I sat quietly in one corner of my new, comfortably cured up upon the soft pillows of the couch with kitty at my feet. The ray of morning sun gently warmed our favorite spot while I contemplated the thesis of my next essay. My movements were slow and deliberate as I put pen to paper. Like my furry friend, I paused in a manner, stalking, curiously approaching each idea floating across the floor mysteriously, like a dust ball; then I chased it, toyed with it, and finally captured it. Overwhelmed by my conquest, I burrowed deeper into the crevices of the couch, displaced my domesticated comrade, and contently rested my eyes. Pussycat later returned to make a point of reclaiming her throne and I awoke anguished by the palpating critical thoughts of revision yet to be done. Maintaining an aloof attitude, I repositioned myself in front of the computer. My blinkless stare, mirrored in the screen of the monitor, sent silent messages to my fingers, while my feline cunning continued to peruse my literary efforts. The twitching of Kitty’s tail kept time with my drumming digits, as I carefully considered my next move. I arose, only to prowl about the room in search for the words to bring my message to a close. I took an adventurous leap. And landed noiselessly upon my feet.
It is dark and the damp air hangs heavy about me. I know what comes next, it is the sound of explosions and the bright light they cause. I tremble with fear and cower into the corner of the hill side. With each moment that passes the sound is louder and the flashes more intense; my heart beats faster. I feel the end is close and that any moment the explosion will be so close I will not be able to escape it. Through the brush I see a dark figure approaching. I pray, to save me from this peril. His hand reaches for me and then a sudden flash of light blinds me and his words are lost in the blast. My throat closes in fear and my scream silent as I suddenly sit up soaked in sweat, the covers tossed all about the bed. I hear my husband ask, “What’s wrong?” I tell him it was my usual recurring nightmare. Who was this faceless stranger coming to my rescue? I leaned back and put my head on the pillow hoping I would be able to relax enough to fall back asleep. All I could think of is why, why do I have this recurring nightmare. Later that morning I awoke and had a moment of clarity, I decided to find my father.
I called my mother and asked her if she had any idea how I would go about looking for my dad. She had left Harold when I was four years old. She got up one morning got dressed and dressed me in my nicest outfit. Then left the apartment she shared with my dad and got a cab to meet my future step-father. She never went back. Over the years we only had contact with Harold on several occasions. I was twenty-two now and I have not seen him since I was very young. I felt I had to put this dream to rest and the only way to do it was to find him. My mother said the only thing she thought would work was to contact an old friend of his on the island. She still had their number after all these years, the question was would it work.
I felt the panic setting in as the phone on the other end rang, but I was determined to follow through. Just as I thought the call would end a bright and cheerful voice rang out on the other end. It was Dotty and to my surprise I recognized her voice from years earlier. She and Tony still lived in the same place out on long Island. She immediately started to ramble on about how they moved but just across the street and how wonderful it was to hear from me. I finally got a chance to speak and told her that I wanted to contact my dad. Nothing could prepare me for what came next. With a shrill of excitement, she blurted out, “your timing is incredible!”. My dad was walking through her front door at that very moment.
Could this really be happening? I was overwhelmed as he got on the phone and we spoke for the first time in seventeen years. His voice was soft and his words so very kind and he was just as emotional as I was. We agreed to get together which would mean a trip to New York for me. I got off the phone and even though I was still shaking, I called my mother and told her about the arrangements. Without hesitation she offered to go along. I guess for her it was curiosity. I had no idea what this meant for me.
The trip was uneventful but long enough to think about who I was about to meet. This was the man my mother lived with for six years. The man who gambled, drank, and cheated on my mother. Did I really need to seek out his friendship? On the other hand, he was my father and I never had the opportunity to know him. Was he still that same person or had the years changed him? My mother was very supportive of this mission of mine and surprisingly excited for the opportunity to see him again after all these years. It was late in the day when we arrived at my grandmother’s apartment in Astoria. Tomorrow was the big day. I don’t think I slept a wink that night.
