21 Years Today

DAY 106 WEB_-2Day 106 (April 16, 2014) – Harlem, NY

I can’t believe it’s been 21 years since my brother and uncle were killed.  April 16th is always a hard day for me. I don’t know what to feel or how to act. I usually just keep quiet to myself. Sometimes I’ll talk to family, but for the most part I just get lost in my own mind and go numb.  I remember bits and pieces of that day like it was yesterday. I was in high school. I remember the phone ringing and the words “something happened at the store”. I saw instant tears in my mom’s eyes because she new whatever happened was bad.  I remember the adults rushing out the door frantic and determined to get to Harlem. We lived in New Jersey at the time, in Fort Lee only about 25-35 minutes away from 119th and 5th Ave. where my dad’s small corner store was located.  I’m sure they made it there in less than 15 minutes with traffic laws meaning nothing at this moment.  I wasn’t at the scene, but I’ve always been able to picture it.  Yellow police tape flailing in the wind. Detectives and cops milling around looking for clues and trying to keep a growing crowd at bay. My mom sobbing and crying uncontrollably and fighting everyone trying to hold her back from a gruesome crime scene.  I imagine my dad shaken but still remaining strong a stoic.  He had already experienced so much hardship in his life to this point, staying calm with a pointed internal anger could have been his only response. I’m at home scared for the next ring of the phone. I don’t want to know what happened at the store -in my stomach I already know it’s bad.  After all, what good things ever happen in Harlem in the 90s? Phone ring. In between sobs and screams the news is delivered. Dave, my brother, shot between 12-15 times pronounced dead at the scene. Mikey, my uncle. Shot multiple times thought dead, but still breathing.  Ruko’ Dave’s best friend also shot, but alive – he played dead as the “stick-up kids” robbed the store.  Uncle Mikey would later be diagnosed brain dead – family pulled the plug weeks later.

Everything was normal until it wasn’t. Life for me and everyone else changed forever. My uncle, the one who always gave me good advice – “Shawn, stay in school. Don’t run around these streets”, no longer here. Dave, my brother, the one who took me to the Apollo to see Public Enemy and got me backstage, gone.  Parents should never have to bury their children and brothers and sisters should never have to experience lost at a young age.  Everything is different now.

On this day I also remember the funeral and the wake and the tears.  I close my eyes and I’m right back there. Stevie Wonder “These Three Words” plays in my head in a constant loop.

“When was the last time
That they heard you say
Mother or father, I love you
And when was the last time
That they heard you say
Daughter or son, I love you

Ones you say you cherish everyday
Can instantly be taken away
Then you’d say I know this can’t be true
When you never took the time
To simply tell them “i love you”

When was the last time
That they heard you say
Sister or brother, I love you
And when was the last time
That they heard you say
Darling or best friend, I love you”

This hurts the most. I don’t remember what my last words were to Uncle Mikey or Dave. And I’ll always wish I had one more day with them.

Today the block looks very different. No more burnt out cars and broken windows. No more overrun empty lots. The constant cloud of hopelessness has been replaced with some semblance of sunshine and optimism. I stood in front of this building for what seemed like hours with “These Three Words” playing in my head.

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6 thoughts on “21 Years Today”

  1. Did not want to post this as acomment… I was shaking as I read this.

    What a terrible, brutal thing to happen to anyone, much less someone still in his teens. So sorry that this tragedy happened to you. I have three brothers who I email or talk to nearly everyday, and could not imagine what life would be without any single one of them. They are very much part of me as I am of them. Not sure how you were able to carry on. Tomorrow is Good Friday. Though I’m not particularly religious, I’ll be thinking of your brother and uncle when we go to service. George

    George Soule | 203.912.3114 mobile

    Date: Thu, 17 Apr 2014 15:28:39 +0000 To: georgesoule@msn.com

  2. ‘Thanks for sharing..you are the best. Uncle and brother have been sitting in the front row of your life, rootin’ you on. They must be proud;). Also, I like these personalized blogs entries and photos. It forces me to look at the picture more closely and trace your story into it.

  3. There is really no way to adequately comment on this post although I feel compelled to try. I am truly struck by the journey you are on with this 365 blog. Adding written words to your images is profound. For both the reader, and for yourself. I feel very honored to be a spectator. I greatly admire your art and your courage to dig into these dark and devastating places inside your soul.

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