Missed, but not forgotten

I was 16 years old at the time.

My name was Sandy Harris. My parents were named Mary and Todd Harris. My parents had always given me responsibility over my life, and they taught me everything they knew. They gave me everything I needed to grow up "Better than most people did," as my dad put it. I made pretty good grades in school, was active in my community, and had everything I could every need. Not that I was spoiled. I was constantly watched over by Mom and Dad and disciplined when necessary.

But then my mother died.

Everything changed after the funeral. Dad grew farther and farther away from me, probably because I looked too much like Mom, tall, broad shouldered, and pretty. He sometimes would try to drown his sorrows in drink and stay out at the bar late at night, then come home and beat me. I learned to lock myself in my room at night or lock all the doors and make him sleep it off. At school I was a loner, so I really didn't have a whole lot of people I could actually depend on there. I felt myself slowly drawing myself into a deep abyss of hurt and pain. Then I made the most important choice I every made in my life up to that point. And the most stupid.

I decided to not come home.

After school, I gathered my things into an old hiking pack along with some money and valuables. Dad hadn't come home from work yet, so I didn't have to worry about getting caught. I quit my job as a waitress at the nearby restaurant and printed out a copy of my resume. I could find work when I ran far enough away from home and people stopped looking for me. I then arranged my bank account affairs so that no one but me could access them without my permission. I didn't need anyone to hack into it and try to steal anything. That money inside, worth about $20,000, was all I had. I finally settled into my old rusty blue pick-up truck and started it. And I drove away. As far away as I could without stopping. I rarely stopped to rest, but whenever I did I chose the most rundown place I could find. No one would think about asking for me there.

After about 9 days and 5,000 miles of this, I decided to settle down in a small country town called Homers. I found the hotel and paid the rent for a week. I needed a place to stay until I could find a more suitable home. I applied for a well-paying job at the convenience store around the corner, and immediately began to look for a local college to attend. My averages in school were high enough that I could get into any college I wanted. I had always wanted to become a lawyer, so I applied at a law school nearby.

All that was 5 years ago.

I am now 21, have a well off business in law and live in an apartment above my office. Occasionally I would see a lost child notice I the newspaper with my name on it. But I've changed since then. I dyed my red hair black and wear blue colored contacts to hide my gray eyes. I have also gotten older. I thought I would never have to see my father again.

Until last week.

I was looking through my paper one morning and I saw an article in the country section about how a man was hit by a bus while crossing the street, trying to visit his daughter's grave. I almost skipped right past it, until I caught his name.

Todd William Harris.

A thousand things shot straight through my mind as I read on. The man's wife had died 6 years ago and soon after his daughter went missing. She was presumed dead and her marker was placed next to her mother's. But her father still placed an ad in the paper for her each week.

The article also stated that Todd was in critical condition at the local hospital and wasn't going to live long. If anyone had information about his daughter, they should come forward now.

I was stricken with fear. My father, the man I had hated for the past few years was going to die. But this fear was replaced by some other emotion. It was one of sorrow. If Dad did die, he would pass not knowing whether his little girl was alive and well. I decided right then and there to go see him. My father needed to know I was o.k. Even if I had run away and wanted to never lay eyes on him again.

I drove my blue truck all the way back to my hometown. Yes, I still had it, but since I had first come to Homing I had made enough cash to have it restored by a professional. Now it looked like brand new.

I walked into the hospital with nerves racking, my heart pounding in my chest. But, nevertheless, I strode up to the check-in in my black leather jacket and faded blue jeans and spoke to the head nurse in charge.

"I would like to see a patient."

"Name," the lady said simply.

"Sandy Harris," I replied.

"Which patient and what ward is he in?"

"Todd Harris, Critical Condition."

The lady looked up at me and studied my face. "You a relative of Todd's? You look sort of like him."

"Yeah."

The nurse smiled sadly at me and said, "Second floor, third room to the right. But be warned, he won't live long." I thanked her and dashed up the stairway to the second floor, not waiting for the elevator. Every moment counted when your father's about to die.

