For most people in the US, April 15 means one thing: it’s the day that taxes are due. While I am quite familiar with that deadline, the date has a much different meaning for me. On that day, in 1951, my oldest brother, Milton, was born. On that day in 1981, my nephew Cory was born. And on that day, in 1995, my baby brother, Robert, was murdered.
In 1995, April 15 was a Saturday, meaning that the tax filing deadline was Monday, April 17. That night I fell in bed, exhausted. When nearing the end of tax season, the level of fatigue is so high that I’m just too tired to sleep. Knowing that I needed to get a return done on Sunday that would require me being as sharp as possible, I took a couple of sleeping pills and turned off the ringer on my bedside phone.
The next morning, I got up, got showered and headed downstairs. As I walked past the answering machine, I saw the light blinking. Before I could get the message off the machine, my phone rang. It was one of my sisters. “Robert got killed last night,” she said. What? How? After getting the particulars, I headed to the office.
No, I’m not crazy. Not among the list of reasons why you filed late is that your CPA’s brother was murdered. Besides, what could I do? He was already gone. After about 15 minutes at the office, I found myself unable concentrate. And I had this sensation on my cheek. The last time I’d seen my brother, he had kissed me goodbye and his beard brushed my cheek. It was that feeling that I had that day – and for a long time afterward – that kept me from being able to compartmentalize and get any work done. I ended up leaving the office and heading over to be with my family on the Peninsula.
My brother – three years my junior – and I had lived divergent lives. When we were young, he followed me everywhere, much to my annoyance. If I went to the ball park, he had to go, too. We fought – a lot. I guess that’s what siblings do. He and I were the youngest and the older kids had their own lives. Somewhere along the line, though, I started doing my own thing and he started doing his. Bright and articulate, he barely finished high school. I remember a teacher of his writing on a grade school report card of his that he was an insult to his intelligence. Perhaps it was because our father died when he was 10, our older brother 16 months later, and our mother never remarried. Robert caved early to the lure of the streets, smoking pot and seeking out the unsavory among us, even in unfamiliar places.
But he kept trying to get his life back on track. He lived with a sister in Colorado for a spell, figuring a change of scenery would make a difference. He went to Montana with the Job Corps. And he did a stretch in prison, and came out boasting that he had been cocaine-free for a year (even though he had been in prison for four years). After that, he worked for me for a while, charming all he met. Learning things he never knew. I recall the day one of my clients came in. The guy was dressed in dirty overalls, grease under his nails. After overhearing part of our conversation, Robert said that he would never again judge a person by the way he dressed: the client was quite wealthy.
At the time of his death, he was on another quest to stay on track. He was working every day, taking care of his girlfriend and their kids; in other words, being a productive member of society. In fact, he hosted a little cookout at his apartment and one of his guests ended up shooting him.
I stayed in a daze over the next few months. I learned more about the legal system – and how it handles black-on-black crime – than I ever wanted to know. Going on around me was the outrage over the Oklahoma bombing but I couldn’t be bothered with even thinking about that. I had to deal with the murder and the trial – and the religious aspect of death.
See, there’s this heaven and hell thing. Good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell. Don’t be sad, you’ll see your loved one again. OK, but what if they aren’t there? I struggled with – and continue to struggle with – these seemingly inconsistent statements. If my brother was good enough, no problem. But if he wasn’t? Had, as he fell to the ground, asked for forgiveness?
Yes, April 15 is a tax filing deadline. But it is also the day Milton was born, the day Cory (Robert’s son) was born and the day Robert died. All three of them are gone now. I can only hope that they, along with my father, are reunited in another place.