It was a typical warm Florida evening, humidity hanging heavy in the air. Frank sat in his trailer amid the smells of stale cigarettes and cheap beer. He is flipping through a box of old photographs.
Frank pauses, overcome by a coughing fit. He can feel his lungs struggling for air and he can feel the cancer starting spread. Soon he will have to decide what path to take, seek treatment or just live out his days as he wishes. He lights another cigarette.
Turning his attention back to the photos, he flips past images of his childhood, his children’s old school photos, Christmases gone by. Frank stops. One particular photo catches his eye. He pulls it out of the box. It’s a Christmas photo dated 1989. Three young children were posing around a brand new TV as a tree decorated with multi-colored lights shined in the background. He remembers this Christmas well. He exhales and the smoke rises into a cloud above his head, stuck in the heavy air of the evening. He closes his eyes to recall the memory.
It was the winter of 1989. Frank was a custodian at the local Jewish community center in Connecticut. He lived in a small two bedroom apartment with his wife and three children. Barely able to keep food on the table, let alone have an emergency fund, he knew the looming holiday would bring no gifts. If it wasn’t for his wife’s family, there would be no Christmas at all. Frank wishes he could be a better provider, but he was a high school drop out and the custodian job was all he could find.
He remembered coming home one evening from work and being greeted by his wife in tears. She told him the tv, the family’s only source of entertainment, had died. The tube had blown and there was no way, nor money, to replace it. Frank knew the kids would be devastated. Family tv time was the highlight of everyone’s week. He had to fix this, but was at a loss for what to do.
A few days later, Frank was at work when the community center received five tvs to add to a few of the rooms. The stack of boxes tempted Frank. As he went about his routine, he debated with himself “do I or don’t I, do I or don’t I”. When he finished his shift, he was the last person left in the building. Desperation crept over him. He took one of the tvs and put it in the trunk of the car. He returned to work the next day as if nothing had happened. The center reported it to the police but they didn’t end up with any leads, so they wrote the missing tv off as a mistake in inventory or something stolen off the delivery truck.
When Christmas morning arrived, the children awoke to find a new tv under the tree. Huge smiles spread across their faces. They talked excitedly about all the shows they couldn’t wait to watch and were in awe of the fancy remote control included in the box. When his wife asked where he got it from, he just said it came from Santa and to leave it at that.
The guilt had always stayed with Frank, but as long as the children were happy he didn’t let it bother him. And no one ever learned about the origin of the tv. Some years later, Frank found himself divorced and at odds with his children. He fell in to a downward spiral of drinking and smoking. He lost his job. He had to give the tv away to pay off some of his mounting debt. He had hit rock bottom. It was then he learned of some job opportunities in Florida in the oil industry. He figured he had nothing left to lose. He packed up whatever clothes he had, sold off his remaining items, and hopped on a Greyhound headed South.
Frank was brought back to reality by another coughing fit. He wished the photo sparked a good memory, but he still harbors some guilt for that one act of crime. He knows everything that happened since that night in 1989 was because he stole the tv. He barely speaks to his kids, his health is failing, and all he has achieved in his life is a career in the janitorial field and owning a trailer in the swamps of Florida. He knows his time is running out. He needs to make things right. He took another puff of his cigarette before snuffing it out in the ashtray.
Frank gets to work getting his affairs in order. Cleans out his trailer, sells all of his belongings, and hops on a plane to Connecticut. He was going to turn himself in to the police for the theft of the tv. He was going to accept his punishment. He was going to confess to his children. Apologize to their mother. If he was going to die, let it be the lung cancer that takes him, not the cancer of his crime.
Editor’s Note: Here is another assignment for my writing class! This time we were to find an article in our local newspaper and use it as inspiration for for a story. I decided to use this story: Florida Man Turns Self in for 1989 Theft