Missing. Has anyone seen this child?
Ring, Ring. Lana answered the phone expecting Jerry’s voice on the other end. “Hello,” she greeted, breathless from running for the phone, feeling the comforting expectation that had filled her being for how long?. . . twelve years now.
“Is a Lana Brenner, or Keifer there?” a woman’s voice asked.
“This is Lana Keifer,” Lana answered in a small voice.
Lana’s heart began to beat painfully against her chest. BRENNER, the name conjured up another life, another time, an existence she had buried in childhood. Her temples ached in unison with her heart pounding so loud in her ears she could hardly hear the response on the phone.
“This is Martha Heyer calling from the Columbia Youth Correctional Center. It is our understanding that you have a son,” a pause, “Edward Brenner, born of Edwin and Lana Brenner, in the State of Colorado, in Denver University Medical Hospital, on September 13, 1976. Is this information correct?
“Oh my God,” Lana whispered, cupping her hand over her mouth. “Yes,” she shouted, in a trembling, uncontrollable voice.
“Good, we found you,” the voice said. “Eddie is up for parole but unless someone is willing to take custody he won’t be released, and since his birthday is next month—eighteen—we have to give him up to the State Penitentiary. Ma’am, I hate to see boys like Eddie end up there. I mean when there’s still hope for them. Eddie’s a good boy, he’s just never had a chance.” The woman paused for a response but hearing none, rushed on. “Ms. Brenner, I know I’m a stranger to you, and I’m sure this call is interfering with your life, but I want to try to pull at your heart strings and beg you as one mother to another to open your heart to your young son and give him one more chance for a decent life. . . I’m sure you’ve been through very bad times with this boy, but he’s come a long way in here, and if you’d just find it in your heart to . . .”
“My name is Keifer, not Brenner. I have had no times with Eddie, bad or good, ma’am,” Lana managed to blurt out, interrupting the appeal, “Eddie has been missing since he was two years old. If you checked your records you would know that he has been a missing person.” Lana was shouting, close to screaming into the receiver.
“Ma’am, I’m sorry. Please, I did not mean to alarm you. I have no connection to any authorities that deal with missing persons. I work with the boys as an aide, a volunteer. Eddie can go home in a week, but only if he has a home to go to. When he came to juvenile detention three years ago he was registered as living with Edwin Brenner, his father. Mr. Brenner listed you as Eddie’s mother when Eddie was arraigned.” The woman’s voice trailed off to speak to someone else. Lana heard a “Yes, Doctor Knowles, I know better, but. . . . Okay.” Then into the receiver she asked, “Will you be signing Eddie out upon his release date, then? We need to make the arrangements either way.” Her voice had changed from pleading to business at hand.
“May I talk to my son?” Lana asked in a tiny voice.
“Ma’am, you would have to make that request to Dean of Admissions, Mr. Albert Decker, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday. I can give him your number, but I must inform you that Mr. Decker is on vacation until September 25 and Eddie will have already been transferred by that date. I feel I must warn you, ma’am, that once Eddie goes to the State Pen it will be very difficult for you to obtain his release.”
Lana and Jerry flew to Columbia, South Carolina, to the Youth Correctional Center.
“This is not a done deal, Lana. We have two young girls to consider. I have to tell you, I have misgivings about this.”
“You knew I had a son, Jerry. You’ve always known that.”
Jerry looked back to the magazine in his hands, but he couldn’t concentrate on the words in front of him. He signaled the stewardess and asked for a mini-bottle of Jack Daniels.Lana was flabbergasted. Jerry didn’t drink.
They sat on folding chairs in silence behind a one-way window that looked into another room. Lana was told that her son would be brought out into that other room shortly. People began to gather in the room where they waited, filling the empty chairs and then the aisles as well. Young boys began to spill into the room beyond on the other side of the window. Lana thought of her neighbor Miriam’s seventeen year old son. John was 6 feet tall and weighed 195 pounds. He was a star football player at Northwest High. She let herself remember Eddie’s father a tiny moment. He was broad of shoulder, and tall—over six feet. He must have weighed at least 200 pounds, with Danish blonde hair. Lana searched the room in front of her for someone that resembled the Edwin she remembered. She saw no one that fit his description, not even close.
“Mrs. Keifer, is there a Mrs. Keifer here, please?”
Lana heard the call over the speaker in the wall of the room. She looked around and raised her arm, not really knowing what was expected of her. “There you are. We didn’t know if you made it or not since we didn’t hear from you,” a woman said while walking toward them. The woman extended her hand and greeted them with a warm smile. “I am Dr. Kathy Knowles and you must be Mr. and Mrs. Keifer?”
“Yes,” they answered in unison.
