Saul? It can’t possibly be. I wrote his obituary over eight months ago. I spoke at his funeral. This cannot be happening. This man in front of me has glasses and shorter hair, but it is him. It has to be, right? Mindy, you must really be losing it.
Saul Ians was a man I had the pleasure of knowing for eleven years. The day I turned eighteen, I started to beg my parents to tell me more about my older brother. Throughout the previous years, that whole discussion was quite the taboo topic in the family. I had no idea Saul existed until I was twelve and found out by chance. Finally, after quite a bit of nagging, they decided to tell me what I wanted to know. They had always said that they were both getting out of high school when Saul was born and decided that they were not ready for a child, which makes more than enough sense in the case of two seventeen year olds. A neighbor of theirs, Mrs. Ians, always wanted a child and was willing to help my parents. She adopted Saul and continuously kept in touch with my parents, whether she was in their area or across the country. When Saul was eighteen, he practically flew off the radar of my parents and Mrs. Ians. At that time, I was a five year old and was unaware of Saul’s existence. Finding out who he was, although a late happening, brought excitement and relief. After quite a search, I managed to track him down and met him a month before my nineteenth birthday. Even though we had never met prior to that day, there was an instant bond. We automatically fell into sibling roles. He introduced me to his wife, Cheryl, and three children, Frankie, Kelly, and Myra, the same day we met and they took me into their family. I was still finding my place in the world and after taking a year off from schooling, I decided to move in with Saul and his family and go to a great university in his area. Four years later, I became a nurse and was offered a great job across the country at a well known hospital. Leaving Saul and his family seemed more daunting than going to a new state to begin my nursing career. We managed to keep in touch almost daily, which he and his family appreciated. There were at least four guaranteed times a year that he and I were able to meet up each year after that. Life was going great for all of us for so long until I was visiting his family for the last time. That week in August was one of the warmest on record, so we all attributed the changes in Saul’s behavior to the heat. Everyone thought he would be back to his cheery self again shortly after it started, but it never ended up that way. As we waited for everything to get better, it only got worse. And when a police officer called his immediate family and I to the local police station one afternoon, I knew something had to be very wrong. Saul was a model citizen who loved to help others and none of us could imagine that anything bad would happen to him. That day proved to us that nothing would ever be the same after that.
His cause of death was determined as accidental. Well, a freak accident in my opinion. As a police officer broke the news to us, I was in utter disbelief. I felt spaced out and dizzy, like the world was hastily trying to suffocate me. Herb Grey, the policeman, told us that Saul had been hit by a car and that the car burst into flames almost immediately after impact. He was apparently killed shortly after the car hit him at full force, which Herb said was pure luck. The road to recovery would have been risky and nothing was guaranteed if that were to happen. In a way, I was glad to know that Saul died right away, because he did not have to endure any pain. We had been warned that his lifeless body was consumed by flames and that the hit broke many of his bones. We were in such a state of shock that we wanted to confirm it was him and see him, but the police and coroner had enough proof. Both the police and the coroner said it would be best for us if we did not see him, because the sight of him would be enough to traumatize anyone, especially his loved ones. I argued with Herb about it for a minute before realizing that I did not need to see what was left of him. The words Herb said and the pain that came with it was all that I needed for it all to sink in. Saul was dead and there was nothing I could do about it. So when I saw him one day crossing a random street in Bismarck, North Dakota while I was there for a nursing conference, I felt the strangest set of emotions. I knew it was him, but at the same time I tried telling myself that it was not. I followed the man until we were both at a quiet street and lightly tapped on his shoulder. I had to know the truth.
I cleared my throat and sheepishly asked, “Saul, is that you? I sound crazy for asking that and I should know the answer, but I am unsure.”
The man in front of me looked at the ground in silence before quietly replying, “Yes, Mindy, it’s Saul.”
“But I thought you were gone. I mean we were told you passed away.” I stammered. At that moment, I was unsure of how I felt. Was I relieved? Was I angry? Was I feeling anything at all? No single word was capable of describing how I felt.
“Did Herb tell you the car and fire story?” Saul awkwardly laughed. He rubbed his forehead and joked, “I told him that that story was a bit over the top, but he did not believe me. He is a bit of a drama queen in my opinion.”
