She never considered holding his death certificate she would have the same unanswered questions as she did holding his birth certificate. The same basic information existed on both: Henry Alton, born April 23, 1948, Allentown, PA. She had been chasing the ghost of him for most of her 39 years and here he was again, on a piece of paper, ink not blood, wood pulp not flesh. He wasn’t the only ghost she had chased. There had been the years with her “Mother” who didn’t seem to care about her one way or the other only to find out after her death, she was a neighbor who had stepped in to take her, not for love, but for money. After the money ran out, she was just another cast off object in the corner, tired, tarnished and worn. It had been a relief to find out there was absolutely no genetic tie to her but what she found out about her parents couldn’t begin to fill the void either.
All she knew she found in an envelope in the back of a dresser drawer. Henry and Catherine smiling for a picture in the 1960’s. He had been leaning on a hot rod in the hot summer sun and she had been leaning on him, hair tucked back behind her ears. No doubt the start of her life began somewhere between August and September, probably in the back seat of that shiny car. No doubt the smiles were gone by the following March. Asking around to those who remembered, she was reluctantly told he had jumped at the chance to go to Viet Nam and she had found her own escape down a rabbit hole of her own. The neighbor was left holding the bag, the diaper bag and a few hundred dollars.
She didn’t know what she was looking for and all the digging wasn’t amounting to anything but enough to fill a shallow grave. There were no long lost letters aching for her. There were no other siblings. There was only pain, deeper pain and crushing pain. He had spent most of his life at the bottom of a whisky bottle and sadly, it seemed she had spent her remaining years with men like him. It was hard to imagine them with friends or any family, laughing at jokes, celebrating holidays, contemplating a past or a future.
She had returned to Allentown only to find she wasn’t haunted at all. The ghosts didn’t exist. After spending a few hours at the bottom of a whiskey bottle she was unable to conjure him and she still didn’t have a clue about her. The picture of them in front of the shiny car was enough, the ink, the paper and her life; some might consider her collateral damage but she was thankful for the ride.