I thought I might occasionally share with you some of the letters Mickey Downey wrote to his loved ones. The title of the first book in The Downey Trilogy, ”First, I Love You”, comes from the letters Mickey wrote to Tommy as a child. Mickey’s letters (not just the ones to Tommy) are a recurring theme in the trilogy, although the reader rarely gets to see one. I hope you will enjoy getting to read some!
The following is a letter referenced in First, I Love You;
“Does he like to play Princesses?” Kiki asked. Daddy didn’t answer, just chuckled as he picked up his pen and wrote:
‘Dear Tommy, First, I love you. I hope you enjoyed the present I sent—’
“Daddy, guess what! I read the word love!” Kiki said, proud of herself.
“Very good, sweetheart, very good,” he seemed to choke out the words like something was stuck in his throat. Then he kissed her head and continued to write.
First, I love you. I hope you enjoyed the present I sent–I’m not sure what a boy your age is ‘in to’ these days but I gathered from your Transformer PJs that you might like those. If you already have this car, let me know, and I will get you one you don’t. And, of course, Happy Birthday! Turning ten is a pretty big deal, it’s not every day a young man busts into the double digits! Do you remember how much you liked playing cars in the living room? We must have lost a few dozen Matchbox cars down that large vent. When you were just a wee tyke you refused to walk over it and you would stand there, stubborn as a mule, until your mother would lift you over. If I was there you would insist I do it because I always remembered to make the airplane sounds. Mothers sometimes don’t understand the importance of these things. Speaking of your mother, I am not sure if she told you that you have a little sister, she’s 5 1/2 and about to attend Kindergarten. Her name is Katherine but we call her Kiki. I’ve included a picture, she’s eager to meet you. You’ll have to indulge her if she asks you to play Princesses, little girls are sometimes pushy like that. But I promise to take you out for an extra large ice cream afterward! And never fear, you also have a brand new brother, he was born just this last May and his name is Giovanni, but we call him Joe. He reminds me a lot of you as a baby. You were always such a good baby, hardly ever cried. Kiki cried all the time but is now quiet as a bug in a rug. And it seems like you will be the only one of my children to have the Downey green eyes. Ah well, who can predict these things?
I’m sure this is a lot to take in, so I will end my letter here and say once again that I love you and I miss you. I don’t know what it is your mother may have told you, but I want you to know you can call me whenever you like, or write if you are so inclined. I meant what I said last week that I will always be here for you no matter what, day or night, whatever you need. And you don’t need to worry, I will not make you move, I gave you my word. You can ask your mother, I always keep my promises.
Your loving father,
PS–I’ve also included my business card which has my personal lines written on the back. You may call any of the numbers, everyone has instructions to put your call through to me at once.
The following is a letter referenced in Second of All;
It was a particularly good one, one Tommy had read several times (though he would go to his grave before he would admit that to anyone). In it, his father dispensed with the usual ‘here’s what your sister and brother are up to’ and spent the letter reminiscing about living with Tommy and Mary in Brooklyn.
First, I love you and I hope you are well!
A little birdie told me your hockey team didn’t make it to the finals. I am sorry to hear this and I know it is not from any lack on your part. You are quite talented, I am sure. Defeats are a part of life’s lessons for us I am afraid. Sadly they only get harsher as life moves on. But it is how you handle these disappointments that makes the mettle of a man. But I have no worries there, even as a young child you always brushed off disappointments with only a minimal fuss. A trait you get from your mother, no doubt, as it couldn’t have been easy raising you alone but she never complained. Even in the end shortly before she left, for as many arguments as we had she still was as loving and patient as ever. Every day I was able to spend with you, she always had a smile on her face and no matter the struggles she had, she could always find a way to spin a positive out of it. I remember one time when you were only about 2 years old, she had been ill all week with the Flu and had lost her waitressing job from the missed work. I brought her roses and the rent for the remainder of the year expecting to have to comfort her. But you know what she did? She smiled wide, handed you to me, and said, ‘I’m only sad I can’t smell these roses.’ I fed you dinner (spaghetti-os were your favorite) and I even got to give you your bath, something your mother usually did herself as I apparently made too much of a mess playing battleship with you. It was my habit each night I got to spend with you to rock you to sleep telling you stories your great grandfather, Seamus O’Malley, had passed on to me. Now, there is a man whose veins run with pure steel–he never met a disappointment he couldn’t turn into a blessing! He is a full 45 years older than I, yet he can still run circles around me in a spirited argument and still carves every day. If I possess even half of his vigor at his age I will truly be blessed. Anyway, this story was one of your favorites, or I should say, sent you to sleep the fastest, which in retrospect might be saying the opposite. You’ll have to tell me which case it is upon hearing it at an older age:
Finnegan had been a hard working man, if the work you were speaking about was finding ways to do the least amount of work to gain the most. One of his favorite things to do was trick people in to buying his tales of magical healing wells. Now back then people had heard of Brigid’s Well but few knew where to find it. Finnegan would spin a yarn about how he had thrice been cured by it himself and he knew the secret path to get there. They would pay him in food and shelter and other such comforts to show them where the well existed. But wily Finnegan would lead them around in circles until they were good and dizzy then leave them off at the nearest spring he could find. By the time they discovered the water was just ordinary water, he would be long gone. One night he was sleeping in a barn and a Wee One appeared before him.