For the first time, I glared at my older brother. I took a deep breath before blurting out, “This can’t be, Saul. This really can’t be reality. I must be dreaming or maybe I’m dead too.”
“You are not dead and I am not dead either, bumblebee.” His response was bittersweet. I had not heard that nickname in what felt like an eternity. “At least not yet. In a way, I am glad you all did not protest when the police said that you should not see the body. You all went off what he said and honestly, that was a huge relief.”
The rage I felt was bubbling over when I furiously shouted, “You are a horrible person! Do you know how much you have hurt us all? I feel so betrayed!”
He shushed me before saying, “If I was a bad person, I would not have done this. I would not be in this situation if I did not think logically. My greatest act of love that I have given you all was going along with the story and faking my death.”
I crossed my arms and demanded, “Then, explain. Explain why you are here and not in that casket.”
He paused and it was obvious he was contemplating what to say. Whether or not I really wanted an explanation I am still unsure of. He sighed and said, “You’ve heard of the mafia, right? Well of course you have. They wreaked havoc in the United States in the early twentieth century. Well, it is still a thing. Sometimes, accidentally, people encounter them. And have you heard of the witness protection program? I’m sure you’ve heard of that too. They have taken good care of me and I even got a new name. I’ll just leave it at that and leave the rest for you to imagine.”
Pieces of the puzzle began fitting together. When I had first met Saul, he talked about how he wanted to be a spy when he was a child. He told me about how he would pretend to be a detective and solve simple cases that he had created. Finally, he had the opportunity. That and the possibility of him witnessing something he should not have were the only two assumptions I was able to come up with. No more words were needed for me to understand. I quietly asked, “Am I the only one who knows?” He slowly nodded and I whispered, “Wow, okay. Can I tell anyone?”
“No, Mindy, please don’t. Please don’t.” He calmly pleaded. “I know you want to and I would too if I were you, but I want to keep you all safe. Everyone thinks I am dead and that is just how it has to be, I’m sorry. Pretending that this day never happened is what is best for all of us. And if you did tell anyone, you would be in danger. The guys after me have their ways and I have seen them.” He shuddered and his face turned pale. I could sense his fear without him having to say much. “They’re not pretty.”
It might have seemed like he was rambling at this point, but his words were like music to my ears. I spent over eight months mourning and seeing him right in front of me was enough.
“Saul, is this it? Is this the last time I’ll see you?” I questioned. Despite having a gut feeling that this was going to be our final goodbye, I decided to cling on to any hope left.
“Honestly, I think it will be.” Saul reluctantly admitted. “But there is always hope. Cheryl always had a feeling something like this would happen, so she probably has her suspicions.” He glanced at his watch and an alarmed look struck his face. “Crap, I’ve gotta go.”
“Right now? But we just started talking.”
He apologized, “I’m really sorry, Mins, I really have to go. I’m sorry.”
“Saul, please don’t leave us again. Please don’t leave me.” I quietly begged.
“I’m really sorry. Bye, little sister.”
Saul turned to walk away and before he was able to get all the way across the street, I hugged him in the middle of the road. He gently separated himself from my tight hug and I was devastated until he gave me a proper hug. Having one last hug with my older brother was all it took for my anger to slowly subside. We both wiped away tears and then I quietly said, “I’m glad you’re not dead.”
He chuckled and replied, “Me too, kid. Goodbye.”
And just like that, he was gone. Although I was standing on the gravel of a random and quiet street, I needed to sit. I collapsed onto the ground and just sat in the middle of the road. Luckily, no one was around. That chance encounter was a form of closure that I had desperately craved for so long, but it felt like it was not enough. I missed how life was before. Looking back at how he was shortly before he disappeared from my life made everything make sense. All of us would often comment on how ill he looked and how he acted strange. Those close to him had no idea what had changed, but a threat to his life was probably what did it for him. The relief I felt that day was also mixed with worry. It was nice to know that he had a sense of safety from the witness protection program or whoever had his back, but he was never going to be able to bring his family safety.
Before turning at a corner up the street, he stopped and looked at me for a few seconds. Those few seconds broke my heart, but also healed it in a peculiar way. We waved at each other and then, once and for all, he was gone.