The noon hour was fast approaching and I knew the door buzzer was going to ring any minute. I looked out the window and down on the street below was a tall man, a bit round, and bald. The buzzer rang. That’s him! I buzzed him in and waited at the door as he climbed the stairs. My heart was racing as I invited him in to my grandmother’s home. We greeted each other rather awkwardly. He immediately recognized and went over to my grandmother and gave her a hug. They both noted the years gone by and how they never kept in touch. I had to introduce him to my mother. Years changed them both and he had not recognized her. I stood frozen in thought…both my parents in the same room with me. It was a moment that till this day brings me to tears…I was whole, complete and in the presence of my parents. Dad and I spent the rest of the day together getting to know each other and the rest of our lives creating our memories. No regrets and no recurring dream.
A Stranger Found
Black Bird Bye, Bye
A Stranger Found
I chose to share these stories on my website. I hope it will be the first of many. Your feedback is welcomed.
BLACK BIRD BYE, BYE
By Evelyn Dorn
The pallbearers mournfully placed the sleek gray casket in the hearse. I closed my eyes; I couldn’t look. The funeral director arranged the last of the flowers around the casket and slammed shut the door to the hearse. That harsh sound brought me back to a nightmarish reality that had started a month earlier—the day I drove to Gram’s apartment in Queens. There she stood, patiently waiting for me at the curb on Astoria Boulevard, oblivious to inner city dangers. Her body, once full bosomed and well padded, was now so small and thin that it all but disappeared in the folds of her black jersey knit blouse and pants. She clutched, with one had, her red cape just below the neck to keep the brisk spring air from her chest; with the other, she reached for my hand as I opened the van door to help her to her seat. Over the last few years, glaucoma and cataracts had fogged her vision and stripped the twinkle from her eyes, leaving only her voice to reflect her usual high-spirited frame of mind. Today, however, she appeared troubled and uncomfortable. Her shrill complaints about her failing health, the terrible things happening around the world, and all the members of her family who work so hard at paying her no mind were made continuously throughout our trip. I glanced at her through the rearview mirror. Her feathery dark brown hair separated from her once handsome soft pink face by a halo of gray hair, now crowned a deathlike ashen mask with features hardened, sharp, and deeply lined with seventy-five years of living. We pulled into the Medical Center parking lot. As our eyes met, it was apparent that we both sensed the impending outcome of her visit to the physician.
Gram’s illness was quickly diagnosed and confirmed. Within a few days, she was moved from a local hospital to Jersey Shore Medical. It was on my third visit to her hospital room, that Gram had greeted me so indignantly with, “Well, Evelyn, I’ve got “the big C”! I’m going to die!” Her terminal candor startled me, even though what she had said was not news, for I had already known of her condition. Out of respect for her strong sense of independence, I had insisted that the hematologist tell her everything, so that she would have the opportunity to make her own decisions about the type of treatment to be used and maintain her dignity. Sadly, the strength that helped Gram, now widowed, endure two difficult marriages, the birth of seven children, and the struggle to live on her own for the past ten years was quickly being diminished by acute leukemia. She was experiencing her worst fear.
Soon after the anger that this news had evoked subsided, Gram’s take-charge organized manner began to surface and she told me of all the arrangements she had already made for her burial. As she spoke, I realized how the death of her second husband, Frank, had laid the groundwork and was influencing the preparation for her own. He had been hospitalized at Bellevue for ten years with cancer. Dutifully she had visited him weekly, only to witness the slow and painful deterioration of his mind and body. At times she confessed that she looked upon his suffering as a pay back for the misery he had caused her during the later years of their marriage. Knowing this and expressing these feelings caused her to expect more pain and to be repentant of her past deeds, even distant spiteful acts, like the time Frank came home to find the blackbird, that he had spent several lunch hours trying to catch, dead. Grandma, tired of hearing the thing screeching all day, had placed its cage on the roof just outside the kitchen window. The poor bird, whose tongue Frank had intended to split before he taught it to speak, died from the extreme heat caused by the sun beating down on the black roof all day. “Serves you right, Frank, it would be inhumane to split a wild blackbird’s tongue,” Gram’s sharp tongue clacked defensively.
Now, quietly lying in her hospital bed in Neptune, she had become so weak she could just barely manage a whisper, “Look in the very back of the third drawer in that tall dresser in the far corner of my bedroom.” She hesitated then added, “You’ll find what you need.”
