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  • Ryan Ashley

"Mercy Granted: A Poet's Journey"

I was just fourteen when I witnessed the unspeakable act of my father taking my mother's life. It haunted me for two long decades, as I desperately sought answers and peace in the absence of any living family members. In a final attempt to reach out, I decided to compose a letter on my trusty typewriter. Remarkably, within four days, a response arrived, igniting an unexpected and ongoing connection with my father, whom I now refer to as "The Thorn of an American Rose." During those four years, I noticed the aging Thorn's deteriorating health. Though we could only meet virtually, the weight of our interactions became overwhelming. Taking a break from the virtual visits, I seized the opportunity when I was finally granted permission to see him in person. Arranging one last virtual meeting to check on my father, I was met with silence. After enduring seventeen minutes of chilling sounds from a prison, a security guard appeared on screen, questioning my purpose. Upon mentioning my father's name, The Thorn of an American Rose, the guard informed me that he was in the hospital. Panic gripped me as I sought answers, contacting everyone I could think of. The following morning, a doctor's call shattered my world. The Orphaned Poet's father had been taken off life support and had requested a Do Not Resuscitate order. The doctor posed a crucial question: Should his youngest child grant him the mercy of comfort, leaving the final breaths to God or whatever awaits at life's end? I wept, demanding to see him. The doctor explained that a special visitation pass was required, and they would begin the process. The next morning, a call arrived notifying me of the approval. However, with the hospital seven hours away, time was not on my side. Thankfully, a compassionate social worker intervened, securing a special visitation for Saturday. Thus, The Poet and his angelic partner, Ivy, embarked on a journey to the desolate reaches of Southeast Virginia, settling into a hotel before my ICU appointment at 8:30 am. Exhausted and restless, I typed my final words, a composition I titled "The Poet Who Was Gone With The Wind." Sleep eluded me as I paced, attempting to capture my unfiltered emotions, knowing I could bring nothing but my keys into the hospital room. My time with my father would be confined to memories—an endeavor I struggled with when intense emotions arose. The moment arrived, and despite my emotional wreck of a state, I dressed in my finest poet attire, eager to witness my father as an adult for the first and last time. Adrenaline propelled me through multiple searches and pat-downs until I found myself ascending countless flights of stairs. Through an empty waiting room and a well-lit floor with scattered workers, I was guided 270 degrees around the central office, eventually arriving at the designated room—407. And there he was, shrouded in silence, a frail and withering tree on the brink of death. I called out to him as his eyes remained shut. The American Rose Thorn's eyes fluttered open, and upon hearing my voice, he recognized me, exclaiming, "Hi, Dad, it's me! I made it." The Thorn's Petals stirred to life, transforming his eyes from a dull resignation to an indescribable vitality—momentarily free from pain. I knew my purpose, the words I had come to share. With a breathing tube preventing his response, I presented the short stories he had penned, asking if he wished for me to read them aloud. His enthusiastic nod conveyed his agreement. By his bedside, I imbued his beautiful words with my own expressive flair, the cries of my soul, returning to him the pride he felt as a writer. I knew his stories, his words, and how to read them. And he reveled in it. Then, it was time for my story—the tale where I offered love, forgiveness, and an honest account of the pain his actions had inflicted on my soul. Within my narrative, I assured him he was not alone, urging him to release his burdens and embrace the love that surrounded him. I spoke of the angels he had mentioned during his schizophrenic episodes when I was young. I read the words with passion and conviction, searching his eyes, holding his heart. When I finished, a tear emerged from his lifeless gaze—a tear that surprised us both. He craved an encore, and so I dove back into the depths of the story, reading with fire, grace, and the clarity of crystal blue water. I assured him, with unwavering strength, that he had caused me pain, but he would not face his final days alone. I had done it—I had extended mercy to a man who had never deserved such kindness. I emphasized his forgiveness and the reassurance that he was not alone. This man, the creator who became my destroyer, received the mercy of his youngest son—the son who, despite the heinous choices he had made, offered him companionship in his final moments. It was time for him to depart this life, to relinquish his hold, and for me to allow the past to become a part of the story, rather than the entire narrative. Now, as The Orphaned Poet, I await the news of my father, The Thorn of an American Rose, taking his last breath. In completing my mission, I remain stunned by the profound experience. I yearn for closure, to finally let go and embrace the hope that the future holds.

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