Turning twenty-one should be a day of unbelievable celebrating. And it is for a short while. Being the first of triplet boys, I know I will be sharing my one-special-day-of-a-lifetime with my two brothers until I can escape to the real party with my best buddies.
I gave in to Mom’s emotional pleading to have a family dinner with her. While I rarely show it, I understand how she has sacrificed a lot over the years as a single parent for her Three Muskateers. I will pretend to enjoy the company because I know the meal will be one of her favorites. Robbie and Henry are more like identical twins. They both play musical instruments, spend a lot of time reading, and showing off their many quiz-bowl trophies. Imagine they will be staying in tonight to play the video games Mom promised to get them.
After six shots of tequila at the neighborhood watering hole, I figure I should try to look at my phone which has been vibrating in my pocket all night. Through my blurry eyes I see a ton of texts and missed calls from Henry. Why is he bothering me while I’m busy celebrating? Before I can put my phone back in my pocket, it rings again. I loudly tell him that I am not done having fun, and he can save his requests for another time. That’s when he starts screaming “You have to come home – Mom had a heart attack.” Before I can say another word, he hangs up. While very unsteadily dashing to the door, and yelling to my buddies “emergency – gotta go” I hit re-dial. No answer. My mind can’t process making a decision on how best to get home, but I know it’s only a couple miles, so I begin my mad dash.
I hear the wails before opening the door. Henry and Robbie are clinging to each other, and there’s no sign of Mom. “Where is she?” I scream. They shake their heads and say “she had a heart attack shortly after you left, and when the paramedics arrived they said she was gone, and they took her away.”
Can’t remember how I survived the next day, week or months. All three of us didn’t have a clue how to grieve or to accept the good intentions of others. We were a closed community until after our next birthday when I felt like it was either change or give up for me. Henry tried hard to be the fatherly figure and impress on me how we needed to stay together as a family. Robbie reverted to being a five-year-old who simply couldn’t exist without his Mommy. The day I told them I was moving out created a huge scene. We are no longer the three Musketeers.
Once my bags are packed I can’t bring myself to tell my brothers good-bye. Maybe it will be easier if I just disappear and call them later. With a couple hundred bucks in my pocket, I figure I can get by for a short while if I find a part-time job. Probably was a mistake not taking Mom’s advice to go to a trade school when they were offering free tuition due to our family’s lack of funds. My total work experience includes delivering newspapers and prepping pizzas. I haven’t figured out where I want to live, much less what I want to do. Remembering Uncle Charlie’s offer at the funeral to visit him at any time has certain appeal but it feels too much like a hand-out. Instead I decide to drive until I’m ready to fall asleep and look for the first pizza place that is hiring.
The day I turn twenty-two is another one of the worst days of my life. Every moment is spent reflecting on that horrible night one year ago. Why did I have to go out celebrating to prove I was twenty-one? What if I had stayed home like my two perfect brothers? What if I had just looked at one of those text messages? I might have been able to make it home before it was too late. I sure hope I don’t see a birthday cake today, although I probably owe it to my siblings to call them. And after doing that, I sense they have moved on with their lives. Imagine that!
Making pizzas isn’t as bad as it might sound. While I toss the dough high into the air, I’m thinking about how good that cold brewski will taste in just four hours. But at the end of the night, I just want to crash and make believe that life is good.
August 13th is the day it began. While flipping through a stack of bills and ads in my mailbox, I notice an envelope with my name and address handwritten. Who does that? Without a return address, my curiosity gets the best of me so I rip it open. Inside are twenty crisp hundred dollar bills. No note or clue where it came from. It’s not my birthday, and I know I don’t have any rich relatives. I should be jumping for joy but for some reason I feel anxious. Why is this happening to me? Is it a mistake? Who do I even ask what to do about it?
I sure can come up with lots of good uses for that extra cash like paying my rent or starting a new Camaro fund. But what if someone comes by next week and explains how it was a big mistake and those dollars were meant for someone much more deserving than me. So I stash the cash in an envelope hidden beneath my microwave. No thief will ever look there.