“Finnegan,” she said. “It just so happens there is such a well in Kildare as to make a sick man healed. Would you like to know how to find it?”
“Oh, yes, very much,” Finnegan replied, thanking his good fortune, but suspicious of it just the same. “What is it you would want in exchange?”
“You must agree never to trick others again. And, I must warn you, you can only drink the water if you truly seek healing.”
“Of course,” Finnegan agreed, while crossing his finger behind him.
The Wee One told him the well’s location and Finnegan began searching for it, out of curiosity and avarice. But every time he would get near where the well was supposed to be, he would find he was right back where he had started. But he would always begin again thinking this would be the time he would find it. He began to waste away from obsession and lack of food. One day as he was resting on a low wall along came a fair maiden. She gave him some warm bread and he told her of his quest. He figured he had been tricked by the Wee One just as he had tricked others because even now, when he was truly sick, he still could not find the water.
“You poor dear,” the girl said. “I’m afraid Morrigan left out the most important part. You must truly want to get well to find the water in the first place.”
“What foolishness is this?” Finnegan asked. “Of course I want to get well!” And he did, for she was quite beautiful and he could see himself raising goats and children with her as a good and honest man.
“Then drink,” Brigid said and waved her hand. Behind her apace was a small circle of stones with a bucket suspended atop. He drank the cool, mossy water and suddenly felt no desire to wander anymore.
He settled down and made a good life with her. But one day his past came to haunt him as these things tend to do. One of the people he had tricked in the past came seeking justice. When Finnegan offered to let him drink from their well, the man thought he was being tricked yet again and absconded with Finnegan’s bride. Enraged, Finnegan armed himself and his children and swore vengeance upon the man and all who would aid him, vowing he would not stop until he was reunited with his fair love. But he did not know Brigid had sacrificed herself rather than be used by his enemies. So, endlessly he searched, killing all those who dared try and stop him. After each battle, those who would come to claim the bodies of their kin would swear Brigid’s ghost would wander about the dead, crying for their souls, and singing: ‘Until we meet again, my love, until we meet again’.
Then one day, wearied unto his soul from his searching, Finnegan laid down his weapons and gathered his children and grandchildren near and said, ‘enough’ and breathed his last breath, thus finally being reunited with his eternal bride. But his children did not weep, for there is nothing so perfect as a thing with no ending and no beginning, such as a family of souls intertwined.
My dear boy, I think of this story often when I think of you and your mother, not just because it reminds me of when we were together, but because it gives me comfort knowing that eventually, we will be a family again.
Your loving father,
The following is a (partially coded) letter sent shortly before this event referenced in Second of All;
Maeve had turned in the doorway, still ignoring Mary, and said to a sticky faced Tommy, ‘until we meet again, grandson’. When Mary asked Michael about it later he had said that he simply wanted his mother to meet them ‘just in case’. All further prying was met with stony silence until finally, ‘Family’s family, Mary girl. You never know when you might need them.’ And subject closed.
