The Paradise River splits my city in twoóboth geographically and socially. And Iím not talking ďwhite-collarĒ ďblue-collarĒ. Iím not even talking ďcollarĒ ďno-collarĒ. Iím talking more like ďshirtĒ ďno-shirtĒ. And this side of Paradise is not the one sporting a button-down. Itís a place full of darkness, where character, morals, and even people get lost among the shadows. Itís a place where nothing stands out because everything is so appalling. The worst of the worst come here; they live here; they die here.
I havenít always lived on the east side of Paradise. There was a time when all I knew about this place were the few details my father would allow into his stories. They all told stories. The details varied depending on who was speaking. But the punch line was always the same: ďJust (dramatic pause), donít go over there. Trust me.Ē Some would even admit to having crossed the bridge a time or two themselves, but nobody wanted to really talk about the place. Maybe thatís how I ended up hereópure curiosity. Whatever it was, however it happened, it worked.
The thing is, everyone who lives here is free to go. Thereís nothing holding anyone here. The work sucks, the company sucks and the sceneryówhat scenery? Thereís nothing good here, but we know that. Itís something I canít describe. The bottom line is that we want to be here. It feels like home.
The only thing that doesnít feel like home is the loneliness. I mean, we convince ourselves that weíre not alone, but we are. We talk to people and sometimes we even laugh. But itís not real. We all know it; we just donít talk about it.
Itís our choice to be alone though. I literally make it every Saturday morning. Iíll make the choice again in a couple minutes.
The first time it happened, the first time I heard the knocks, I answered. It was my father, standing out in the snow with a smile on his face. A smile that said, ďI donít care, Iím not judging.Ē It was a real smile. I didnít invite him in and he didnít ask to be. He simply said he would love to see me come home. It actually worked and I walked across the bridge with him that morning. I didnít stay long, however. By nightfall I was back on my side of the river.
Two more times I answered the doorónot having been used to the pattern yet. Both times the same thingóbut I never went back with him after that first time.
Itís been two years now since I opened that door and saw my fatherís face. Not one week has gone by where there wasnít a knock. Like clockwork, my father.
Knock, knock, knockóloud enough to hear, but not overwhelming.
Heíll wait, aimlessly, and after about thirty seconds heíll try again.
I sip my coffee.
ďAny second now,Ē I tell myself. But the knocks never come. Iím amazed. And quite honestly, hurt. How could he disappoint me like this?
I wait several minutes before walking over to the door. I stand there for a moment, staring at the handle, waiting for a knock. Nothing. I finally reach down and grab hold of the handle and, holding my breath, open the door. Again, nothing. Just footprints in the snow.
I shut the door and noticed something on the ground beneath my footóa letter.
I open it. Itís a small piece of paper with a short hand-written note on it.
I love you. I loved you before all of this. I loved you through all of this. Nothing you can do will change that. Please come home.
I freeze. I assume my heart keeps beating and my lungs breathingóbut Iím not certain.
How could this be? Thereís no way he could love me after everything Iíve done. Everything Iíve done to him.
Before I feel it I see the teardrop land on the note. I havenít cried in two years. In no time I lose it and begin to sob uncontrollably.
I wipe my face, grab my coat and am halfway out the door before I remember shoes.
Iím not sure how its possible for him to still love me. Iím not sure what kind of love that is. What I am sure of, more sure than I have ever been before, is that Iím going to find out.
So I run, chasing my fatherís footprints.
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