Mandy Raquel

An Unexpected Gift

When darkness consumes you, then seek light.

It has been 3 years since I’d last seen my father, alive and well in person. It’s been 7 days since I’d received the phone call that he was dead, 2 days since I’d watch them lay him to rest in the ground, and an hour sitting in his hardly used office sorting through the mess of his life.

“I have something for you.” Lionel said, the somber look on his face as he reached into the inside pocket of his gray Armani blazer. A single piece of paper was in his hand now, and he hesitantly held it out to me.

“What is this? I thought we weren’t going over any assets till this afternoon.” I argued, reluctant to take the piece of paper, because I knew that it was just another piece of evidence that he was gone, forever this time.

“This is it Hailey. This is all that’s left.” Lionel was trying so hard to put on a brave face for me. I’d known Lionel my entire life, and in all of the 24 years that I’d known him I never understood who he was or what he did for my father until I turned 18. He’d just been my uncle Lionel, the man who taught me how to ride my bike without training wheels in the parking lots of event venues.

He’d been my father’s manager for the entirety of his career. All the way up till the end. My father was important to many people. He was an icon, a talented song writer, and a one-of-a-kind musician. His death was not just felt with those who knew him, it had been felt across continents. Adored and loved by so many, he’d managed to become a household name.

Byron James. 

It fit perfectly on every marquee sign and billboard. It wasn’t his real name though; it wasn’t the name my grandma Shelby called him when he randomly showed up on Thanksgiving or Christmas. It wasn’t the name on his tombstone either.

I unfolded the piece of paper to see the number $20,000 printed perfectly next to the words ‘remaining assets.’

“This goes to you, I know it’s surprising, but he had a lot of debt. All the rest is gone.” Lionel stated softly, he seemed uneasy and not really comfortable giving me this news. Lionel could demand what he wanted from other artists and labels, but when it came to me and telling me bad news, he was like a turtle hiding its head in the sand. When my pet hamster Gino died 15 years ago, he struggled with delivering me such inconvenient news then too.

“No, I honestly expected less.” I laughed bitterly, it was inappropriate, but the situation was just so unbelievable that I couldn’t help it.

“The house will go to the bank, and whatever we can sell in art and instruments will pay off the debts.” Lionel assured me, his hand falling onto my shoulder as he gave his best effort to comfort me. I didn’t need it though, my broken relationship with my father had caused me to build a wall between us that was so sturdy and so wide that it had become impossible for him to penetrate past it again. I hadn’t cried or mourned his death. I’d watched with incredulous eyes as thousands of people sobbed for him. People who didn’t even know him aside from the man whose voice had touched them in some way or another.

I had mourned him already all my life. I’d cried so hard at times that I would actually vomit from the intensity. I never understood any of the choices he made when I was younger. Forcing me to live a gypsy type life inside tour buses and hotels. I took my first steps inside a Days Inn room. My mother taught me to read inside a bunk while we travelled from city to city on endless tours. Then one day when I was 10 years old, she’d had enough for the both of us, and filed for divorce. I was finally able to go to a normal school in Virginia Beach, and able to make real friends, not worrying about never seeing them again because our stay wouldn’t be permeant. Our gypsy days ended, but my fathers didn’t and so I saw less and less of him.

“Do you know what the last thing was that I said to him?” I questioned to Lionel. He shook his head no and raised a quizzical eyebrow at me. “I said, you ruined my life dad. You’re the reason why I need to go to therapy.”

Lionel made a pained face at my harsh words as if I had personally meant them for him. “Hailey, your father loved you. He talked about you all the time and he –”

I held my hand up to stop him from telling me anymore. “He never chose me. He chose them every time. The fans. He filled my head with so many broken promises, and then the alcohol and the drugs took over.” I balled my hand up into a fist, crumbling the piece of paper that Lionel had given me. The image of my father drunk on my 13th birthday haunted me. Him trying to sit down on the dinning room chair, only to miss it and fall to the floor. Him attempting to grab the tablecloth to save himself from the fall, and instead he had only managed to pull my cake down with him.