Dublin? I’m to believe you spent a week in Dublin just for grins and giggles? Pull the other one. I say this with love in my heart but what’s a woman of your age thinking? I seem to recall you once saying you’d eat gruel and potatoes for a month before you’d ever spend more than a passing moment there. If you’re needing something to do you might consider visiting your children. Has Rosa told you she’ll be working uptown after she graduates? That’s two of your children situated fine, in case you’re counting. Not that I’m fishing for compliments, I’d never bother to be so modest. Ha!
Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind another visit if you’ve a yen to hop the pond. Recently I’ve been listening to some songs that have me a wee down in the mouth. Makes me think of the bonds of family and days gone buy. Speaking of, I’ve a project I’d like to show you. It’s my best creation yet and near to my heart. It would bring me great pleasure to know you’d seen it. And though I know you hate morbid talk, I would be comforted knowing it had a safe home should mine crumble. After all, the weather in New York is as capricious as ever.
As for those cigars you saw on Arthur, I’ve purchased three; one for your next visit, one for a rainy day, and the other for posterity. For myself, I prefer the Cubans. And, yes, I do believe you are correct, too much Italian food does give one heartburn. Next time I’ll wash it down with some whisky.
All My Love,
The following is a letter referenced in Third Time’s The Charm;
Beneath the tray was a bundle of letters, no envelopes, about an inch thick. Mary’s hands trembled and she quickly rubbed them against her pant legs to remove her sweat. She sent a brief nervous glance at the doorway and lifted the first letter up.
My dearest Mary,
I would say first, that I love you, except mostly these days I despise you the way a man can hate only that which he once loved more than life. I take joy in that, actually, because today I realized I still have a heart. How could I still hate you this much if I didn’t? The truth is I hate you because I still love you and I would give anything if I could stop. You wanted me in prison for my crimes once, well this is a worse punishment by far.
I hope you are happy, wherever you are. No, I hope you are empty. Empty like I am. I hope you ache the way I do. For everything we could have had together.
I decided to stop writing you today. It’s not fair to my children. I held my new son in my arms last night and I made a promise to myself. I will not rest until I find you. It was better to let you run and hide when Big Joe was in charge, but now I’m the man in charge and I will find my son and bring him home to his sister and brother. But until then, I have to stop holding on to the past. I thought writing these letters would help. I know now, nothing will help but to see you in front of me instead of in my memories. I’m only left to wonder, which will win out when I see you again? The love, or the hate?
Until We Meet Again,
The following is a letter written the February before this flashback in First, I Love You;
She smiled remembering it. Little Joey running all over the hotel lobby getting into things the way restless nine year old boys do. Daddy all tense and silent, staring at ‘that woman’, as mom had always called her. And Tommy–Ha!–Tommy, acting like he had just wandered into the Omaha Hilton because he had nothing better to do. But she could see in his eyes he was just as nervous as she was. Just as curious to finally meet his siblings…
And in Second of All;
“We’re here so you can meet your brother for the first time. You can get an ice cream any other time.”
Joey sent a quick resentment-filled look at Tommy who was teasing a furiously blushing Kiki about some boy-band she liked…
I hope you are enjoying Paris! I know I said I wouldn’t “bug you” while you are visiting your mother but I thought it might be nice to get a letter from your old man anyway. It feels strange to be writing to you instead of enjoying your company while I write to others. It’s not only odd in its intended recipient but because my study feels very empty without you. I can feel you rolling your eyes at that, even from across the ocean. Oh well, somehow we will both survive your teen years. You’ll be happy to know your “stinky little brother” has so far kept his promise to stay out of your room. Either that or he is exceptionally talented at not getting caught. Given his parentage, it could go either way. I’m sure you’ll be happy to know he’s still quite jealous you got to go without him. I suggested maybe I could send him to his mother during his own birthday month, but he’s still set on Coney Island.
Speaking of brothers, Tommy will be graduating this May. Since Joey doesn’t want to head to Europe, I thought it would be nice if we could take a trip over to Omaha and see Tommy graduate. Won’t it be nice to meet him in person? Well past time, I think. You’ll find when you get older it’s easy to let time slip away and before you know it your daughter’s wearing lipstick and your oldest son’s graduating high school. You should probably make sure your mother doesn’t see this letter. You know how she gets when people mention Tommy.
I have to run now. Call me when you get this letter so I can hear your sweet voice.