“Well, that’s him over there by the juice cart,” she said pointing at a spot on the other side of the one way window. “The ginger haired lad with his fingers entwined in front of his lips? That’s your Eddie, right there.”
Lana squinted, disbelief started while rage got ready to envelop her being. That boy was not her Eddie. Who did they these people think they were kidding?
Someone, a woman uniformed as a helper, tapped the boy’s arm, apparently to let him know that his people were found and waiting for him. The boy showed no emotion as he rose from his chair and followed the woman.
Lana stared at the boy. A tortuous spasm gripped her stomach, almost doubling her in half in her chair. The ginger haired boy could not have been more than five feet, nine, and he appeared small from that distance, maybe 150 pounds. He reminded her of someone she used to know . . . it hit her—her brother Ronnie, killed in Vietnam at the age of twenty one, sixteen years ago. Lana’s stomach lurched and she was truly ill.
The lounge of the ladies’ room afforded Lana a moment to collect her emotions. This impostor was not her brother, nor was he her son. There was a mistake. After all these years of nothing, not one word, why now? Why now when her life was full, when everything was good? When upon awakening in a morning she not only counted her blessings, she had to admit she felt a little guilty for the abundance of happiness life had bestowed upon her. Jerry was maybe less than the lover Eddie’s father had been. She didn’t need passion. She could count on security and dependability. And there were the girls who, because they lost their own mother at such a young age, loved her like their own.
She watched again, in her mind, at the image of the boy as the woman addressed him. His eyes opened a little wider, he unclasped his hands, he rose from his chair. All of this in one fluid, graceful motion. Lana thought of the tiny boy, her two year old Eddie, locked in her arms the last time she saw him. His ginger hair sprung up in cowlicks, refusing to behave. Three permanent parts, she remembered, countered all her attempts at control. The image flashed back of the boy in the chair— the ginger hair was not ruled by brush or comb, it appeared to have a mind of its own.
Kathy Knowles ushered the Keifers to her office where she had arranged to have Lana meet her son and discuss the boy’s life before coming to the Youth Correctional Center and the three years he’d spent there. Eddie, Dr. Knowles assured them, knew that no decision had as yet been made about his future. “First impressions are so very important. I hope you will understand that Eddie is at least as nervous as you two are.”
Eddie and the uniformed helper were already waiting inside when Lana, Jerry and Kathy Knowles entered her office.
Kathy motioned Eddie to a chair at the right of her desk. The Keifers were directed to take two that were placed together at the left. Lana wondered if the alienation was intentional, or the lack of light in the room. “It’s sure dark in here,” Lana heard her own voice and wondered at its trembling.
“I’m, sorry. Martha, be a dear and open the blinds before you leave, will you?” The sun shone in bright. Light with contrasting shadows, spilled an eerie atmosphere over the scene. Eddie blinked when the sunlight hit and dropped his eyelids to half mast.
Dr. Knowles took in the situation and fixed the blinds herself to redirect some of the light. “Let’s try some overhead light,” she said, sending Eddie a warning look he chose to ignore. Eddie yawned and closed his eyes. Kathy Knowles finished with the blinds, walked up to Eddie’s chair and gave a hard kick to a foot. Eddie’s eyes opened on contact. A slow smile played up one side of the boy’s mouth. Kathy suppressed a quick smile and shook her head.
“Eddie, why don’t you tell us in your own words why you are here?”
Eddie sat up a little straighter in his chair, ran a hand through his hair, and shrugged his shoulders. “I killed this guy who was hurting a friend of mine. I got manslaughter.”
“Were you afraid your friend would be killed?” Kathy prompted.
“Where were you living at the time?”
“Tell us about your life with Dottie.”
“Dottie had a rooming house; that’s how come she had room for me. Anyway, I entertained the girls sometimes during the week when it was slow. I do skits, you know, pantomime, dance and stuff. Anyway, the girls paid for my food and bought me clothes sometimes. This one lady was really young and pretty. This guy was always hitting on her, and hurting her, you know. One time I heard her crying really hard, so I went to her room. That’s when I killed the guy. He was always mean, it didn’t matter who he was with. Some guys were like that, just mean. I picked up an andiron from the fireplace downstairs before I went up. He never moved after I hit him.” The dissertation was a monotone of a practiced defense statement. The boys face remained emotionless, a mask pulled tight across his face.
“How old were you, Eddie?”
Lana spoke up for the first time. “Where was your father?”
Eddie shrugged his shoulders while wringing his hands. “At the apartment, I guess.” Eddie studied his shoes a moment before he added, “My dad and I didn’t get along.”
“When did you leave home, Eddie,” Kathy continued.