“He was getting better, I…I thought the rehab was going to work this time. He was excited to be able to be a part of your life again. He was clean for so long and then he got weak and didn’t have the same tolerance as he did for the stuff, and now he’s gone.” Lionel placed his hand over his eyes, his shoulders shook, and he began to cry and mourn for the man he’d taken care of for 30 years.

I got up from the desk chair and walked over to him. Though he practically towered over me he looked so much smaller in that moment. I hugged him as he continued to cry, and when he finally was able to stop, he was embarrassed by the unexpected emotions he’d just shown.

“I’m sorry. There’s something else that’s yours, maybe even more valuable than that inheritance.” Lionel took out a wooden box from my father’s bookcase. He opened it with a key that I hadn’t even seen him grab. Reaching inside he extracted a very worn small black notebook. I immediately saw my father’s initials etched on the cover. His real initials D.R. for Daniel Rosenberg.

“His old song book.” I reached for it without hesitation. So many flashbacks of my father writing in it came to my mind. I flipped through the delicate pages that were filled with his handwriting, but what caught my attention was that in some song’s words were circled. I knit my brows together now in confusion, forgetting that Lionel was even there anymore. The words that he’d circled didn’t make sense right away, they’d seemed random. My father was a clever man though, he’d loved hidden meanings and puzzles so there was purpose, and when I figured it out it completely shattered the sturdy wall, I’d built to protect myself. I read the circled word’s out loud in order from one of my favorite songs ‘Free bird’.

“You are 7, dancing in the middle of a room, your laugh is my happiness.” I felt the lump in my throat begin to form. It was just one of so many more songs. I flipped further into the book and read the circled words in ‘A Night Away.’ “9, you love your hair in braids, I came to see you at 3am you were fast asleep. I kissed your cheek and you smiled in your dreams.” The tears spilled freely from my eyes now as I continued to read each hidden message for me.

When the writing became blurry and I found myself on the hardwood floor, Lionel was the one wrapping his arms around me now. For years I had hated my father for loving his lifestyle and career more than me. I’d wanted to burn his notebook, but when I had tried during a moment of teenage rebellion, he pleaded for me not to, and now I knew why. It was his moments and sacred memories he didn’t want to lose. He didn’t want to lose me, and somehow, I had lost him instead.

My body had overcome with grief as I released so many years of repression for my father. I held the small black notebook against my chest, my fingers grazed against an expandable pocket in the back of the book. I felt a folded paper inside and pulled it out revealing more of my father’s words for me.

My beautiful Hailey,

I hope now you see that you were the most important part of my life.

Forever Yours,


I managed to let out a heavy sigh while wiping away the remnants of my tears from my cheeks. “Why didn’t he ever just show me or let me read this.” I whispered. “It would have saved us so much lost time. I wouldn’t have stopped talking to him three years ago if I’d just known that I really did matter to him.”

Lionel helped me back up to my feet, holding my hand as he led me back over to the desk chair. “Sometimes our demons are too great. Your father made a lot of mistakes and bad choices, but despite all his flaws he just wanted to be your dad Hailey. He wanted to have a part of you with him on and off stage in every aspect of his life.”

Lionel was right. I couldn’t argue with him on it because the message was so clear in my father’s writings. “I wish he’d told me he needed help; I would have done whatever I could do to keep him on track.”

“He wanted you to live your life, not worry about his. Byron is forever going to be a legend and his songs and legacy will go on for years. His love for you will go on for years and years Hailey. It’s the greatest gift he could have given you.” Lionel stated, while stroking the back of my head.

All I’d wanted was my father to love me like he loved all the people that came to his sold out shows, and he did. It was woven so effortlessly in the lyrics and melodies that if I had just taken the time to really listen and hear it, I would have known that all those so-called love songs, were songs about love for me.