Your loving father,
PS–Remember our deal, you need to be completing your homework. Getting out of school for a month doesn’t mean you can slack off.
PPS–No falling in love with any French boys.
The following is a letter referenced in Third Time’s The Charm;
Beneath the tray was a bundle of letters, no envelopes, about an inch thick…
My dearest Mary,
I struggle to write this. I guess I’m not sure if you care. I wonder if they’ll even give it to you. I guess it doesn’t matter because I’m not even sure if I’ll ever send it to you. I just can’t help but wonder if I’d stayed that night, hadn’t walked out, if I could have changed your mind. An hour. That’s the length of time it took me to lose everything that mattered. An HOUR and you were gone. I think they do that on purpose, the Feds. That way they can fill your head with lies and
manip manu manipulations. Never noticed how long that word was before.
I guess I just need you to know I love you and Tommy and that’s a truth I need to make you know. But they won’t let me see you. They won’t tell me where you are. It’s inappropriate, my lawyers advise, in any case. that’s a long word too. Of course it is. I know how this game works and ain’t that just the Goddamned joke of it all? For the first time I want to get to someone just because I need you to understand I was working on it. I had a plan and if you’d just waited. just waited a goddamned hour
I don’t know what the fucking Feds are telling you but I know for sure whatever you have to say it isn’t enough, so why do this thing? Why? what could they have promised you? Tomorrow I’m going to hope seeing me in court will make you see reason. If you were tired of it I mean I know you were but like I said I was working on it and you can’t take my son from me we could have worked something out
I hope there’s some way tomorrow
I don’t know maybe it’s best Big Joe is so pissed and Theresa just won’t shut the fuck up about getting her own baby and now I’m just alone
you’ll laugh because I just did that thing you can’t stand, lick the end of my pen. As if anyone ever died from that. I miss the way you nag. I miss tucking our boy in bed and I miss every fuckin thing
I should not write letters when I’m drunk. there. I nagged for you
I love you
The following is a letter not referenced in the series but takes place shortly before Tommy begins investigating the human trafficking ring in his area. First, I Love You begins February 2012.
I do hope you’re settling in well at school, and that you are not having me on about being happy to go. I usually don’t worry about you pretending to be happy about something you are not, unlike your sister, but in this case you can chalk it up to a case of your father having some anxiety about sending you so far. Not to mention so unsupervised. Yes, I realize it is a military school but I can recall being thirteen with a clarity that would frighten you. I’m sure you have trouble imagining me so young. I wish I had had your maturity when I was that age, who knows what might have happened? In any case I would appreciate you using the new phone and computer I bought you for regular facetime. Emails or letters will not be enough. You are a Downey so I know mischief runs heavy in your veins. And the sneaky twinkle in your sister’s eyes has me uneasy as well. I do want to say I would not mind if you showed an interest in taking up letter writing like me and your great grandpa Seamus. It is a forgotten art form. People just dash off texts and emails these days without a care.
I just scared myself with how old that made me sound. You can stop snickering any time. On another note, I just got off the phone with your brother who was surprisingly friendly. Well, perhaps not friendly, but polite and animated. He’s moved out of that horrid old house he was renting off 48th and found a single apartment closer to downtown. I said that was a good move because the hours he keeps he has no business having to keep up another man’s yard, and let’s be real the other tenants in that house never did their part. He’s thinking he might be making the rank of Detective soon. I’m sure he figured that would just ruin my day, but quite the opposite. I told him if he doesn’t make it, I could get him placed here in Chicago, the Alderman in our district is always carrying on about needing more boys in blue. Tommy laughed quite a bit at that. Who knows at which part? But he thanked me for the call, which was a first. If you were here you’d be able to tell me if I was making too much out of it. This is another reason I will miss you greatly–our talks about Tommy. It’s not the same with your sister. She is too much of a people pleaser, always wanting to fix things that can’t be fixed. You inherited your poppa Big Joe’s skill for listening. Another forgotten art.
I’d better wrap this up, especially since I will be seeing you soon anyway, in fact, maybe before this letter even arrives. See? Your old man can be sneaky too. Possibly you already knew that. (nyuk nyuk nyuk) I’ve a friend in DC I haven’t seen in quite a while and I thought I’d surprise him with a visit and I can pop over and see you while I’m there. You can show me around your dorm and introduce me to your new friends, of which I am sure you already have several. Did your mother tell you that you actually have a cousin on the Bonanno side not too far from there? I’m not sure of the exact connection, you’ll have to check with her.
