For Those We Lost [When Violence Hits Home]

I was in Italy when my cousin Deotray was killed. I found out from Facebook. His aunt (my cousin) had posted it on her page. My heart sank to the floor.

I had watched him grow up. I remember when he was so small. Just a tiny baby. I remember when he played the drums. He was so skinny. So goofy. I could still hear his speech impediment ringing in my ears, plain as day. But I hadn’t seen or spoken to him in years. Life had caused us to drift apart. And now, in the center of that distance was an emptiness that ached. I missed him.

For a moment, staring out my apartment window, looking at the busy street in Florence, I felt so much guilt. I was in the country of my dreams (how many young Black women get to check off such a bucket list item at 21?), months away from graduating with a Bachelor’s degree. I truly didn’t want for anything. And he was dead. He would never see rolling Tuscan hills or walk the cobblestone streets of Venice. He’d never get to drop a college course. Or join a Black student union. He’s never get to drink too much on a Friday night. He’d never get to see any of us with tears in our eyes as we watched him walk across the stage and receive a diploma.

He would never get to fail. To succeed. To do things over. He would never get the chance to regret. To forgive. To hold a grudge. To fall madly in love.

No wife. No kids. No future generations. His legacy was abruptly terminated, reduced to blood splattered on the back of a headrest.

It wasn’t the first time that I’d had a relative close to me pass away. In 2001, there was my Uncle Tony. In 2004, Aunt Sylvia. In 2005, Uncle Mitchell. In 2007, my Granny (on my dad’s side). In Febuary of 2008, my Aunt Chicken. In December of 2008, my Grandpa (on my mom’s side). In 2009, my Gram (on my mom’s side). I had spent several years back-to-back nursing the open wounds left behind after some of the most pivotal people in my life passed away.

But there was something so different about this situation. Previously, there was a more “natural” occurrence (if you could call it that). Cancer. Congestive heart failure. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Something that, in all its tragedy and somberness, helped us to ease our wounds. Helped us to understand that God works in mysterious ways. That the ones we loved were no longer suffering. But Deotray’s exit wasn’t a “passing”; it was “death”. It was abrupt. It was hard. It was cold. Violent, and relentless.

The ending to his life was reduced to a two-sentence line on a news website. A one-minute slot on the 6 o’clock news. He had become a child of the streets. A prisoner to a fast life immersed in weed, guns, and carelessness. 16 years old growing up entirely too fast. Another St. Louis tragedy. Too common for people to care. To shed a tear. Except those of us who knew him. Who loved him. Who wanted nothing more than to see him prove a statistic wrong. But…he didn’t.

He would be graduating this year from high school. Would have had the entire world ahead of him. He could have come a doctor. A musician. A business owner. A police officer. But we will never know now. And there is something so heartbreaking in being left behind to wonder. It’s so unsettling to know that one wrong decision could eliminate the possibility of making any decision ever again.