I stepped into to Room 3 and looked over at the man in the bed. He was sleeping soundly, so I thought best to wait for him to wake up. Taking the seat next to his bed, I studied my father for the first time in five years. His face looked old and worn, with wrinkles and scars, but other than that Todd was just the same. This was the man I knew as a child. But it wasn't all the same. It didn't look right, all of those tubes and wires sticking up his arms and nose. Was this my daddy, the on who had been my idol for so many years?

Then I broke down sobbing.

It broke me, to see him like that, all weak and helpless. I was crying for the person I must have hated for over 6 years.

All of my cries must have waked him, because when I looked up, my eyes met those of his.

"Who are you?" Todd asked rudely. But I didn't mind. Any word at all was like music to my ears.

"It's me, Daddy."

"Who is me?"

"Sandy, Daddy! Your daughter."

Dad's expression looked blank, because he didn't recognize this young woman standing next to him. So I took off my contacts and wiped off all of my make-up. Then I looked at him again. "Dad, do you know me know?" I asked quietly.

His eyes stared in disbelief. "Sandy? You're alive? Are you real?"

I smiled. "Yes, Daddy, it's me. Look, I'm sorry I ran away. I was angry. But I made the best of it. I got my degree in law, Father. Just like you always wanted me to. I own my own practice, I have my own house, I even have a boyfriend now." The words just kept coming, and soon I was on a roll telling him everything I had accomplished and how sorry I was to have gone away and left ne note. But then Dad stopped me. He held up his hands and I fell quiet. Then he said,

"Sandy, I'm proud of you. You have no idea how much I've missed you, how long I waited outside at night, waiting for you to come home. Soon I had to accept you weren't coming back, and that was my mistake. I should have been a better father, a good man after your mother passed away. But I took my life down to wrong road and I'm sorry. You have every right in the world to hat me."

"But I don't Daddy. I forgave you a long time ago, I just never noticed it. And when I saw the article about your accident, I had to come see you. At first I was afraid you'd hate me for leaving and refuse to see me, maybe not even remember me, but finally I decided that I had to trust God that you'd welcome me home."

My dad looked at me with eyes of pure love. "Oh, Sandy, I never forgot you. I loved you, and looked at your picture every day, hoping you were well off, wherever you were. You were missed, but not forgotten. Ever."

Suddenly my father's body gave a sudden shudder, and in that moment, I knew Dad was going to die. I started crying again, but he silenced me once more.

"Don't you cry once I'm gone, you hear me?' he commanded, looking stern. "I what you to rejoice, because I will be in a better place with your mother, and I will always be watching over you, protected you, no matter what." Todd's body shuddered again.

"Alright Daddy. I love you Daddy," I managed to say, wiping my tears on my sleeve. Dad smiled and lay back down on his pillow. He was still smiling when he finally closed his eyes.

And then Todd Harris was gone.

I stood up out of the hospital chair and walked out of the room, realizing that my returning had given Dad the final solace he needed to pass on. The doctors were waiting outside in the hall when I came out. They were about to say something, but I shook my head. "He's gone."

I stayed in town about a week, just long enough to place all of Dad's affairs in order and prepare a place in the cemetery for him. Right next to mom. I also paid to have my grave marker taken out. No need for it now. My coming home and Father's death spread around town pretty fast. Well, what do you expect in a small town such as this? I was able to see some old classmates of mine, who all said the same thing.

"We all cried at your funeral, Sandy!"

"We are so glad to have you back."

"We missed you, Sandy!"

"Where have you been?"

But I saw through their lies. They all wanted a place in the news articles that was to come out I the local paper on Sunday, "Lost Girl Returns to Hometown to Pay Last Respects". Even the cable television station wanted a statement from the famous "Prodigal Daughter". But I didn't stay long enough for that.

As soon as the funeral for Daddy when over, I drove back to Homing. All the while, Dad's words kept echoing in my mind.

"Missed, but not forgotten."