Jonathan took out a sheet of paper and began another letter he knew he would never send.
The letters were part of the punishment he inflicted upon himself three times a week. On Tuesday and Thursday, he punished himself at lunch he took in the park across from his office when he saw young mothers with their small children running, playing and giggling. On Saturday afternoons, when he did his weekly shopping at Costco, the punishment was crueler and unjust when he saw the fathers with their children—either pushing them in a baby carriage or holding their son or daughter’s hand as they shopped.
He could have easily avoided those places and gone somewhere else for lunch or shopping, but the punishment was of his own design and atonement.
Each time he saw the mothers and fathers with their children he thought about his own children whom he had not seen in years. In the photo he kept on his desk, the boys had never grown older; after all these years they were still six and two. The oldest one had his arm around his younger brother. He remembered the day he took the photo of them, the day they had gone to the amusement park. The day the oldest one rode the rollercoaster for the first time and his youngest got ice cream all over his face and clothes.
He picked up the photo and touched their faces through the cold glass. It had been so long since he last heard their voices; he wasn’t even sure what they sounded like anymore.
That was the same day when he yelled at the older one for not watching his brother more carefully. It was on their way back to the car, when the youngest boy ran across the street nearly getting hit by a car.
“I told you to hold onto your brother’s hand,” he screamed, “and not to run. You both could have been killed.”
“I’m sorry, daddy,” the oldest boy cried. “I’m sorry.”
It hadn’t been his weekend to take the kids, either. The one weekend he had been looking forward to all summer to go to Chicago with some buddies from work and take in a Cubs’ game, his ex had to drop off the kids on Friday night.
“I’m sorry. I have to go out of town on a business trip. I won’t be back until late Sunday,” she said, standing in the doorway of his tiny apartment, with both boys playing hide and seek behind her.
“What about your mother,” he said, remembering the contingency plan they had agreed on, for such an occurrence. “Can’t she watch them?”
“She’s visiting friends in Chicago this weekend.”
The irony was not lost on him. His ex-mother-in-law was also a big Cubs’ fan.
She kissed the boys on their foreheads, told them to be good, and then rushed out of the apartment to the waiting airport limousine.
At night, when he took out the pen and paper and sat down to write a letter to his boys, the same letter he tried to write every night on the days he had lunch in the park and the weekends shopping at Costco—that was when the punishment gnawed away at his heart and soul. In his desk drawer were months of unfinished letters and finished letters stuffed in envelopes that he never got around to sending. He wasn’t even sure if the address he had was still the correct one. Each letter began the same way, “I’m sorry for what I did and hope you will forgive me” – over and over.
Of course, penance never came easy for a tormented soul; it would never be enough punishment for that rainy night on the way home from the movies when he lost control of his car and the accident that took his family away from him.
He took out another sheet of paper and started another letter