I love you and don’t forget I’m always keeping an eye on you, so no shenanigans, alright, boyo?
See you soon!
Your Loving Father,
PS- Keep your grades up and my pilot says he’d be happy to have you along for a ride in the cockpit. Won’t that be a fun bragging right for your friends?
The following letter occurs the January after this flashback in First, I Love You:
“I won’t take you from your home, son,” he said firmly. “But we will meet again. You and I. And I will always be there for you if you need me. Maybe that means nothing to you now but someday it just might.”
His father’s hand felt warm and strong and swallowed Tommy’s own trembling palm. His green eyes seemed to be glittering as he stared at Mama and Tommy for what felt like a long time, then he dropped Tommy’s hand, turned and left without another word.
For months afterward, Tommy wondered and worried if he would come back and take him away from his mom. But he never did. Tommy began to imagine it had all been a dream except then the presents and letters started to come on his birthday and holidays and his mother would mutter under her breath and look scared again. It made him mad and he felt like he owed it to her to not open them.
First, I love you and think of you often. I keep hoping you will call but maybe I’ve just forgotten how busy a young boy gets. Or maybe you can’t call long distance? You can always call collect, just ask your mother how. I did try to call you on Christmas but there was no answer and no way to leave a message. I can’t understand why your mother wouldn’t have an answering machine. Perhaps I’ll send her one and a calling card.
What have you been up to since my visit? Is third grade a challenge? I don’t know why but I remember it being the first time I ever thought school to be fun. We finally started learning some math that was interesting that year. Do you like math like me? Maybe you like music like your mother. She is an exceptional pianist. I’m sure she’s forgotten to mention that as she’s quite modest. I know she teaches music but I’m not sure if she ever plays for recreation anymore. You should ask her to play something for you some time. Maybe you could even tell her I miss her beautiful voice. You don’t have to.
Anyway, your little brother is teething. In case you don’t know what that is, it’s when an ordinarily angelic baby become an impossible to please demon. And that is saying something with Joey. I think I mentioned he is usually as mellow as you were as a baby so this has been quite the adjustment for both of us. Ah well, this too shall pass. Your sister Kiki is having a blast in Kindergarten. She has a whole tribe of boys and girls she has convinced that she is actually a princess and somehow gets them to bring her things and give her their desserts. But here’s the kicker, son, she kept all of it and had an ‘auction’ on the playground to sell it back to all of them. Then she gave her teacher the money. I asked why and she said, ‘so she can buy us some good snacks for story time. No one likes carrots and crackers.’ HA! As a father I’m torn between pride at her entrepreneurial and management skills and pointing out that the establishment frowns at that sort of ‘business’. Or so the government and my lawyers tell me. I can’t wait to see what sort of scheme your brother dreams up in five years. I actually woke up in a sweat the other day thinking about what sort of shenanigans he could come up with if he’s anything like me.
Ah speak of the devil, he’s up again. I’m beginning to greatly appreciate the sacrifice your mother made raising you with only a part time parent to help. I guess it’s time to hire an au pair. That’s a fancy word for live-in babysitter.
I love you (I know I said that already–can’t be said enough). Hope to hear from you soon.
Your Loving Father,
PS- I put the calling card in with this letter and another business card.
The following is a letter referenced in Third Time’s the Charm;
He let go of Kiki and fished a letter out of his pocket…
I am writing you this letter on the occasion of your seven month birthday. Why seven, you ask? Seven is a lucky number and I want as much luck infused into this letter as I can get. It’s actually my third attempt. The first was a bit too combative I think, a failure on my part to acknowledge the inevitability of certain things. The second, I dwelt a bit too much on other things I’ve lost and which should never be your concern. And so here we are, third time’s the charm, as they say.
I’m going to hold on to this letter until you are grown and ready to start your own family. Which I hope is long after my death. Just kidding. Today your mother wants to take you to Festa di San Gennaro which I think is a horrible idea because my mind spins with all the possible ways you could get hurt by the crowd or scared by all the noises and scents. When you have your own babies I think you will understand how consumed a parent can get with protecting their child, and that brings me to the point of this letter. I want you to know that I love you far beyond any earthly want or need and that as long as it is within my power–even if that power is only my two bare hands–I will do my best to protect you from harm.
