My father was not a bad man. Nor was my father a particularly good man. I guess he did his best. I know he wanted his tombstone to say “He nearly accomplished a number of things”. He thought of that fairly late in his life. I never knew what he thought those things might have been. They certainly weren’t in evidence to me. I would have said – had I had the chance to scribe his tombstone – “He probably did his best and it was none too good.”
But that was before I made the discovery.
It fell to me to do the things necessary to get his house ready for sale after he died. He had never re-married – my mother has remained a mystery to me for my entire life - and he had lived in that house for more than thirty years. He lived in it until he died, although he wasn’t physically in it when he died; he wasn’t even physically in the United States when he died.
He was in Paris.
The report of the Paris police in co-operation with the FBI had made a semi-positive identification of the corpse. I saw pictures and I don’t know how they could have made any kind of positive identification. The body had been in the river for a long time and there wasn’t a lot left.
He had no DNA on file anywhere. And I refused to volunteer any. So identification had to be done the old fashioned way.
My father had been in the US Air Force once, and even as long ago as that had been, there were still fingerprints on file for him. Apparently fingerprints can be digitally retrieved, even after long durations in water. In any event those that remained on the corpse allowed the Paris police and FBI to say with a 50% degree of certainty that the corpse was that of my father.
Events of the days before he was discovered to be missing added some degree of credibility to the identity of the body retrieved from the Seine. My father had been last seen going down the stairs to river level from Quais au Fleurs. It had been on toward dark one afternoon and the river had been rising dangerously for days from heavy rains in the region of its headwaters.
Although a frequent visitor to Paris, my father had never acquired ability with the French language beyond being able to order a glass of wine, a baguette or to apologize. So when he was there, and sometimes he was there for extended periods of time, he led a fairly solitary existence.
But that never bothered him. He loved the French people and had good relations with all he encountered and had something resembling friendship with a few. Those few were people with whom he had commercial relations – his landlord, for example – and all of whom spoke English.
With that sort of anonymity the police’s and FBI’s ability to establish that a person meeting my father’s description had made what apparently became a fatal descent to the river level quais of the Seine was a pure fluke.
My father walked a great deal when he was in Paris. I was with him a week or so before he died. In the brief period of my visit we walked everywhere. Sometimes we walked for hours. On one of those walks he took me to a park in the vicinity of Port D’Orleans. It had been a long walk. Once in the park we walked around a small lake and then ascended the path up a large hill that rose behind the lake. Part way up there was a small green building with a door with a brass handle on it.
He just wanted me to see it.
He was really odd.
On the day of his disappearance – or what has been legally established as that day – he had been seen at sundown going down the stairs from street level to the river.
There had been a police report.
Several people – native Isle de la Cité dwellers – had reported an apparently disoriented old man going down those stairs and yelling a name. They said he was shouting “Adrianna, Adrianna, Adrianna.” Nothing more: just “Adrianna”.
Fairly detailed descriptions of the man accompanied those reports so when my father came up missing it was inevitable that the reports were examined for the possibility of that man being my father.
It would be just like him. He had an intensely odd sense of humor. I could imagine that for some reason known only to him shouting “Adrianna” and going down to the nearly overflowing river would have been funny.
Or so I chose to think.
I needed some sort of rationale and I chose that.
But I am really not at all sure now.
On his laptop computer, which the Paris police gave to me once all the identification ceremonies and formalities had been completed there were a number of things of interest. Some of them might even be of value – the huge repository of images that he had taken over the years, most of Paris – looms as the most likely of those things of value.
But those are not of importance here.
What is important is that there was also among various documents one which seems to tell a story that may give explanation to many things. Those documents also open questions about many others.
That one document was the MS Word backup of his daily blog posts. He had been documenting the adventures he was having in Paris in his on line blog, “Four Months in Paris”.
And he faithfully posted to it daily. He did it daily that is until for no reason, in December, the posts cease. But they continued, unposted, on his computer.
I offer the complete document as a memorial to a perhaps unexplainable life that came to an end in a perhaps unexplainable manner. The document begins with something not officially in the blog or in its Word document backup. It is something I found in his apartment when I was gathering his things for return to the United States. It was written – that weird mix of printing and cursive that he always used – on a single sheet from one of his yellow pads. I found it in the wastebasket in the bathroom.
I am including it because it clearly is part of the story.
Other than that aberration the document is the sequential sum of his daily posts, including the ones that never actually were posted on-line. I have chosen to adopt the traditional method of calling each post a chapter.
That yielded a fairly interesting, but quite pedestrian, document.
But then I found the journal.
And that changed everything.
And that everything – with the story of the journal included - is what I have published here.