“Enough! Your calling every morning before nine isn’t going to change things one bit. I’ve been out of work for eighteen months, as have most of the people in this town. Unemployment ran out two months ago which is when I stopped paying you. My daughter and I live on food stamps and I’ve applied for welfare. When I get a job, or by a miracle some money, I’ll send you something; until that happens leave us alone.” I slammed down the phone.
I had been yelling into the phone and slammed it pretty hard into the cradle. It was only then that I realized my nine year old daughter, Elena, was sitting at the kitchen table eating her cereal and trying to suppress a giggle.
“You’re getting better, Daddy, not one bad word in the entire conversation. Don’t worry, Daddy; I talked to Mommy before I went to sleep last night like I do every night and every morning. I know she hears me and is watching over us and she let me know that help is on the way and we shouldn’t give up.”
You talk about an emotional roller-coaster first I’m ready to strangle the collector from the credit card company and now I’m tearing up because my sweet nine year old daughter talks every night and morning to her deceased mother.
Good Lord, that girl’s faith is powerful. She has been down the same grim road I’ve been traveling for the last three years, but she never sees anything except the possibility of a positive outcome.
Three years ago after dropping Elena off at a birthday party, Sarah, my wife and Elena’s mother, was killed by an uninsured, unlicensed, drunk driver.
For weeks following the funeral, she was quiet, occasionally asking questions about her Mother, Heaven and God. What scared me the most was her calm. Her mother had been the love of my life. We met in high school and married one year after graduating. Elena was born two years later. My best friend was gone and I was a mess. Elena didn’t seem to be. I attributed it completely to her unwavering faith in God and her Mother watching over her.
She was six for God’s sake! Where did she get these strong beliefs?
Elena acted as if she must take care of me. When I would talk to her about this upside down situation, she would quietly tell me that her Mama told her each night, when she was in bed, that Daddy needed her and Mama would always be there to help.
We muddled our way through, getting stronger each day. Elena, who turned seven that first summer after losing her mother, thought up new things to do each weekend, as she put it, “To keep us distracted and thinking positive.”
I remember thinking, “Where could she be getting these ideas and the words to express them at seven.” I began to believe that her mother was speaking to her every night.
And then disaster hit!
I, together with sixty-three percent of the workforce in our little town in northern Ohio, worked for a manufacturer that produced automobile parts for one of the big three. Six months after Sarah’s death, the company was sold to a Chinese automotive conglomerate. One year after that, our factory shut its doors and terminated eighteen hundred workers.
Over the next sixteen months, Elena and I survived pretty well. I had some savings, unemployment benefits and Medicaid.
Each day I would try to find work. Each day Elena would encourage me, before she left for school, with what most definitely sounded like Sarah’s words. Each evening over dinner we would discuss our day… mine full of disappointment, Elena’s full of happiness and promise.
By the time the unemployment ran out two months ago, I was convinced… no correct that, I had acquired faith. God and Sarah were watching over us and I truly believed that each night Sarah spoke to our Elena.
Somehow things would work out.
It was on a Monday, two weeks later, that our world changed.
After Elena left for school, I got a phone call from the former manager of the old factory, Karl Labenski. The Chinese were now going to reopen the plant and wanted to hire me back as a production manager for one of the products. He said, “However, Ronny, there will be some changes from the old days.”
“Old days,” I thought, “the old days were eighteen months ago,” but I kept my thoughts to myself and said, “OK, Karl, what are they?”
“No union, you contribute to pension and medical, forty hour work week, same pay as you had when you left, but since you’re a production manager, no overtime.
“Are you in?”
Trying not to sound as excited as I was, I said, “When do I start?”
I could hear the relief in Karl’s voice as he explained the organization meeting with the Chinese owners on Wednesday and work would start on the following Monday.
I thanked Karl for thinking of me, we had three minutes of mutual admiration, we hung up… and I danced around the whole apartment singing, ‘Happy Times Are Here Again’, at the top of my lungs.
I couldn’t wait for my little bundle of positive thinking to get home from school so I could tell her that her Mama was right and she should never lose faith in God and her conversations with her Mother.
At 2:45 I went downstairs and sat on the stoop waiting for Elena’s school bus to drop her off.