Several hours later I was pushing hard on the heavy metal door, in Queens. A rush of stagnant hot air pushed past me as I entered Grandma’s Astoria Boulevard apartment. In her bedroom, I stood before her dresser and slowly opened the designated drawer, as if, some special treasure lay hidden beneath my grandma’s nighties. Carefully I sorted through bankbooks, letters, deeds, and precious mementos of the past. It was like reading someone’s diary. I stopped to admire some jewelry and several pictures of Gram’s children, three of whom I had never seen because they had died so soon after birth. Everything seemed in order: deed to the burial plot, accounts made payable upon death to those she thought deserving of her modest estate, and a key to the safety deposit box. I collected the things I needed, including a list of family phone numbers and left Gram’s cozy little nest.
Gram’s time was noticeably growing short. It was time to call her brother, nephew, and niece, and all her children. Earlier news of her illness had caught most of them by surprise. Even now, I had to call some of them two or tree times to convey the graveness of her condition and the urgency due if they intended to see her once more. Their responses gave me insight as to why Grandma favored some over others. Except for my mother, my uncle Cliff, and myself, shattered emotions did not dominate the scene when we all finally gathered in Gram’s hospital room. I looked around the room and studied the faces of the givers and takers in Gram’s life. There was my mother, who flew to Gram’s bedside as soon as I called her, and who now grieved for the time not spent with her mother over the years. Gram’s brother Leander, who acted somewhat indifferent to the situation, chose to sit quietly in the back of the room. His daughter, Kathy spoke softly of Jesus, telling Gram how wonderful it will be when he takes her hand and she follows him into the light. Henry, Gram’s nephew, her favorite when he paid attention to her, gently hugged her frail body, the same frail body that could, if need be, muster a “no” for her son George, who has always had one hand in her pocket fishing for a few dollars. Without a word, he just quickly kissed her on the forehead and moved away. Just two steps behind George stood Eddie, holding his hand out in the same familiar manner to gently caress his mother’s pale thin-skinned hand. Cliff, the youngest and the most elusive, was clearly disturbed by Gram’s impending death, but like the others he kept his visit short.
I was glad to see them all leave; even if it meant that I would be left alone to tend Gram’s needs. Except for my mother, who took comfort in letting me handle all the details, including signing a “no code” permission slip to be used when Grandma stopped breathing, the rest were too busy thinking only of themselves.
A few days later, I sat quietly staring out the window of the hospital room; the only sound heard was that of my grandmother laboring to capture each breath of air. The end was near; the signs were all there. Now I could only reminisce about the past. My thoughts wandered through years past: when I was young and shared my bed and secrets with her on her yearly summer visits; to our adventures of last summer when we explored the casinos of Atlantic City together. Suddenly, my attention was drawn to the windowsill where a large blackbird had landed. It pecked at the window, as though it was demanding that my comatose grandmother take notice. “What errand are you on, blackbird?” I asked, somewhat amused with my thought that the spirit of some departed family member had come in the form of a bird to escort Grandma on to the next world. As the winged intruder took flight, I turned to my grandmother and saw her lying there looking so small and helpless. I shifted in my seat and once again glanced at the window; just then the room fell silent. The time had come to focus on the funeral arrangements not yet made.
As the sound of the hearse doors slamming shut still echoed in my ears, I stepped into the limousine and took my place next to my mother. Slowly, I leaned back and settled into the soft textured seat, fighting the exhaustion I knew would soon set in. Gently, I lifted my mother’s hand and placed it in mine to comfort her. The trip to the cemetery was long and uneventful until we came to a halt just inside the cemetery gates.
In that moment, on the ground just in front of the hearse, landed two large blackbirds. There they hesitated until the small procession start to move again, inviting our winged escorts to see us to the gravesite. It was then that the tears of grief filled my eyes and I said, “Goodbye!
A note from the Author Evelyn Dorn:
The inspiration was the visit of the blackbird to my grandmother’s hospital room window. Most everything about the story is true…even the death of Frank’s trophy. There actually is one exception to the story. My mother was sitting with me when we were visited by the black bird and in morbid amusement, we spoke of Frank coming in the form of the blackbird to escort her to the other side. I sensed then that my grandma’s end was eminent. Occasionally she would lift her arm as though reaching out to her heavenly escort. I suggested to my mother that we go for coffee, knowing that being in the room at that time would be more then she could bear. We were only in the coffee shop a few minutes when I knew (and in my minds eye saw) that the nurse was coming down to tell us that my grandmother had passed. I have had many moments like this over the years, but this one was and remains the most intense and clear.