My youngest is officially 17. How insane is that. The time has went way too fast. If I read back to 2004 when I started this I was so tired, struggling to badly and older kids seemed a million years away. Yet, here we are – Less than a year and he’ll be 18. I’ll have no minor children. None. It’s crazy.
We went to dinner for his birthday today and a couple guys walked in and got a table. I kept watching. Looking. Thinking I know them. So familiar.
The man I’m really observing and trying to pinpoint with the anxiety feeling in my gut looks over and it clicks. That’s him. His names Chad. I know it is. Then I convince myself I’m seeing things. It’s can’t be. Maybe his younger brother looks like him. Had to. At this point I’ve realized who the second guy is too and he’d be the same age as Chad. Yet, it can’t be. As the leave I ask my husband if he knows who they are. Yeah, that’s Garret. No. The guy with him. He hesitates. I’m sure I flinch at just the hesitation. It’s Downs. Chad? Yeah. Oh. The end of conversation. All I can do is silently watch him leave. Staring. The gut feeling wasn’t wrong. It was the instant recognition at eye contact. Chad knew too. That’s why he never looked around again.
How can he just show up in town and act like life is great? Grabbing dinner at a local place. Laughing with friends. It isn’t okay. I looked at my own son. 17. Just like Steve and became sad. So sad. I can’t imagine someone murdering my child today. I can’t imagine my son’s life ending right after turning 17. I can’t imagine the horror. The pain. The turmoil.
I thought of Steve’s mom. Just a block away from this restaurant. In her home she shared with her son who will never return. Her only child. While the man who was jointly responsible for his death was just down the block. A block away from the motel he was kidnapped from. It doesn’t seem fair. If my heart feels like this when I see him. How does hers feel? How devastating to walk the streets with the same person who took your baby boy away from you.
It’s been 20 years and 6 weeks to be exact. But at that moment. Seeing Chad for the first time in 20 years. It felt like yesterday. And Steve wasn’t even my son, he was simply my friend. A pretty damn good friend at 17. I’ve ran through a quick run down of Alternative Classes, Sneaking Out, Sitting at the Park, Late Nights Talking, Back Rubs Leading NOWHERE, Dragging Main, School Over the Years. We had good times. Many good times. He made poor choices. We all did in that group. He impulsively screwed up at 17. I’m convinced guided by a couple guys a couple years older. Yet, he was loyal to those he loved, to his friends, his family. I feel like it’s part of what did him in. Instead of selling out his two friends who helped him do stupid shit he took the beating, he took the threats and he ultimately took the death sentence.
Steve’s last moments were awful. It’s been admitted to. His last month was scary. They threatened him. They hurt him. They beat him. Then they did it all again 30 days later. Kidnapping him again. Shooting him with a paintball gun and finally a shooting him with a handgun 6 times in the head after making him beg for his life. Like it was a fucking game. He was 17 years old. 17. He was my sons age. And then he was dead. Just like that. Next was the diesel fuel. Burning of his body. Taking away any chance his mother could say good bye to her sweet boy as she deserved.
Poor Steve. Poor Steve’s Mom. Today I could be Steve’s mom. That could be my son. How do you recover from that? How do you live each day knowing the gruesome details of your sons final moments? How do you breathe burying your only child? My heart aches for her. It always has. Yet, as my children grow it hurts more and more. She loved that boy. I see her. I see the pain. I see her walking. You don’t recover. She’s never recovered. She just puts one foot in front of the other. Quite literally.
Now – Chad’s back. Chad was there both times he was kidnapped. Chad was there when the shots were fired. Chad best him with the baseball bat. Chad shot him with the paintball gun. Chad stated he didn’t use the handgun but at one point his codefendant stated yes, one bullet was his. Chad moved his body twice. Chad started him on fire. Chad did this all 20 years ago. Yet, there he sits. Right. There.
Why? How is that justice? He’d been sentenced to 60 years. 60. That’s it for murder. They’d cut him a deal as he’s gave all the details and threw his codefendant under the bus. He was to serve a good chunk, but some appeal let him out early awhile back. I thought the deal was he couldn’t come here. He was allowed to come for his dad’s wedding and then had to leave. This place was off limits. That must have went away when he hit 20 years which was 1/3 of his sentence as there he is and I checked the Parole Website and it’s updated that he lives here now. Wonderful. Great.
It’s just not fair. Steve got a life sentence. His mom got a life sentence. Yet – Here we are. Boom. Shocked. Looking into a face that hasn’t aged a bit. A face that can fall in love, have kids, live happily ever after.
I’m not sure I’m ready to have to run into this reality often. Not at all. Not now. I think of Steve often but I can feel it’ll be even more so as I process this latest piece. As I accept it. I feel like writing his mom a card. Sending flowers. Just to tell her after all this time I think of her son, I miss him, he is not forgotten. He will never be.