When picking up my mail on September 13th, I see another mysterious envelope. While hoping there will be a clue inside as to what I should do with last month’s money, I am even more confused to see another wad of hundred dollar bills. Now I really don’t know what to think. Was it coincidental they appeared exactly one month apart? I’m starting to feel a bit nervous about this and wondering if I should go to the police. But nothing wrong is happening. Instead it feels like too much good.
It’s been more than a year now since those magical hundred dollar bills have continued to appear in my mailbox on the 13th of each month. Before my microwave tips over from the thick envelopes, I figure I should open a bank account. Worried that the banker will think I’m a thief if I appear with a wad of cash, I make drive-thru deposits every couple of weeks at various branches. When my balance hits $25,000, I decide to reveal my secret savings to my brothers. Contact with them has been scarce since Mom’s death. And I still haven’t gotten over the guilt feelings for my stupid stunt of going out and recklessly drinking to celebrate my twenty-first birthday while my Mother is home dying.
Both Robbie and Henry sound a bit shocked to hear that I want to get together with them. I use the excuse of our twenty-third birthday as a reason to meet. They seem to accept my apologies for the lack of interest I’ve shown in them and agree to a casual dinner back in our hometown.
Didn’t realize how I missed seeing these guys who felt a bit like strangers now. The first half-hour is so awkward trying to catch up on news of Henry’s new baby and Robbie’s job at the library. With my last bite of burger I know time is running out so I quietly say “I have something to ask you.” They seem all ears while I explain about the appearance of my mystery money. I’m hoping that I might get a nod from one or both of them to reveal “that’s happening to me too.” Instead Henry asks if I’ve spent all the money, and Robbie wants to know if we got together so I could share it with them. It’s not that I’m opposed to giving a helping hand to anyone who really needs it, but sharing my wealth at this moment isn’t my plan. For some reason I thought being a triplet might be part of someone’s scheme to reward us all for something they thought we did or maybe just feeling sorry for us. We haven’t forgotten at the reading of Mom’s will that there was nothing for her to leave behind and how the sale of our house barely covered all the debts.
Henry, being the father-figure, suggests I draw up a plan of any and all of my contacts and try to explore their status. I admit I don’t have a clue as to how to do that, and I’m just not a detail guy. So when Robbie and Henry offer to help, I feel a bit of relief. Just knowing I’m not all alone in this crazy happening might finally give me a full night’s sleep. We agree to meet again same time, same place next month.
My list of contacts is pretty slim. My pizza-making buddies rarely can afford to do anything other than go to a movie, and I always pay for the movie tickets and popcorn. There’s no reason to even consider them. Henry suggests we make a list of every relative we know of who is still alive which totals one. Mom had one brother, Uncle Charlie. Her mother has been deceased for many years, and her father died when they were both toddlers. Looks like Uncle Charlie is the obvious benefactor.
All of us are now feeling like Sherlock Holmes with a mission to uncover and confirm the source of my money. Of course, Henry and Robbie can’t figure out why Uncle Charlie would pick me and not them. So begins our scheme to plan a little family visit to our long-lost uncle. They make me call him to pretend we will all happen to be in his neighborhood next Sunday afternoon. Thankfully, he agrees to a short get together. Driving up to his low-rent trailer park makes us wonder if he secretly stashes his cash there. After some polite conversation and two glasses of lemonade, we realize Uncle Charlie has always lived off the land surrounding his little trailer. He enjoys the life of a hermit. Nothing leads us to believe he could be the source of my riches.
Next month when we get together Henry says he has been doing some “out-of-the-box thinking.” Takes me awhile to figure out that means he’s given up on our list of contacts, and he has a new focus. But his idea is brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that? Growing up we were always told that Mom didn’t know who our birthfather was or what could have happened to him.
While Robbie researches birth records, we are all now energized on this new lead. Copies of our birth certificates show a blank space where our father’s name should appear. Still we question if there isn’t some hospital record that might list the name of a contact should our mother have died in childbirth. Eventually we get a sweet, young assistant in the administration office to agree to meet with us. Of course, we don’t tell her about all the monthly cash that is continuing to appear in my mailbox. We use the sad story of our mother’s death and great desire to know our roots for medical reasons (never know when that could be important). Victory! We learn our birth-father’s name and last known address. Now we just have to find a way to contact him. That is easier said than done. We forget that most people tend to move around during their lifetime and forwarding addresses don’t often appear. After months of following up on false leads, we eventually connect with someone whose Facebook photo looks a lot like us.