The day I give you this letter, or have it given to you, will be the day you have found someone who will love and protect you as much as your father can. I do hope I will give you this letter someday because even at seven months old I can tell you deserve nothing less than everything your sweet, joyful heart desires. I truly believe you are a gift from a God who has no reason to give a man such as me anything. But I will cherish every moment with you until the day I give you away to another and then I will cherish the memories I have of you.
Please know, in this life and the next, I will always watch over you and love you.
Your loving father,
The following is a letter referenced in Third Time’s The Charm;
Somewhere around the twentieth letter she had given up any idea of secrecy or discretion. She drank up his words until her veins felt infused with his longing, rage, bitterness, humor, nostalgia and love, so much love.
My dearest Mary,
I woke this morning with the scent of you as clear as touch in my nose. You’d say that makes no sense if you were here, smell and touch are two different things, you’d say, and then I’d delight in arguing with you. Just because. It’s a sad truth that no one argues with me these days, unless you count Theresa. But there’s no joy in that, it’s like arguing with a child, pointless and absurd. There’s no joy in anything anymore. No, that’s a lie, which, again, were you here, you would be the first to call me on.
What I mean is, I could have sworn on a stack of Bibles that you were here, so strong was the scent of you in my bed. That lightly perfumed body soap mixed with the sweat of our bodies and the detergent you used on our sheets. Sheets you bought for me, or I bought, since it was my money that you would then spend on me so we could carry on pretending I wasn’t paying for everything anyhow. I think that was probably my first mistake–hard to tell, I made so many–not being more honest with you. The irony in that is I was just honest enough to hang myself, to give you the ammunition to destroy us, but not enough to give you a reason to stay. I get that. I really do. Doesn’t change anything, you’re still gone.
But everywhere I see the ghost of you, and worse, our son. Every red-headed woman turning a corner makes that cruel burst of longing re-appear, and every little boy’s laughter, a fresh knife-wound. The only thing that helps a bit is rocking Kiki to sleep as I did with Tommy. I even agreed to try for another baby with Theresa, thinking that would help, but it just highlights what I’ve lost. I could have a thousand children and love them all, but my heart will never stop missing the one you stole from me.
First, you stole my heart, then my child, and now I am beginning to think you’ve stolen my hope as well. On the other hand, maybe that theft would be a blessing. Hope is a worse poison than anger or hatred. At least with vengeance in my heart, I have a purpose. Would that you could come home long enough to steal my memories as well. Without them, I might be free for once.
Yes, you’re right. That’s a lie, too.
I’ll never be free of you, and I don’t think I want to be. When I was with you I felt the most free I’ve ever felt in my life. I felt like I could just be Michael Downey, the man who loves Mary Gates. Michael Downey, Tommy’s father. Michael Downey, the guy who remembers to set the garbage on the curb, call his mother, buy you flowers on your birthday. Just a regular Joe, no pun intended. See, I still hear your laughter in my ears when I would make a bad pun like that, and I wouldn’t even have had to explain that I was talking about Big Joe and how un-”regular” he is. You just knew. You just knew me, the real me, better than you can possibly realize. Just like you knew even before your mind wanted to accept it that I was a criminal. It was never that you didn’t know me well enough to know I loved you, wanted to be with you and Tommy and not her. It was that you had no faith in me to do something about it.
And that’s where I’m at now, where the theft of hope began, I’m left with the bitter knowledge that the only woman I ever let into my soul had no faith in what she saw. She saw more liar than lover, more sinner than father. If you would have had just a little more faith in me maybe I could have found a way to be all those things at once. That‘s the chicken and egg of it all, did I kill your faith or did your lack of faith make me what you saw? A man who valued power more than his family. Unfortunately, just as I’m not the only thief between the two of us, I’m not the only killer. Because your lack of faith killed that hopeful man named Michael Downey.
Oh, I can just see your eyes narrow, your nostrils flare, and your cheeks flush as fiery red as your hair at the injustice of that statement.
Come home and argue with me about it. I dare you.
I love you, always,