Assumed Identities

   I came home from school yesterday afternoon feeling sad and sorry for myself. My boyfriend of nearly two years had dumped me for an airheaded cheerleader. That wasn't supposed to  happen. Our senior year is supposed to be special. Actually, he didn't have the guts. Three of his jockey friends were more than happy to relate the news to me. I hate all of them.

   My heart was broken to say the least. There was nothing I hated more than being lonely. I walked home slowly from school on an old dirt road that paralleled a shallow canal. It reaked of dying fish and dried up algae. The sun had been unrelenting for weeks. I stopped in front of the doorstep of my family's house, wiping my feet carefully on the welcome mat and brushing the dust off of my clothes.

   "Why are you home from school so late young lady?" came the first thing out of my father's mouth when I opened the door. It wasn't a question. It was more like an accusation.

   I walked by him without saying a word. I wasn't ready to deal with this. "Don't you walk away from me! You are nothing but trouble, you know that? Go to your room right now."

  I gave him a 'wish you were dead' look and stampeded straight to my room. Good, that's where I wanted to be anyway. My father had been so mean and discriminating for many months now. I really couldn't stand the sight of him anymore. I hated him at that moment too. I hated all men.

   My bedroom door slammed shut and was locked right away. No way I was letting anyone in. I turned my computer on and took off my shoes as it connected to the internet. I needed to talk to someone, anyone who would listen.

   Making myself comfortable in a small swivel chair, I searched for a chat room for people locally. I found one easily and clicked on the Christian section. I needed to feel loved at that moment, even if it was by someone I would never meet in person.  When asked to enter a log-on name I typed in Lonely_Heart, for that's what I was. There's no way I would ever give out my real name on the internet. Too many crazy people out there.

   "Hello Lonely, what brings you here this afternoon?" came a message on my screen.

   I looked closer for the name of this guy. Loneliness. "Well I see we have something in common. I just came to find someone to talk to," I typed back in my slow hunt-and-peck method.

   "Same here," came his quick reply. "What do you want to talk about?"

   Then on the spur of the moment I just told him everything bad about my day and my life. The words came out freely and I really didn't expect him to understand my feelings. Men never understand.

   "Just a minute," he answered. "I need to do something really quick but I'll be right back." He wasn't coming back. I didn't blame him. Should have known better than to think a man would listen to me.

   There was a pounding on my bedroom door at that moment. I jumped up in my chair half-startled.  "Tatiana?" came my father's all too well known accusing voice. "There's leftovers in the refrigerator for supper when you get hungry. I'll be in my study room if you need me." And then he was gone. Good riddance.

   "I know how you feel," magically appeared on my screen a few seconds later.  I couldn't believe it. He really did come back. "I feel much the same way as you do. My family hates me. I have no
friends. They will never understand how much I really love them," he typed quickly.

   "Why don't you just tell them?" I asked.

   "I can't."

   I decided not to push him any further about it. We made small talk about our feelings and what we wanted from life. This man did understand me. This conversation was a blessing to me.

   "Lonely, I'm dying."

   I didn't quite understand. "What do you mean?" I asked eagerly.

   "What I said. I'm dying and I'm scared." There were no words exchanged for a minute or two. I knew  what he was saying. I just didn't want to believe it.

   "How so?" I responded after an eternity.

   "I went to doctor a few months ago. I have cancer. He said I might live for thirty days or thirty years.  There's just no way to tell."

   My heart suddenly dropped. Somehow I felt a special bond with this man. He was like an old friend. He couldn't be dying. It just wasn't fair.

   "I don't know what to say," I answered back honestly.

   "Don't say anything. I haven't told anyone yet. I am so scared and worried of what will become of my family. I love them so much." Another silence. "And they don't even know it."

   There was an intolerable silence now. I glanced quickly at my watch. Somehow time had slipped by for morning had already arrived. Suddenly I knew what I needed to do. I needed to meet this man in person to let him know that someone does care. His family was selfish to leave him feeling such despair.

   "Loneliness?" I typed.

   "Yes?"

   "I have enjoyed this so much but I have to leave soon. I feel silly for asking this. Is there any way we can meet in person later today or this week?"

   There was no hesitation this time. "I would like that very much. You do live in Sanderson right? Maybe we can meet at the coffee shop downtown?" he asked.

   "Sure. Four o'clock this afternoon if you can make it."  I looked at my watch again. Nearly eight in the morning.

   "Okay, it's a date then," came the seemingly cheerful reply.

   "I can't wait!" I typed in and said out loud at the same time. "Gotta run now though. Meet me at the little table by the front window. See ya then!"  and I shut the computer down quickly.

   I stood up from the swivel chair and stretched for the first time in over twelve hours. I hadn't gotten up for anything all night. By then I was starving so I unlocked the bedroom door and headed for the kitchen in a daze. My little brother was there eating some kind of bran cereal. I just grabbed a couple of bananas from the marble counter top and headed back to my room to get ready for the day. I passed by Dad's study room and saw the light creeping from under his door.  I don't think he ever went to sleep last night. Several times I could have sworn I heard him laughing and mumbling to himself throughout the night. I doubt it though. I just wanted to get out of the house before he started yelling and bickering again.

   The day at school today seemed to go by pretty fast. I saw Jonathan, my ex-boyfriend, in the halls between some of my classes. He seemed happier than usual but he didn't have the nerve to look at me. I didn't see his new girlfriend with him either. That didn't matter to me though.

   I was going to meet the nicest, kindest man I had ever known in just a few hours. I wrote him a letter during my study break. It was basically just to let him know that someone did care and that he was loved. Even if it was only by me, a complete stranger.

   The final bell at school finally rang. I saw Jonathan race down the halls like he was in a hurry to get somewhere. It was three forty-five now. I had fifteen minutes to walk to the coffee shop downtown. It was less than a mile away. I was so scared all of the sudden. What if this man didn't like me? What if he was just some sick person who wanted to hurt me? What if he was twelve years old or eighty years old? It didn't really matter I supposed. We were meeting in a public place and I said I'd be there. Besides, I just knew deep down inside he was telling the truth. He was dying. He needed me.

   I walked slowly down the gravel sidewalk to the coffee shop with my heart pounding furiously every step of the way. It was a mile long but it seemed much shorter now. I was getting there too fast. I pulled my arm close to my face and looked at my watch. Three fifty-five.

   The coffee shop was almost empty when I finally stepped inside its swinging doors. No one was in the seat by the front window. I told the man behind the counter that I was just waiting for a friend. He smiled and nodded slightly.

   I slid into one of the seats by the front window with my back to the door. Two minutes after four. My new friend wasn't coming. I was disappointed but a little relieved too.

   Then I heard the little bell above the front door ring wildly. Someone had stepped in. I didn't dare turn around to see who it was. Maybe this was the moment of truth.

   There was a strong hand on my shoulder then. It was him. I couldn't breathe. He spoke the name he knew me by softly, almost like he was crying.  "Lonely_Heart."

   I finally had the courage to look up at him directly in the eyes. He was crying. His right hand was covering  his forehead like he was lost from the world.

   Then I cried with him. We hugged and sat there for hours just enjoying each other's company. There wasn't a single moment when tears weren't shed. This man was perfect. This man was my father.