Excerpt from "The Foundling"
Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey
October 8, 2015
A half century of searching, of not knowing, of hoping, led me here. To a nameless road in a trailer park. And all I could think was—what should I bring?
The occasion seemed to call for something. I drove around until I found one of those all-purpose gift stores in a mall, and I walked up and down the aisles, past picture frames and tableware and men’s jackets. A young woman asked if I needed help and I politely said no thanks. I didn’t know how to explain who the gift was for.
Finally, I came to the artificial flowers. I picked up a small brown pot with a white orchid draped around a green plant stake. Looking at it, you wouldn’t know it was fake. I took it up front and paid for it—$12.99. But as soon as I did, I felt uneasy. Not because I didn’t like it, but because it was the final diversion.
There was nothing left to do now, except what I came to do.
I got back in my rented Nissan and drove down Delilah Avenue. The casinos of Atlantic City, the great gray slabs of glass and concrete, were just a few miles east, the ocean right behind them. A trailer park came into view, then another. They had pleasant, resort-style names—something Pines, something Acres. The GPS pushed me one more mile, until I was there—Silver Crest Trailer Park. It was just off a traffic circle, with a Wawa, a liquor store and Bob’s Bar & Grill clustered around.
I pulled into the park through a barely marked entrance. Inside, there were two rows of trailers, on either side of a dirt road, each about twenty feet apart. There had to be hundreds of trailers. I drove at 10 mph down the road trying to catch the numbers on them. No. 6. No. 8. No. 10.
No. 18, on the left, was the one I was looking for.
It was doublewide, with brown and tan siding and an aluminum roof. A tall oak tree shaded the trailer and every now and then shot an acorn down on the roof with a clang. A lime green Ford was parked in front—that likely meant someone was home. The surrounding trailers were in different states of repair, some better kept, some much worse. One had Halloween decorations taped forlornly to the narrow window—a cardboard pumpkin, a witch’s hat. Down the dirt road a yellow school bus dropped off a little girl.
I parked on the side of the road across from No. 18. This was it. This was finally it. I took a deep breath and walked up to the gate on the chain-link fence that circled the trailer, and passed through. There were potted plants placed along a stone path that led to the wooden deck that led to the door of the trailer. On the deck, a couple of folding chairs and a flowerpot with an American flag stuck in the soil. It was a warm, cloudless day. I walked up the five stairs about as slowly as I could.
I had never been this close before in my life.
For a moment I didn’t know where to knock. The screen? The door behind it? In the dull stillness of the afternoon, all the choices felt like an intrusion. I settled on the side of the trailer, and knocked lightly three times.
Nothing happened. Not a sound or movement.
I knocked again, a little more firmly. Still nothing.
I knocked a third time, loud enough for anyone inside to hear. I waited two
full minutes after that knock, just standing there. Another acorn clanged on the roof.
Could this be how it ends?
After all the setbacks and false leads, the dead ends and desperate nights, and the miraculous twist of fate that brought me here, to this door—could all of that have amounted only to this? To silence? To nothing?
I’d never lost hope, because for the longest time hope is all I had. I’d come close to giving up, but never that close.
I’d stay strong, but now that strength felt more like delusion.
So I just stood there for a while, outside trailer No. 18. A lost soul with a fake flower in his hand.
Probably five minutes went by. I looked around for where to leave the orchid. I decided to knock one last time, because what was the harm. Three hard raps with my knuckles.
“Hello? Is anyone there? This is Paul. Paul Fronzcak.” Once again, silence.
But then . . . something.
A shadow, visible through the diamond-shaped glass on the door. Movement. Shuffling.
And then, after a few more seconds, the door swung open.