I came home from a wake tonight for a sixteen year old boy – Justin – gunned down last Monday- as Monday of last week drew to a close. He died a little while later – Tuesday – in his eighteen year old brother’s arms. They were walking down the street together with another friend when a guy came out of an alleyway in the Bronx and started shooting. Knowing these boys, I can’t imagine that that is anything but the truth.
Justin and his brother, Kevin, are the best friends of my grandson Bobby, Abe’s son. They have ridden from Utica to the Bronx with me more than once; they have spent the night in my house – twice. They have eaten breakfast with us in my kitchen and dinner, in my dining room. They have had real conversations with me; made real connections to me. But now, Justin is gone. Sixteen years old.
His funeral is in the morning. Forty years ago to the day of my eighteen year old brother’s (Aunt Rita’s son) funeral. Bobby was killed by a drunken driver driving the wrong way on the Long Island Expressway two days before what still stands as the worst Christmas of my life.
There were some in the family who wanted to go get that guy – he was in the same hospital as my surviving brother was. I’m glad they didn’t. They’d have ruined their lives for no good purpose.
The police haven’t caught the guy who shot Justin yet. And I badly want that guy caught – that’s how it feels. But really, I don’t care about him. I want Justin back. Forty years ago, we wanted Bobby back.
Later on Tuesday, the day of Justin’s death, the three guys who beat Abraham pled to manslaughter, with the promise of six years max in state prison, when they are sentenced in January. We weren’t told till afterwards when we were offered a chance to make a victim’s statement at sentencing. No thanks.
I don’t know what justice is for those three guys; I don’t know what justice is for the guy who killed Justin; I don’t know what justice would have been for the guy who killed Bobby. Eye for an eye? Life for a life? Momentary revenge. How does that help? Bobby’s wake was finished forty years ago tonight – and still I feel his loss. I feel Justin’s loss. I feel – still to only some degree – Abraham’s loss.
I am not saying let the perpertrators walk away. But six years, ten years, twenty years? What difference does it make?
The first of my kids, and the oldest, was in prison in Florida where he died in 1995. A few years before he died, I went to visit him and the authorities gave us a private room to visit as it was off visiting days or something and they took pity on my New York self.
Ricky was telling me how I didn’t understand him. I didn’t get how bad he was; how angry; how he wanted to kill everybody. I surprised him when I laughed at that. I told him that his anger was not much different than mine was. That I, too, wanted to kill everybody. That if I had my way, I’d kill them all. But with one, and only one, difference from him. I told him that after they were dead, I’d bring them back to life to see whether or not they now got it – did they see the extent of the damage they’d done to others, including to him, with their refusals to think? Were they thinking now? And if they weren’t, then I’d kill them again. And bring them back to life again to see if they yet got it. And if not, I’d kill them again and again and again and again. I’d kill them – I told Ricky – until they either got it, or till God told me that the next time I killed them, they’d stay dead. Then, and only then, I’d stop.
“Because, Ricky, exactly like you, I don’t really want them dead. I just want them to stop their shit.”
Ricky was stunned that I – a person, to his eyes, who was so incredibly different from him – could even talk of having such anger and rage. It transformed his perspective on me certainly, but also on himself.
Justice for killing Bobby? Justice for killing Abraham? Justice for killing Justin?
All I want is for each of the killers, all of them, to wake up to the losses they have been responsible for and the incredible pain they have caused – a pain and loss that are felt for decades and decades. Will six years in state prison do that? Would sixteen? Or sixty?
Lock them away till they get it? I don’t know how we’d know.
I know I miss Justin – and it’s barely a week; I know I miss Abe and it’s not yet even five months; and I know I miss Bobby – and it’s been forty years.
There is no justice for those losses. For those pains. There is only hope for the perpetrators, somehow, some way, some time, to wake up. And to begin to think.
A sad night for me.
In 1971 and, again, and still, tonight.