This story is by Joslyn Boissiere and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A strong man once told me that one must experience what they wish to sympathize with before they can empathize with it. That man went through hell before he could even begin to sympathize with the pain of the woman he loved.
That man was my Father. He fell in love with the wrong woman, and then was diagnosed with a serious disease, one given to him by his love. My Mother was the first to go, and she was the last on my mind as she did. All my attention went to my Father, who was in what seemed to be excruciating pain. I remember distinctly, sitting by his side and asking, “How bad does it hurt?” He answered with the last sentence he’d ever speak; “Not as bad as when I finally understood your mother.”
I cried for a while after that. My Father was dead, and I was alone. Or so I thought.
It wasn’t until my Father’s memorial service that I found Keith Tracy. I was standing in the front row with my husband, Matthew, crying silent tears. It felt surreal, looking at pictures of him and imagining such a big heart in such a small urn. I stood up after a while of hearing speeches by people I barely recognized as family. I leaned into Matt as we sat in the booth, waiting for the service to be done. It was about half an hour more of videos and testimonies before a man came up to me and tapped my shoulder. I looked up, my eyes straining to see more than tears. I blinked and as I did, the man came into vision. He was very tall and had high cheekbones, a straight nose and clear brown skin.
I sat up straight, cleared my throat and got ready to ask who he was. He looked exactly like Dad. But I was certain I’d never seen him before.
“Hello. I’m so sorry we had to meet like this, but I promise I’ve been looking for you,” he said, reaching out a hand.
I stood up, taking his hand. “I’m sorry, who are you?” I asked. Matt stood behind me, a hand on my elbow.
“I’m your brother, Willow. My name is Keith Tracy. Kirk was my Father, and Deborah my mother.” he said slowly. His eyebrows furrow, and he lost his composure for a second, yet regained it quickly.
I softened, reached out to Keith, and enveloped him in a hug. “I’ve been looking for you too. Dad used to tell me all about you. Deborah took you in when you were around nine or ten. Dad kept me.” I whispered to him.
He hugged back, whispered, “Thank you. I’m so sorry we didn’t meet before.” I pulled away and s aid, “The past isn’t your fault. But I’m so glad that we can meet now.”
Keith smiled sadly, asked, “Can we talk in private? Maybe get something to eat?”
I turned to Matthew. He smiled said, “Call when you want me to pick you up.”
Keith and I walked to the cafe about twenty minutes away from the memorial service. He was fairly quiet, but I don’t make much of it due to the obvious. When we got to the cafe, we took seats near the windows towards the back. Keith ordered a coffee, and an Earl Grey tea. As we waited, Keith turned towards the window and smiled.
“I used to get and send letters to Kirk, you know,” he declared. I nodded, though I had no idea. “He was an amazing Dad. He accepted me, though I was and am nothing to be proud of. Regardless of what I would tell him in our letters, he would always say how much he was happy to hear from me and how he wanted me to meet you and to come home.”
Keith wiped a stray tear from his face as I reached out to hold his hand. I asked, “What did he tell you about me?”
“He told me you were in L.A. and that you worked in a bank. He told me you loved dark chocolate but hated white chocolate and that you thought gummy fish were a horrible treat for kids. He told me you didn’t really like Deborah that much, but you knew that no one understood her so you stuck around. Most of all, he’d tell me you had the best heart he’d ever known but a troubled mind that could get you into trouble sometimes.”
Keith continues to stare out the window long after I’d finished talking. When our beverages came, he sighed. He blew on his coffee delicately, then took a timid sip.
“I’m a horrible son. I’m so sorry, Willow.” he whispered after we finished drinking.
“How so?” I asked simply.
“Dad told me you were involved in law enforcement. I always found that amazing.” I raised an eyebrow but chuckled. “Amazing is one way to put it. Dad hated it. He told me he prayed every night that he would be able to see me when I got home from work.”
Keith nodded slowly. I smiled, said, “You never answered my question. How are you such a bad son?”
Keith looked out the window briefly, then back at me. He smiled sadly, said, “I told Dad lies, Willow. I never worked at a bank in L.A., I was robbing banks in L.A. I was buying him things and sending him stolen money, because I wanted him to think that I was okay. That time that Deborah sent me to a correction center for physical violence, I was laying low because the cops were trying to find me. I’m a felon. I came here for your help.”
My heart dropped. I look at Keith, who so very much looked like Dad. What would he do?
“Keith, I don’t understand what you’re saying!” I stuttered, eyes brimming with tears. How can my only living blood relative be a criminal? I thought I would have time, but if the police were looking for him now, it would only be a matter of time before they found him.
“You’re a police officer, Willow, and you’re a good one. I just need you to help me get away.”
“You’re my only goddamn brother, Keith. But I can’t help. There are always ways for people to find you. I’m retiring soon. I can’t have this on my record.”
Keith’s entire demeanor deflated. The look on his face, on Dad’s face, made me think.
I could leave him, I could walk out of this damn cafe right now, call Matthew, go to the station and file it in. That would be the right thing to do, wouldn’t it?
Or I could cover for him. I could mislead the police, tell them he’s back in L.A., buy him some time. Risk retirement and possibly my badge for family. But was it a risk I’d be willing to take?
“Keith, I’m sorry, but… I always do what I think is best for my family. I don’t want to see anyone hurt. But what you did, that was horrible. I understand, you did it for Dad, you did it to prove Deborah wrong. But you’re really proving to Dad that he was wrong about you and to Deborah that she was right if you continue down this path. I don’t want to see you in pain, Keith. That’s why I have to turn you in. I have to make sure you see that with every good intention there’s a possibility for a negative reaction.”
Keith looked at me, wide eyed, as I spoke. Then he looked out the window, for a long time, before saying anything. “You’re really turning me in?”
I nodded, fighting back tears as Keith allowed his own to flow. Keith stood, said, “I thought this would be different. I’m sorry it had to be like this.”
“I’m sorry, too.” I whispered.