosphere in the silent, empty house. I grew more concerned with each passing hour.
I knew he was distraught, but never thought he would buckle under and give up. I also knew that a sixty year-old man couldn’t last long outside in the midst of a monumental down pour, especially since he hadn’t taken a jacket.
At the break of dawn, I set out again on another search. I went every place I knew he frequented, including the pharmacy he owned for thirty-five years, but nothing, not a trace.
About to give up, it dawned on me to look where it had all begun. I desperately made my way to the Foggy Bottom Metro Station and descended the grainy steps. They had met on a train. In fact, the train was packed the day he first spotted her. My mother had glanced at him as she made her way back in search of a seat. The train jerked and she flew forward. My father caught her and offered his seat. The rest was history.
Something told me he was there.
I hit the bottom of the steps, paid my fare and entered the cavernous depot. To my relief, sitting on a bench, watching the latest train arrive, was my father, Emmanuel Locke, the pharmacist, the loyal husband, the man who graciously adopted and raised me.
I approached to find a man present in flesh, but not in spirit. He was also soaking wet and shivering. I quickly took him home and then to the doctor. His horrendous cough was a result of pneumonia. He was never quite the same and I feared the worst each time I opened the door.
I stepped inside and found him resting in his chair, watching television. The television reporter yakked about the tragic consequences should the stalled peace talks between the U.S. and China break down. I couldn’t help but wonder if that meant one of the two countries had somehow found a backdoor to the Benadine Mineral.
My dad grinned and attempted to say something, but his incessant hacking beat him to it. I quickly retrieved a glass of water. He slowly lifted the glass and drank, but it seemed more of a burden than helpful. He coughed again, but this time it ground uncomfortably at the engine’s core.
“Here, Dad, take another sip.”
He tried, but it was futile. The water now seemed to be his enemy. After conceding, I put the glass on the table and sat down. I noticed his eyes spot something that produced a momentary sparkle. I looked down and realized I still had my Past Lives Letter clutched between my fingers. The letter captivated me as much as it did him. The heavy bonded paper blanketing my past felt thick and strong on my fingers.
Open it, my mind whispered.
No ... I forced myself to resist.
Why did the past command such a powerful grip on the present and, ultimately, the future? Even though I believed it shouldn’t, I knew opening today’s and Friday’s letters would determine my future with Allison – her father had made that certain. The Colonel was suspicious of me for some reason and although Allison had tried to downplay it, her father had made it more than clear.
I think the first nail in the coffin was finding out I was adopted and my not knowing who my birth-parents were. I suspected it could be a class thing; that is, his belief that all orphans came from the bottom of the heap. Some people looked down on us for that reason, believing there was something inherently wrong or untrustworthy in our DNA. It hurt and at times made me hate my birth-parents for doing this to me. I wondered who they were and what led them to the decision to toss me aside.
The second nail in the coffin for the Colonel was the fact that I didn’t want to know who I was in my past lives. Once he heard that and found my conviction on the matter unwavering, he grew doubly suspicious. Allison tried to play it off as an intelligence officer simply doing what an intelligence officer does best; that is, suspecting the worst, but I didn’t buy it. He had it out for me and was determined to get to the bottom of the Trenton enigma.
I had these two things going against me on top of the simple fact that I was dating his daughter. That one wasn’t too hard to figure out. It was as old as mankind.
I shook off thoughts of the Colonel and lifted my finger from the wax seal. My dad coughed for a few seconds, inhaled deeply and slowly returned to a stable breathing pattern.
“It’s tempting, isn’t it?” He asked with a youthful gleam in his eyes. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant.
“Having your past right there in front of you and not opening it. I couldn’t wait when I was your age.”
“Sure is tempting,” I admitted. My index finger gently caressed the edge of the letter.
“Trenton,” his voice grew serious, “Allison told me about the situation with her father.”
My finger stopped.
“What?” The engine deep inside his chest burst again. “When?”
“I hate to see you so miserable-”
“And I know you like this girl more than anything … definitely more than you let on.”
“You remind me of your mother that way. She didn’t like to admit it, but she thought I was something special.” He winked proudly.
“She was right, Pops.”
“And she believed in the truth, you know?”
“I miss her too, Dad.” My mind flashed back to the nightlong search for him after her funeral. I guess love plays havoc with our minds sometimes.
“She and I agreed that we’d tell you about your real parents someday.”
“You did?” I replied, surprised then shook my head. “You guys are my real parents, you know that.”
“Of course ... I was just saying.” He took a sip of water. “Anyway, we meant to tell you, but you never showed much interest-”
I cut him off before he said something he had kept a secret my entire life.
“I’m not sure if I want to know.”
“Really, but what about Allison and her father? You know this may not be the last time something like this comes up because of your adoptive status?”
“I know, but what does that have to do with me – with who I am right now? I mean, you raised me. You know who I am. For Pete’s sake, I’m more a product of you than some people I never met.”
“There’s certainly a good argument for that.”
“You don’t sound convinced. Are you suggesting there’s also a good argument for nature overcoming nurture?”
“I’m not saying anything with 100 percent conviction. However, there’s no denying the blood that flows through your veins has something to do with the person you’ve become – a very good person, I must say.”
“I don’t know ... I think I’d rather just everyone leave me alone right now. Besides, I have to go to work.”
“You know I don’t like you taking the Metro home from there at night.”
“Come on, Dad, we’ve been through this a thousand times. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Just promise you won’t get off at any of the stops in between, okay?”
“Okay, I promise.”
He threw me a half-smile and the coughing started again. I put my letter on the table and handed over his glass of water.
“Do you want me to bring anything back for you?”
“A couple of egg rolls with hot mustard would be great.”
“Two egg rolls coming up,” I exclaimed and stepped out the door.