How do you begin to explain that we want to know if you might be the father of triplet boys you have never seen? Not something to put in a message. Looking at his profile, we discover he has a big interest in country music and he lives in a small town outside of Nashville. We join Facebook groups of country singers until we find one where he is a member. That gets us started in online conversations about the great music of some little-known country bumpkin named Hank Hammer. Didn’t take long until we found old Hank was going to be performing in Nashville, so I nabbed a couple of tickets to go along with our new scheme. I then added a post that I have an extra ticket to the show for the first person to respond. Had to quickly delete a couple of replies to make sure the winner is Henry Sr. -- can you believe he even uses that name!
The concert isn’t all that bad if you like country music. But throughout the show I’m feeling very nervous thinking about how I may be standing next to my Dad. Must admit he certainly doesn’t dress the part of someone who has money. Those worn-out overhalls with suspenders and greasy baseball cap don’t’ exactly fit in with this Nashville scene. We find a small pub after the show where we have our talk. Not at all what I expected to happen. His tears are like Niagara Falls when I show him the photos of Robbie, Henry and me. Yes, he is our birthfather. It’s a long story about how he knew there were going to be triplets but being a binge-drinking alcoholic, he couldn’t face the future with a family and decided it had to be a permanent break. We talk most of the night about his life and mine, although I decide not to mention the money. I was quite surprised and sorry to hear him say that he never wants to meet Robbie or Henry or to ever see me again. So I found my father, but very unlikely that he’s the source of too much good.
On our twenty-fifth birthday we all decide to give up on this adventure since we’ve had no new leads and only frustration in the process. Meanwhile my bank account has grown to almost $50,000, and I just can’t decide what to do with it. I get a call from the bank one day to let me know about a new offer to safely invest funds with great returns. During a very brief phone conversation, this guy mentions that I should have all of my investments listed in my will. Gets me to start thinking about what would happen to all of that cash if I should get run over by a bus. Guess it would all go to Henry and Robbie, but is that what I want? Sure wish I knew the intention of the mystery person who is sending me this gift. So I decide to cover my bases I’ll get a will and include some random charity, along with Robbie and Henry, so that I know I can die in peace.
While compiling notes for my will, the lawyer asks if I have received all of my inheritance yet. I smile and tell him that Mom didn’t have anything left when she died. But he tells me in searching my records he noticed that my name was listed in the will of someone named Henry Johnson who passed away several years ago. Well, that was money I never got, although I must admit I sure don’t need it now. Although I’m very curious about this Henry Johnson and how did he know me? I really don’t need a second mystery to solve, but my attorney seems confident he can get me an answer.
Two months go by and not a word. I’m starting to convince myself to forget about needing to reveal the source of any income and just to enjoy it. That’s when my lawyer calls to say he discovered the name of my birthfather’s father and an addendum to his will which states that he wants his lifetime savings divided between his grandchildren who he never got to meet. But there’s no record of how much money or if that ever happened. That doesn’t make sense! Why would he have all the money sent to me? Or could this have nothing to do with me? It’s possible this guy had other grandkids. And our birth father told me he never admitted to anyone that he left his family behind.
I should probably just resolve myself to thinking perhaps our unknown grandfather was well intentioned and magically his money winded up in my mailbox. But if that’s the case, I need to share it equally with Henry and Robbie. Then again, what if Mom had an inheritance she never told us about, and being the first-born triplet, she could have asked someone to send me the money. There’s also the possibility that while Uncle Charlie lives in a low-rent trailer, he secretly could have been investing in a company like Amazon. Or what about our birth father? Why did he cry so much when he saw the photos of his boys?
Guess it really doesn’t matter. My plan now is to spend my wealth the same way it came to me. I’ll randomly look up guys across the country named Henry and Robbie and let those unsuspecting souls figure out what to do with too much good.