Growing up my older brother, and I along with our younger brother and mother lived in a pretty good neighborhood. We knew our neighbors and most of the shopkeepers and business people. It was the 70’s and like most children our age, my brother and I were 11 and 16 respectively, we had the run of the neighborhood. That is to say there was no one that we were of, nor was there anyone who was afraid of us. We were normal kids who hung out at the 7-Eleven, the Pop Shop, or the library. We rode our bikes, ran around with our friends and if we abided by our mother’s rule to be home before the street lights switched on, our lives remained pretty care free. My older brother and I had some normal sibling tension, similar to the brother-sister duo Rog and Dee on the sitcom, “What’s Happening.” We argued, sniped at each other, you know, kids’ stuff.
Our lives changed forever the summer of 1977. My brother now 16 years old was experiencing a sort of restlessness common in adolescent boys. At the time, my mother, a single mom, worked nights and so we were on our own from 11:00 p.m. until 8:00 a.m. My brother could feel the pull of the nightlife, and the irresistible urge to roam. But, he also knew, having seen friends and relatives get involved in crime and drugs, where that road can lead. In our neighborhood there were many safe and friendly adults. One such adult was Mike, the night manager at 7-Eleven. Now that I think about it Mike was a young man, probably not much older than my brother, with a wife and baby on the way. All the neighborhood kids, including my brother, really liked and trusted Mike. My brother approached Mike with the proposition that he be allowed to come over to the store nights and help Mike stock up or just keep him company. He explained to Mike his feelings of restlessness and his concerns about getting in trouble, and Mike happily agreed. My brother soon began spending a few hours each night with Mike at the convenience store located a block from our house.
The summer night when everything changed was like any other night, hot, humid and relatively quiet. My brother reported to Mike at about 11:30 p.m. and began some small chores around the store. A man approached the windowed front of the store acting, my brother thought, suspiciously. He could not put a finger on what was off, it just was. No sooner that he completed his thought another man joined the first acting similarly suspicious. It took, as my brother would report to me later, what seemed like seconds for them to don stocking caps, produce guns and enter the store. My brother was paralyzed with fear. He had never seen a gun close up and never had one pointed at him. The men began screaming at Mike, “Give us the money!” Mike complied, keeping his eyes on my brother. One of the gunmen seeing this and perhaps thinking he was planning something, raised his gun and ordered Mike and my brother to get on their stomachs on the floor. Once they were on the floor, one of the gunmen aimed his gun at Mike’s head and pulled the trigger. The noise that filled the room was explosive and my brother would tell the police that it felt like a train running full speed through his head. The gunmen then turned to my brother and pointed the gun in his face. It seemed that time stopped as the gun was wielded just above his forehead. Ultimately, the gunmen decided not to shoot my brother and left the store.
Suddenly, I was being shaken awake. It took a few seconds to get my bearing and focus my eyes. My brother was shaking me and saying my name over and over. I finally sat up and looked at him. He was drenched in sweat. The clean white t-shirt that he wore earlier was now red. I asked him what happened and my brother began to sob. I had seen him emotional before, but never like this. He cried and cried, tears falling raining from his eyes, his nose running. The sobs seemed in control of him as his whole body shook with them. When he was finally able to speak, he told me what happened. The gunmen, the threats and Mike, he said, “They shot him in his head. He didn’t do anything, and they shot him.” Fearing he might begin to cry again I quickly urged him along with the story. He said that the police arrived and collected evidence, Mike was taken by and ambulance, and he, my brother, was examined by an EMT. He had so much blood on him they thought he too might also have been shot. After hours of questioning, they called our mom and brought him home. I think I was in shock. Mostly, I was concerned for my brother. I wanted him not to hurt. I wanted for him not to have seen his friend shot and, as we would later find out, killed. I wanted to absorb his pain into me. But all I could do at the time is be there and hold his hand. The men were eventually caught with my brother’s help. A reward-$5,000-was offered to him and my brother gave it to Mike’s widow.
I strongly believe that on that night my love for my brother was solidified. Something changed about my brother that night. He saw the truly dangerous merciless side of life, witnessed the unimaginable. He learned that good people, people you care for, can be hurt or killed and so did I. I believe that he became a man and left childhood behind. Something changed between us, shifted, and our relationship took on a kind of closeness that we share to this day. My heart hurt because his did and I was afraid for the first time of losing him. My brother and I as adults share a love as subtle as his crooked smile when I show up at his door unannounced for a visit or as intense as the embrace we shared recently when he was ordained to the ministry. I believe that out of an unspeakable act my brother and I emerged with an abundant love and closeness and for that I am grateful.
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