We Miss Him


Sethe was a close friend of the family, at the house most every day. Last time I saw him he was standing beside the front door, the strong silent type, red cap, long red t-shirt. I remember I admired the tattoo on his shoulder.

Sethe grew up in foster care and Tahija and Lamarr and the boys had become his family. He was 28.

We don't know was it a straight robbery or something more, maybe someone venging on Lamarr from his wilder days. But the biggest crime wasn't the crime--one bullet, on the front step of the house, in the middle of the day. No, the biggest crime was why that one bullet killed him.

Lamarr wasn't home. Tahija rushed out when she heard the shot and went to Sethe, who was on the sidewalk right in front of the door. No blood. He was conscious. Someone called 911. The police and the ambulance came. There was one hospital .7 mile away and another, Temple, where the triplets were born, 3.3 miles away.

Temple hospital had the trauma unit. But he wasn't taken to Temple Hospital or to the other, closer one. Sethe was interrogated, by the police, about what he was doing when he was shot and who shot him and why.

He said he didn't know. He described the guy to Tahija and pointed the way he'd gone, on a bike. Then he started to tell Tahija he was going. Dying. She held his hand and pleaded with the police to take him to the hospital. Crying and pleading and Sethe calmly saying his goodbyes and ignoring the police who he had no reason to believe would life a finger to help him.

In this way precious minutes passed.

Trauma doctors doctors have a term - the golden hour. It means the faster they can treat a trauma victim the better chance they have of saving him. The first sixty minutes are crucial.

The police knew that. The one bullet shot into Sethe entered his liver. He probably had less than an hour before septicemia set in.

We don't know for sure if he died in the ambulance or on his way to the operating room. The ER doctor at the trauma unit where they finally did take him claimed there was a pulse. A chance.

But maybe he never had a chance. A young black man with a bullet wound in a city that's probably gunned down more black men than saved them. "They put you in a whole different category," Lamarr told me, "when you're shot around here." An expendable category.

But to Tahija and Lamarr, to the triplets and the others who knew and loved him, Sethe was not expandable. He was vital. Mahddy in particular is taking it hard. Sethe like to draw and he'd draw with Mahad, teach him things. And it'll be a long time before Tahija gets over it, though she created a beautiful memorial that went a long way to healing a lot of people. There were candles, pictures of him, and red balloons--red was his favorite color--that we all let go of at the end.

The wind took them east, toward the ocean. Even though the ceremony was over, about a dozen young men stood out of the wind beside the house shielding their still-lit candles. How many dead, I wondered . . . how many shootings so far in their short lives?

Lamarr told me last time I saw him the police picked up someone but probably not the right guy. Just someone, another young black man for their prisons.

Here's a poem for Sethe, written by Tahija

I feel you

When the wind blows
I know you are there.
When I hear a noise and see no one, I know it is you.

No one can ever replace you in my heart.
I feel you every day, the things I do and the words that I say
remind me of you.

I wish you were here in more than spirit
but I will take what I can get.
I feel you and your presence will never be forgotten.

A bond that could never be broken is still intact.