At three o’clock it pulled up, out stepped my daughter and as she grabbed my hand she looked up at me and said, “Something good happened today, didn’t it? Mama told me last night it would and it did, didn’t it?”
We went up to the apartment, sat at the kitchen table and while Elena had her snack of cookies and milk I told her all about the phone call.
It dawned on me that I spoke to my nine year old daughter as if I was speaking to Sarah. I went on to explain that money would be tight for another year or so since we owed the credit card company for the funeral expenses and two months’ rent and electric, but we would work all that out.
She said to me, “That’s about ten thousand dollars, isn’t it, Daddy?”
Now how did she know that? I’d never gone over numbers with her, she’s a child.
“Yes, it is honey, but how do you know that?”
“Mama told me last night when she let me know today would be a good day. She told me to tell you not to lose faith that all would be made right today.”
“Honey,” I said, “getting the job back is more than I ever expected. Don’t you think that is enough for God and your Mother to take on for one day?”
“Daddy, God can do all things and Mama said it will all be made right today, including what we owe.”
The tears started to well up in my eyes. This nine year old angel was taking on the responsibilities of a thirty year old woman, a woman her mother’s age.
I had to get back to work, figure a way to shield her from the financial pressure and let her be a little girl again.
I thought to myself, “Sarah, you’ve got to help me with this and stop me from talking to her like she is you and let her be a child.”
I swear to God and I will never be convinced it didn’t happen, but I clearly heard my deceased Sarah say, “She told you that you should not lose faith, that all would be made right today; listen to her sweetheart.”
I looked at Elena who had a look on her face that needed no explanation. It spoke a million words, but I believe the meaningful ones were “See, Daddy, I told you.”
It happened very quickly and I’m not sure my memory of events is even accurate, but here is what I believe took place that evening.
We were on our way out to McDonald’s to celebrate our newly brightened future. As I opened the door to the apartment, a guy burst in, younger than me and bigger than me. I grabbed Elena and quickly stepped out of the apartment. The intruder ran through the kitchen and threw up the window that exited onto the fire escape. We were on the fourth floor and this guy was running from someone. He spun around, looked at us, threw a paper bag behind the refrigerator and burst out the window.
He was moving too fast and lost his footing. He tripped and went over the low fire escape railing and fell the four stories to the street below.
With this action suddenly a stream of police officers burst through the apartment door, guns drawn, while Elena and I watched from the hallway. A guy in plain clothes held out a badge and shouted, “Where is he?” I pointed to the open window where one of the uniformed officers was climbing onto the fire escape.
“He’s on the sidewalk, a pool of blood is forming around his head and he ain’t moving. I think he’s dead,” said the cop on the fire escape.
Well, he was!
Two hours later, all of the cops were gone having concluded we had nothing to do with the dead guy. I don’t think they were sure until they talked to Elena. After that the detective in charge told us the story.
The guy was a drug dealer making a deal on the roof of the building next door. They had been watching him for weeks, knowing a deal was coming down. When they burst on the scene playing out on the next door roof, our intruder left the others there and jumped onto the roof of our building.
He ran into our building and apparently ran down the stairs to our floor, looking for a place to hide or an escape other than the front door.
We opened our door and in he came, out he went.
They found a package strapped to his back containing five pounds of cocaine worth over fifty-thousand dollars on the street and about four thousand dollars cash in his pockets.
The detective was pleased with their evening’s work and apologized for the rather traumatic disruption to our planned celebration; (Elena told him, in the course of the questioning, about my job and our dinner at McDonald’s).
He left instructing me, “Take this adorable bright young lady out to the promised dinner.”
After he left, we straightened up the kitchen where all the excitement had taken place. When we were finished, Elena went over to the refrigerator, put her tiny hand and arm behind it, and pulled out the paper bag which I had completely forgotten about.
She opened it, looked inside, and said simply, “Here is the rest of Mama’s promise”.
It contained one hundred and fifty, one hundred dollar bills, fifteen thousand dollars in all.
Elena looked at me, smiled and in a voice I swear to God sounded like my Sarah said, “Don’t worry, Daddy, it’s ours. It was his gift to us before he died. God told him to do it.”
Then taking my hand and heading for the door, she said, “It’s like Mommy said, now we’ll be OK, Daddy.”