“I don’t know…twelve, almost thirteen, I guess.”
“How did you live?”
Eddie shot up from his chair as if booted from behind. He turned on the doctor. “That’s it—I’m outa here.”
“Sit down. These people have a right to hear what you have to say. You have to be able to tell your own story. No one can tell it for you. We’ve been all through this,” she cajoled, attempting to stare the boy down.
Eddie stole a glance at Lana whose eyes were filled to the spilling point. He lost composure for the first time during the interview. His right hand slapped Dr. Knowles desk top, he turned on his heel and, without another word, slipped from the room by way of an inner hallway door.
Lana saw it: A long, angry scar along the boy’s neck. In his sudden anguish it swelled and stood out protruding above strained muscles.
Kathy Knowles sighed audibly before she addressed the Keifers. “I’m sorry, I really thought he could handle it. I can give you his records and you can take them to your hotel room and read through them then come back and talk about your concerns . . .or you can ask questions of me now and again after you’ve read through this material. I’ll work with you any way I can.”
Jerry stood up. “I’ve heard just about enough already,” he said, looking at his wife.
“Mr. Keifer, I believe it is only fair to all concerned that you avail yourself of all the information regarding Eddie before you make any decisions. This young man is not a bad person, but a very unlucky one. His life up until now has been full of misfortune and handicaps. Perhaps if he had had the experiences of your own children to build on, he would be the type of person you would be happy to call your son. Eddie needs a raft to hold on to . . .” At this point Kathy paused, sighed again, and continued, “Whatever you both decide, these papers belong to Mrs. Keifer for clarification now or for complications that might surface somewhere in the future.” Kathy handed a thick manila envelope to Lana.
Lana found her voice again. “No decision has been made as yet regarding Eddie, Dr. Is there a possibility of taking Eddie out for a day. I mean, I’d like to feel like I could communicate with him before I accept custody or responsibility for his behavior.
“I’m sure that can be arranged, Lana . . . I tell you what; read over his file and then let me know if you still want your day. After all, there’s no point in making arrangements and offering your son false hope.”
“Are you sure Eddie wants to leave with us?” Lana asked.
“You’re serious, aren’t you?” Amazement showed on her face. “I’m sure,” she answered.
Jerry wasn’t kidding when he announced he’d heard enough. He was ready to go back to life, to reality. On the way to their motel he said, “Lana, where are you? This is nuts! This is crazy! If we even consider this, this . . .” He couldn’t even form the words, “we’re as bizarre as the world we’re looking at. Lana, I know he’s your boy. I understand you feel some responsibility for his well being, but darling, it was not your doing that caused his life to be a hell we can’t even imagine. I mean, it had nothing to do with you and it is not your job to try to change it. You can’t change it! You can’t make all the bad go away. All you can possibly accomplish is destroy the life you have and perhaps the lives of some of the innocents in it . . . You can’t change Eddie’s past. It’s probably too late to change his future.
He parked the rental in a parking space and staring straight ahead outside the door that led to their unit, he continued. “Lana, please be realistic about this. You don’t know this boy. He’s as much a stranger as any statistic in a police report in any newspaper in any state in the Union. Lana, for god sake, use your head. If you can’t consider me, at least think of the girls. Where the hell is his father? I mean it seems he is somewhat responsible for this kid’s behavior. Did he conveniently drop off the face of the earth, for Christ’s sake? Where the hell is the son of a bitch and why didn’t they call him?”
“Jerry, Dr. Knowles said I can have a day with him. I deserve that much and so does he.” Lana pleaded, not hearing at all.
“I’m going to take a shower,” Jerry said decisively, looking withdrawn and tired. He turned off the car and got out. She followed him to their motel room.
Lana laid across the motel bed staring dreamily in the direction of the television. She watched the boy, her Eddie. She revised her first impression of Eddie’s size. He was not big like her neighbor’s son, but he was taller, seeing him close, than her first guess, and not as slight of frame. She wouldn’t let herself think about all the questions for which she needed answers. Tomorrow was another day.
Jerry made an effort to come to grips with the situation, at least to his way of thinking. He decided while in the shower, that Lana must spend time with her son alone. He felt sure she would accept the futility of the situation; take fright of the affects that her son might have on the girls’ lives; respect the endangerment his living in their home might have on everyone concerned.
With one towel draped around his waist and one he was using to dry his hair, Jerry emerged talking from the bathroom. “You’ll have to buy him clothes for one thing,” he mused, “and advise him on how we expect—insist—he behave with the girls, our friends, our parents, the neighbors . . . God, Lana, this is much worse than we could have imagined. This is a nightmare. I hope to hell you are scared to death, because, quite frankly, I am.”