A few days ago, I posted on Facebook that my sixth book, The Other Twin had been released. As it turns out, The Other Twin is my seventh novel. I don’t know how I managed to mix up the number of my novels because I love each of them in their own right. I feel like a mother who is asked, “How many kids do you have?” Only to answer the wrong number through sheer force of habit. I mean, give her a break, she just had the seventh baby and she’s used to answering that question with a quick, no-thought answer, “Six.” Alright, I admit it. I am a bad book mom.
I’ve had a couple of people ask where I came up with the idea for The Other Twin. First, I must explain that the subject matter of this book is the same for a book I wrote a few years back called, The Tributary. Both books deal with what happens to young people after they either runaway from or age-out of the foster care system. My characters end up on the street just like the statistics predict. Fifty percent of foster children find themselves homeless and jobless six months after leaving the system. The characters in each novel briefly meet each other and then go their separate ways. While writing The Tributary, I realized that two background characters in The Tributary deserved to have their own stories told. Hence, The Other Twin became a reality.
I am very sensitive to the plight of the people who find themselves on the streets—whether by circumstances they could not help or disastrous decisions that led them to their current situation. However, that was not always the case…
I dedicated this book to my father because a child will learn more from what she sees her parent do than from any long-winded sermon at the dinner table or from the pulpit on Sunday morning .
I witnessed my father’s compassion for those less fortunate many times growing up, but one instance will always epitomize his selflessness because it brought about a new awareness in me.
I’d like to premise this story with the fact that we were not wealthy–we were not anywhere near upper middle class. Both my parents worked hard to give us what we had. We lived in a working-class neighborhood in a small three-bedroom house. My sister and I had birthday parties with lots of presents, and Santa always brought us what we asked for, but I also wore plenty of horrid hand-me-downs. I was a typical 1970’s ‘latch-key kid.’ We weren’t poor. We never went hungry. My parents even managed to send my sister and me to a good Catholic school, but we didn’t have much ‘disposable income.’
I was with my dad one afternoon; I think he’d picked me up from a dentist appointment or something. Instead of dropping me off at home as planned, he told me that he needed to stop by his office to pick something up or turn something in…I can’t remember. What I do remember is not being happy about the detour. I turned toward the passenger window and rolled my eyes, sighing softly. Contrary to today’s less strict parenting standards, we did not outright roll our eyes at my father unless you felt like listening to him reprimand you about your attitude the entire twenty-minute ride home and perhaps that talking-to might even continue at dinnertime. Trust me, you did NOT want to be on the receiving end of one of my dad’s lectures! I learned years before that it was better to have the surly teenage attitude and dialogue in my mind just to avoid such a fate. Besides, I had a vivid imagination so my tirades were dramatic and sometimes downright funny.
That day was particularly cold. Passers-by on the sidewalk had foggy mist coming from their noses and mouths as they hurried to their destinations, bundled up in coats, scarves, and hats.
My dad worked downtown, in the heart of the city. He pulled to the curb across the street from his office building in one of the only available parking places at that busy time of day. He looked over at me. “Do you want to come in?”
“No, I’ll wait here.”
“Why don’t you come in? It’s too cold out here to wait.”
“I’ll be fine. Just leave the keys. I’ll keep the heater on.”
Reluctantly, he agreed. “Lock the door after I leave.”
I watched him cross the street. He stopped in the middle of the island waiting for a break in traffic to continue across. As my dad stood there, a homeless man sat on the ground, leaning on a street sign. Bedraggled, wearing gloves with the fingertips cut out and a filthy knit cap on his head, he kept his chin down and eyes on the cold concrete below him. My father continued on his way as soon as he could dash between the cars whizzing by him. You might assume it was probably too cold to walk to the corner and wait for the light, but my bet is he rarely crossed at the light, regardless of the weather.
A few minutes later, my father emerged from the building. I recognized his beige coat with the brown fleece collar. He rushed to the middle of the island again. I wished he’d hurry because I couldn’t wait to get home. After all, this detour wasn’t supposed to be on the agenda and his sojourn into work took longer than I’d expected. I slumped in the front seat with my arms crossed like the crabby, impatient teenager I was.
As I watched, there was a break in the traffic, but my dad didn’t cross. “What the hell…?” I mumbled. “What is he waiting for?”
He seemed to be conversing with the homeless man. “Hurry up!” I mumbled. “Just give him a dollar and keep walking!”
As I watched in complete disbelief, my dad unzipped his coat, took it off and handed it to the man.
Is he crazy? What’s he doing? It’s freezing outside! I sat in the warm car, shaking my head with utter bewilderment. A moment later, my dad rushed across the street and rapped on the window so I could unlock the door.
As soon as he sat down, I asked, “Dad! What did you do that for? Why did you give your coat away? Now you don’t have one!”
He put the car in gear as though nothing unusual had happened.
Seemingly embarrassed by my questioning of him, I sensed that he wished I hadn’t seen what he’d done.
“Mom is going to wonder where your coat is. Why did you give it away?”
He briefly looked at me and then back at the road. “Because I can go home and get my old coat. I have both. A home and a coat. He had neither.”
At that moment, I realized I hadn’t given the homeless man much thought at all. I had only concentrated on what my father had ‘lost’ rather than what the man had gained.
With this realization, I suddenly became aware of my own self-centered nature. Why hadn’t I even considered the man’s plight? Why didn’t I even notice that he didn’t have a coat? Why did I only worry about my dad not having his coat anymore? Was it because I knew my father and I didn’t know the other man? So, the other man was somehow less real to me? Less human?
I swear to you—it was at that moment, I stopped being blind to the homeless. I no longer just assumed they were vagrants, alcoholics, and drug addicts. They were people who were cold when we were cold. Hot when we were hot. Hungry when we had full bellies. And all alone when we had each other.
I could tell my dad didn’t want to talk about what he’d done, so I didn’t ask anything more.
Years later, after I’d gained a little perspective (and had watched my dad do other selfless things) I understood that the day I’d witnessed him giving away his coat, he was uncomfortable with my questioning him because he felt the exchange had been between him and another man—and no one else needed to concern themselves with their interaction. To him, acts of charity were to be done without calling attention to oneself. Giving was personal. Man to man. Person to person. Human to human.
When I was an adult, I told my mother this story. She nodded slowly. “Your father would give the shirt off his back if someone needed it. Why wouldn’t he give away his coat? Come to think of it, he was always ‘losing’ coats. I wonder if that’s where they went.”
Of course, that’s where they went.
And that is why my seventh novel is dedicated to the man who taught me to look within to find humanity—to not only see the person who needs help, but to see myself reflected in the faces of those who have nothing.
Synopsis of The Other Twin:
Twin brothers, Matt and Luke Ramsey, aged out of the foster care system a few years back. Since then, they’ve survived on the streets. Being homeless is hard enough, but Luke has the added obligation of taking care of his mute, learning-disabled brother. He tries to make a “home” for him and a few of their friends in an abandoned leather factory. One night, a fire rips through the warehouse. Several young people lose their lives—including Luke. The tragedy leaves Matt alone in a threatening world that he struggles to understand. Matt is devastated by losing the brother who’d interpreted for him, spoke for him, and helped him navigate a very confusing street culture. He thinks about giving up and killing himself in order to be reunited with the only person he’s ever loved—until he meets Cassie Boden. Immediately, Matt is drawn to the young social worker. He quickly falls in love with her. When Cassie tries to rescue Matt from the street life, she learns Matthew is not the man he appears to be at all.
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