My father was a wonderfully complicated man. Sometimes, I wish I knew him a little better. He died mysteriously when I was five and every time I try to think of a happy memory… I find myself drifting back towards the letters he wrote in 1999.
We all got one. Before he passed away, Dad sent one letter to every single member of our family inside their own personal shoebox. They contained, along with a distinct odor of foot, his final reflections… as he described.
This past fall, I was doing some yard work when I found a similar shoe box, lazily buried by an old pine at the corner of our property. There was a letter inside, and it was written the day before my father died. The handwriting was still clearly visible in Dad’s best-try chicken-scratch. Forgive the format, but that is just the way it is transcribed. My father always modeled himself as a corny middle-class Sondheim.
May 1st, 1999
To the Devil –
Don’t say its over.
I know these words are the same ones every mother, daughter, father and son has cried: Demon, we just need a little more time. I have bargained with God in the night. I have hollered his name after waking; sweating and screaming with disease and fright. But, I know now that he only likes to hide. My insides are old and rotted with slime. My speckled throat is salty, caked, and covered in brine. Surely, YOU, Devil, must know how to make them all work again just fine (that part is underlined).
Don’t hurt my honey.
I gladly sacrificed pride to make a pact with your underling in that sublime 1969 countryside. That night, it… it felt like our prime. We lowered the roof to our blue Mustang. The wind whipped through Emily’s hair perfectly alongside a cold October sky. She was so beautiful that it averted my eyes from the shadows of black ice. The gusting wind slid our car down a mountainous incline. In moments, my world was on fire and my whole life was dying by my side. What husband can keep his mind while his love will surely die?
All that was required from Hell was one soul’s sacrifice; intoned in a letter, and disguised as a childish little rhyme. What greater promise did you ever hope to find? As asked, I buried your box with my intent among the pines. To my shock and surprise, six hours later, Emily was fine.
Don’t curse my son.
He knows nothing of my crime. From the moment of his early birth, the doctors assured us that it was only a matter of time. Sickness covered his organs so voraciously that it felt like God’s sarcastic warning sign. Emily said his tender heart was too innocent to be left behind. What parent wants to be alive while their child does not survive?
All that was required of Hell was one soul’s sacrifice; intoned in a letter, and disguised as a childish little rhyme. You already had mine. Still, I buried a second box with my intent among the pines. Nineteen years later, he has survived. Now Sammy’s kids will have blue eyes, while great-grandsons and beyond will bear the same name and looks in kind.
Don’t take the money.
At the time… we were just two kids strapped for cash back in 1989. We did not have a lot to save after the baby arrived. Without any work, we were two weeks away from sleeping outside. What man can watch his family suffer, while the rest of the world thrives?
All that was required of Hell was one soul’s sacrifice; intoned in a letter, and disguised as a childish little rhyme. You already had won mine over two times. Still, I buried a third box with my intent among the pines. To the government’s shock and surprise, now my family is safe and secure with every dream possible in their mind’s eye.
Don’t punish them.
If I am honest this time, I know that I am going to die. I have prepared for the disease you installed to rip awful scars apart the smile that once made my face look handsome and my words sound alive. My eyes are now so filled with your cataracts that my granddaughter says they make me look unkind.
But what, Devil, is the price for the soul that has been sold three times? Will my children’s souls be cursed and damned alongside mine? The Book says you will try. It even says you may flay Emily alive the moment I die. The websites online say my my son’s skin will be torn apart and covered in hives. Jesus says Satan is full of surprises. Mom said Lucifer never willingly offers an open compromise.
If any of these demises may fit my crime… so be it – I will bear them alone just fine. Curse me three times to keep them alive. I will die before the sunrise and march happily into Hell with the roaches, hives, and demons of darkness stapled to my side. This fourth box is for you, Devil, and me. Let it bind us for eternity if it’s purpose defines that my family will survive.
Under these terms, I will only lose more time. That is a small price to pay and one that I do not mind.
Don’t destroy my pride.
Kindly signed. Matthew R. Richardsen, Sr.
I don’t know where my Dad is right now. He died May 2nd, 1999. But my skin has started to itch. There is a small scar on the side of my left eye. I am alive, but cannot escape the thought that… maybe, my father’s curse has survived.