Around the age of 14 I had decided my life was no longer worth living. The truth about the sexual abuse that I had experienced as a child was known and my aunt and grandmother accused me of lying and the rest of my family started to treat me like an outcast. I had a few close friends that I could talk to about my life but this wasn’t material that 14 yr olds were use to covering. I had started to see a therapist and none of it was helping me. I felt lost and like no one could understand me. My mother was not the supportive or affectionate type, so I was scared that turning to her would just make her angry. I had given up on the thought that my life would get better. It felt like no one could understand what I was feeling and I had no one I could turn too.
By this time my dad had fallen deep into a world of addiction and had unsuccessfully been to rehab twice. I felt like a wall of water had fell on me and I was slowly drowning. I was uncomfortable with who I shared my struggles with because I never knew how that would come back to bite me. I was angry all the time, my grades were suffering, my attitude was garbage and I just didn’t WANT to exist.
I’m not sure how that changed but I do remember the person who changed it for me. He was a distant cousin who‘s mother lived in our complex. From the moment we connected, light began to flow through me. Out of respect, I’ll call him “Fam”.
He would talk to me about life and experiences, we would talk about dreams, he wanted to be in the NBA and I wanted to be happy. He’d let me cry and most importantly, he would let me sing. It was the only thing that I knew I was good at. My mother hated for me to sing in the house so it always felt like I was choking when I was home. When I would get outside and be around “fam” that was the first thing he would ask me to do. “Little ma, sing me my favorite song…?” and each day it was a different one. Sometimes it was En Vogue or SWV, some days Bon Jovi or Patsy Cline. He would always let me pick and they were always his favorites for that day. He was only 18 or 19 at the time but in so many ways he seemed so much older and wiser. But he still knew how to be a kid, we would have water fights with ice cold or soapy dish water and he would be just one of us. He always knew what the day needed.
Because of all of my personal struggles I had a temper problem, I fought all the time, got suspended a majority of the time and most importantly I was grounded almost all of time. But “fam” would always come to my apartment and sweet talk my mother into letting me sit on the porch or come in the hallway to hang out. There were a few times when my mother would question our relationship. “What does a grown man want with a little girl?” she would always ask in an accusing tone. But the answer was nothing and everything at the same time. He was never inappropriate, never made me feel unsafe or like he looked at me in a sexual way. I trusted him with all I had. Told him my darkest truths and he never once made me feel judged. He would only say that I couldn’t let what I went through or how I am living be all that I am. In a few months he had me looking forward to waking up; practicing what song I would sing next, excited because he promised to talk my mother into letting me into the studio so that I could hear myself on a track. He gave me something I hadn’t had in a long time…hope.
“Fam” also made me promise to keep my temper in check and to stay out of trouble; he told me how pretty girls shouldn’t be fighting all the time and that I had to channel my anger into something more productive.
In the beginning of the summer I was outside with a few of my friends and they decided to play a trick on him because he had a girl come visit. One of my friends was pregnant and pretended that he was her child’s father and that she was mad at the girl for being around. He got upset and asked me to get a grip on my friends. I thought it was funny so I let them continue before I stopped them and we moved on. But by then the girls that were visiting left and he told us there would be pay back for what we did. We all laughed about it so I just assumed at the next water fight he would use ice water or tackle us hard at the next toss up tackle game. I never saw what did happen, coming.
The next week as usual I was grounded and not allowed to come out side. My mother left for the day so I was stuck in the house talking to my friends from the window. As usual I saw “fam” walking by on his way to play basketball for the day. I remember the look on his face when he told me he was coming for me later because he had his kids for the weekend and he wanted me to sing to them.
What I didn’t know, was those same friends that I was hanging with teasing “fam” about his company, had company of their own. So when he played the same joke on them that we had played on him, the guys they were with got mad. There was an argument and heated words were exchanged.
I remember screaming and crying…seeing people running away from the basketball court. I watched the faces of people I had known almost my whole life covered in tears and shock. I watched as the same two friends walked away from the basketball court one screaming to the other “we don’t know nothing!” The house phone rung and it was another friend telling me that someone had been shot, a guy we knew from the neighborhood who was always in trouble. But in my heart I knew something wasn’t right. I watched as the ambulance pulled into the parking lot, were the basketball court was. My friend on the phone started to scream it was “fam”, he had been shot! I ran out of my house with no shoes on across the street and through the crowd. I remember people pulling me back saying that I was too young to see this. But I just had to see him; I needed to be there for him. I had to save him like he saved me. When I made it through the crowd I remember seeing him on the stretcher and it seemed like everything moved in slow motion. I screamed his name but he didn’t respond…I called him over and over again until I saw his chest slowly raise and fall. The paramedic placed him into the ambulance and I remember thinking “why are they moving so slowly?!”
As I walked back to my apartment I thought about the next song I would sing him. How he was going to be in the hospital or in the house hurting for a few days and he would want to hear a new song for everyday he was gone. But he wasn’t hurt; he was going to be ok. I repeated that to myself over a thousand times. When my mother got home and told me we needed to go up the street that something bad had happened. Walking up the street there was so many people from my neighborhood outside up against the fences and on porches, all of them crying. I remember thinking “why are they crying like this? What happened?”
When we got to a friend of my mother’s apartment I heard her yelling “I CAN’T BELIEVE HE’S GONE!! I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY KILLED HIM!!!”
“who died?” I asked about five times before someone said what I already knew. It was “fam” who was shot and killed. I fell apart; I couldn’t breathe…it felt like my heart was being crushed from the inside. I didn’t understand how anyone could take a person like him away. He was good and special. He saved my life.
It has been over 25 years since the day that he was killed. It has taken me a long time to find peace and reason in his death. I blame myself still for the roll that I played in a childish game that I never knew would turn into murder. I often wonder what if I would have stopped my friends sooner? What if we never would have stopped by where he was? Or what if I was outside that day? Could I have stopped the argument? Could I have explained that it was all a joke? The adult in me knows there is no way I can change what happened that day. But there is a small part of me that constantly wonders what if?
What I know now, is that he saved me. I feel for his two children who will never get the chance to know how special he was. I was a lost and damaged little girl who needed someone to care for her. And he did that. He gave me a sense of purpose and worth. He took away a blanket of shame that was covering me. What he gave me in a few short months was more than I had received in therapy then and the years that followed. In no way do I pretend to understand death or the purpose of taking another person’s life. What I do know is that every day and more than likely several times a day lives are being taken and being changed in an instant. I don’t think I could ever repay him for what he gave me, I have told my children about the lessons I learned from him, what he gave me and how his passing still haunts me. When I go to see him at the cemetery I apologize to him and ask for forgiveness. And then I tell him about my life, the changes and how I’m getting better. How my kids are and what I’m doing differently. And before I leave I thank him for what he did for me. How all the things that I have accomplished would not exist if it wasn’t for him. And that I will never forget.