The Keeper


Mom and Dad each take one of my hands and squeeze so tightly it is as if they’re holding on to the one thing they have left. My hands feel cold inside theirs, cupped palms that should fit neatly but don’t.

Izzy is lying motionless on the stretcher, a ventilator breathing for her, machines making her heart beat even though her brain is dead. She’s still in her soccer jersey, white with a burgundy number 3 on the left chest and back, grass stains on the stomach. Mom squeezes my hand even tighter, and I instinctively look at Izzy’s hands with the burgundy nail polish and gold letters of U-N-D-E-F-E-A-T-E-D painted on each nail.

Father O’Brien stands over Izzy. The doctors told him he’ll have to be quick. He presses the pads of his oil soaked fingers onto her forehead and says, “Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the Grace of the Holy Spirit.”

10 years ago: Father O’Brien spoke about Cain and Abel in his homily. His voice boomed throughout the sanctuary: “And then Cain asked, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper? ’” I elbowed Izzy and whispered, “Hey, that’s like me and you. I’m your keeper.” Izzy lowered her head, and her warm breath brushed against the side of my face as she whispered, “He’s not talking about soccer, dummy.”

Izzy was born to be a striker; Dad says she was dribbling a soccer ball from the time she could walk, and I knew a decade ago that if I wanted her to play with me, I’d have to be a goalkeeper. I was taking shots on goal before they made goalie gloves tiny enough to fit my hands.

3 years ago: Izzy made the varsity soccer team, beginning the first of three undefeated seasons at St. Thomas High School.

6 weeks ago: I made varsity. Izzy was more excited than I was.

5 weeks ago: Izzy started applying to universities, hoping for a soccer scholarship.

The organ transplant team is poised to rush in like strikers ready to crash the 18-yard-box. Father O’Brien anoints Izzy’s palms, saying: “May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up.” His voice is deep but softer than it is during mass. I know Izzy’s already gone; she left it all out on the field, literally, and I know that’s how she would have wanted to go, but I hope his voice soothes her, because it isn’t soothing me.

65 minutes ago: Izzy won the coin toss. When given the choice between choosing a goal or having ball first, she chose the goal, so that I wouldn’t have to shield my eyes from the sun the entire first half.

43 minutes ago: Kate dribbled up the left wing and crossed the ball in the air to Izzy. Izzy lunged for it—a perfect diving header into the corner of the net out of the opposing goalkeeper’s reach. She didn’t get up.

42 minutes ago: It happened so fast. A wave spread over the pitch as all the players took a knee. The ref shouted for someone to call 9-1-1 and a dozen spectators hurriedly grasped for their phones. Coach and my parents stormed onto the field, and as they did, screams escaped my throat. The screams sounded far away, like they weren’t coming from me at all. I ran down the field towards her, but Izzy didn’t move. Mom grabbed at the crucifix necklace dangling from her neck and began to pray. Dad fell to his knees and began CPR. All I could do was scream, but it was no use. She was already gone.

Father O’Brien nods to the doctor and steps away from Izzy’s body. My parents step in front of me the way players make a wall for a direct kick, shielding me from the sight of Izzy being rushed to the nearest operating room to have her organs harvested so that someone else may live.

Now: My role as Izzy’s keeper changes. Now I must keep her memory alive.