To Branson from south Louisiana is a long trip. With stops, it takes about 13-14 hours. The bus we took on our recent trip was new, only 90 days old, and equipped with plugs at each seat for charging electronic devices, and monitors every few seats for playing DVD’s. So for most of the way there and back, I was able to amuse myself with games on my iPad, music on my iPhone, and an occasional glimpse at the movies everyone else was watching. Even though I only watched the last half hour each of The Pacifier and RV, I had no trouble following the plots.
The one movie I was happy to watch all the way through, even though I’d seen it before, was The Blind Side. As I have mentioned before, I’m a sucker for sappy sports movies, and The Blind Side is better than most. I had forgotten the line toward the end, though, when Leigh Ann Tuohy talks about the murder of a young man from the same project where Michael Oher grew up. The young man had played football back in high school, just like Oher. She concludes, “That could have been anyone. That could have been my son Michael.”
That was my cousin Al. No, he didn’t grow up in a housing project and I don’t know if he ever played football, but on June 28 of this year, three months short of his 20th birthday, he was shot to death. It was a premeditated homicide; the shooter arranged with a friend to set up a drug transaction with my cousin and then shot him. The motive for the shooting had nothing to do with drugs. Al wasn’t the one dealing; he was making a buy so he and some friends that were with him could party. It’s the same thing many of my peers did in their younger days before they got some sense and grew up to pretend to their kids that they never did anything of the sort. I suppose if drugs hadn’t been the lure he could have been shot going to church. The important thing is, he did not deserve to die.
So when I heard the forgotten lines about the murder in the projects, I was blindsided.
I don’t think I ever met Al. Technically he is not my cousin. He’s my stepmother’s great-nephew, the son of her younger brother’s older daughter from his second marriage. My family doesn’t bother with such picky distinctions, though. We’re like the Olive Garden, if you’re here, you’re family.
I’m not sure I ever met his mother, although I have met her younger sister. By the time my uncle remarried I was living far from home and contact with him was slight. I grew up with my uncle’s children from his first marriage, but I’ve lost touch with them over the years, too, although one of them is a Facebook friend. The impact Al’s death has had on me, other than the shock produced by anyone being murdered, and the sorrow of anyone dying so young, has been indirectly through its impact on the siblings and nieces and nephews I know and love. They were blindsided, too. This was someone my nieces and nephews grew up with just like I grew up with his aunt and uncles. This is something they are still trying to make sense of. This was very close to home.
I’ve known other young people who died. We’ve known three young men around my son’s age who died in car accidents, one of whom was the son of a co-worker and a schoolmate of my son. My boss’s daughter died of an aneurysm. Another co-worker’s son died of a gun accident. The father of one of the young men who died in a car wreck said something that will stay with me forever. “You worry about them whenever they go out the door, but you never really expect to hear that something bad happened to them.”
You may worry about crime, but you never expect murder to happen to someone you know. When it does, you’re blindsided.