If I Seemed too Quiet…

At a time in my life when I hated the world and it seemed to reciprocate beyond all expectation, there was always one bright spot—my silly little brother Kevin. I had been the youngest of three kids for 12 years, but I never really felt the part. It got me no special treatment, and if anything I felt like the quintessential middle child from the beginning—and that made perfect sense when Kevin was born five days after my 12th birthday.

To our delight, Kevin was the perfect baby brother. Adorable, kind, and hungry for attention, he delighted in everything the world had to offer.

There were certainly times I resented being a free babysitter for my parents, but I never resented Kevin. When my parents went out on Saturday nights, we usually had a blast watching movies or my Madonna Virgin Tour VHS, and sometimes we just giggled at nonsense for a few hours. (His stories about daycare and Miss Desiree, with her high-waisted pants, always had us in stitches.) We spent our summers together, too, including a few all-day trips to Metrocenter Mall. I’ll never forget the day he fell into the fountain near Center Court—and neither did he!

As unhappy as I usually was, I always tried to be a good brother to Kevin. In fact, it was about the only thing I put any effort into.

When I left for college, Kevin was only six. I had to get away from my old life for many reasons, but one of the hardest moments in my life was seeing him hold back tears in the back seat as my parents drove away. Mama probably did the same, but at the time, only Kevin could make me feel any amount of guilt. But it’s not something he ever used to his advantage.

Through those early college years, Kevin always drew pictures for Mama to include in her occasional care packages. He always made cards for me, and we did talk on the phone sometimes. I was usually able to spend a few weeks at home around Christmas and in summer, and we made the most of it. On one summer visit, I even made sure Kevin got to swim in the Atlantic Ocean and see Disney World, by plotting with my friend Tommy to get us all there on a dime and a prayer. It was pretty awesome.

Three years later when I moved back to Mississippi for a sanity check, it was as if I had never left. Yeah, Kevin was a bit older and spent more time with baseball than anything else. But over Chick-O-Sticks and vanilla Laffy Taffy, we still giggled about Miss Desiree and those pants.

We also explored the world together, and I made sure he got to see more of the things I never had. We ventured to Windsor Ruins, Old Rodney, the Natchez Trace, and some of the remote natural spots that most people in Mississippi didn’t care about. We discovered new and interesting things in Jackson together, and we even took off for New Orleans once or twice. There was also the epic Halloween party and moonlit cemetery visit. We had a similar party before Kevin was born, and I wanted to make sure he had something just as amazing.

My last year back in Mississippi, I worked at Handy Mart, a small convenience store on “The Boulevard.” In between bringing home free movie rentals and Coke Icees for Kevin, I figured out that I needed to return to Delaware to finish what I had started. I moved back north in 1996, when Kevin was 12. I don’t remember Kevin being home when I pulled out of the driveway, but I do remember wanting to bring him with me. Just as I knew there was nothing for me in Mississippi, I knew the same would be true for Kevin as he got older.

After that move, my visits home became less frequent. I was working seven days a week for my first three years back in Delaware, and after that, I was busy with work and school. Kevin was busy being a Mississippi teenager, which wasn’t going so well for him as he got older. More than once, I tried to get him to move to Delaware. At the time, there were many more job and educational opportunities there, but those things were not a priority for him.

The closest I came to convincing Kevin to move was when he was 17, but he backed out at the last minute. He was angry at the world just as I was at that age, but that’s about all we had in common at that point. I never could figure out what kept him in Mississippi, but I guess the familiarity was just comforting enough.

The last time I saw Kevin, he was silently grieving over the death of our father. He didn’t say much except that he couldn’t stand being at home anymore—he was haunted by the silence in the house. I offered to take him back to Delaware if he needed to leave. I didn’t have the same connections anymore, but we’d have worked something out. He wasn’t interested, but this time I understood. He wasn’t going to leave Mama there alone, and there was no way anyone was getting Mama out of Mississippi.

Less than a year later, exactly 10 years ago today, my sister called me at work. I knew instantly that something was wrong, but losing our little brother wasn’t even on my radar.

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