Something Other Than the Truth

by Foster Trecost

    The search for my father ended when my grandfather died. We last spoke on his birthday a month before the funeral: “Seventy-seven!” I shouted. In those waning days, everything had to be shouted.

            “That's about enough,” he said. We rambled on and I lacked the wherewithal to know it would be our last conversation; I ended the call as I ended the previous ones, fully expecting there'd be another.

            I traveled by train and settled into an empty compartment. One stop later, a young couple entered. They seemed poor by the looks of their clothes, but I'm not one to decipher current fashion. Sometimes we can't see the truth because it's easier to believe something other than the truth; they looked poor so I believed they were poor. “Where you headed?” I asked.

            Neither answered and after an hour of silence, they were gone. When three men walked in, I kept to myself, but soon the same question I asked the kids was asked to me.

            “I'm going home,” I answered, but the word home seemed inappropriate. I hadn't told the truth and felt something, not guilt as guilt was far too strong, but still I felt something that moved me enough to amend my answer: “I'm going to the place where I grew up, the place that used to be my home.”

            “I see,” said one. “But home, if defined as the place you grew up, would still apply.”

            Many years had passed since I considered that place my home, but in that minute, it became home again. “Yes, I believe it does apply. I'm going home.”

    At the next stop, they rose together and filed out the compartment. A moment later, I saw them walking down the platform in the same way, one after the other. 

            I'm not sure when I began asking about my father. My mother died during my birth and this saddened me, but it was real, known. Her ashes hid within a well-decorated urn that I could see and talk to. My father presented a different situation: of him, I knew nothing. I had been told only that within a week of my birth, he was gone. My entrance marked my mom's exit, and he resented me, couldn't possibly raise me, so he left. That was all I knew.

             “Where do you think he is?” I'd sometimes ask. My grandfather always gave me a gaze that hinted deeper knowledge, and then say: “Why do you care?”

            “What was he like?”

            “He was a good man.”

            A good man wouldn't have left.

            The train eased into the station and I walked to his house. Memories flung at me when I opened the door: “Do you remember climbing that tree?” he asked during my last visit.

            “I climbed that tree?”

            “So high the branches bowed. I was sure you'd fall.”

            “But I never fell,” I said.

            “No, you never fell.” 

            Soon I walked to a neighbor. “Nathan!” she exclaimed, and her eyes filled with tears. “It's so good to see you.” She pulled me inside. “You're all grown up. You always came looking for candy.”

            “Did I?” I asked.

            “Yes, and I always gave you some.”

            “What kind?”

            “Whatever I had, you didn't care. And if I didn't have any, I'd give you a spoonful of sugar and you were just as happy.”

            I asked about my father: “What was my dad like?”

            Her eyes welled up again. “Before Jonathan died, he told me something. I guess he knew you'd find me and he knew what you'd ask. He said there's a letter for you. It was written a long time ago, but it's time you read it. He said it's from your father.”

            It was dark when I left her house. When I got home, I went to bed. The letter could wait.

            Sometimes we can't see the truth because it's easier to believe something other than the truth. I found the letter and finally held something of my father, something real, known. It began with “Dear Son, if you're reading this, I must be dead.” This changed nothing; I was angry and hurt, and I would stay that way. If he waited until his death to reveal himself, then perhaps he was not worth knowing while alive. I read on and realized it was my grandfather's handwriting. I skipped to the bottom: “I hope you can understand and if not, at least forgive me.”

            I found my father.           

            It was almost time for the funeral, not the funeral of my grandfather, but rather the man who robbed me of my dad, someone I had never seen alive, and had no desire to see dead. I gathered my things and left the letter on the table. I walked to the station and boarded the next train home.