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STORIES THAT BURN CAN SMOLDER FOR YEARS UNTOLD

Saturday afternoon, behind the wheel, my exhausted son in the front seat, sweat from his lacrosse practice drying in the Corolla's overmatched AC.

We're heading from Tampa to the beach for lunch - 50 minutes of clutch-pumping tedium through Pinellas Park. I have more or less shut down my sense of sight out of self-preservation. But my ears? Oh, my. The radio is on fire.

We're listening to Snap Judgment, the format of which isn't much more complicated than a handful of people telling stories on a similar theme. Really good stories, and just as important - true ones. The story that has me and William looking at each other in arched-eyebrow amazement is being told by a guy named Jamie DeWolf.

The story takes place in 1999 when DeWolf and his girlfriend and their newborn daughter were living in less than ideal conditions in Vallejo, Calif. DeWolf talks about a little girl who always seems to be in the hallway, who asks DeWolf every time he sees her the same question: "What's your baby's name?" The girl's mother, who is rumored to be running drugs to and from Mexico, leaves the girl alone for long periods of time. The girl is hungry, so DeWolf feeds her, and once he feeds her, he sends her home, locks the front door and puts his own baby to bed.

And he never sees the girl again.

I won't rob you of the visceral experience of hearing that story told by DeWolf. But I will tell you there's a reason why the name Xiana Fairchild haunts DeWolf still. I will tell you that at its core the story is about empathy, about the gap between what we see and what we do, about what happens when you've got to live with the possibility you could have done more.

This month, our cover story by Bill Levesque concerns a man who has lived twice as long with a similar regret, who fears that despite his best intentions he might still have come up short, that he might have let an institution bully him into silence.

You'll be the judge of whether Tom Wilson's self-recrimination is misplaced. But I hope you'll also appreciate the courage it takes just to clutch the ember of an untold story and speak.

Bill Duryea is enterprise editor of the Times.

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