Billy was my heart, my little brother. He was the bravest soul I’ve ever
known. Not that gung-ho, uncompromising, crazy-brave like me. He was a genuine kind of brave. A quiet kind of brave. A smart kind of brave. I saw it more than anyone because we were inseparable. He was more like my “actual” kid than my kid brother. I have so many stories about Billy. I thought that I would share one with you all today. Maybe it will give you an idea of who he really was.
When I was about twelve and he was seven, Stacey Hardiman and I went
down to Vineyard Woods to swim in the creek, and I took Billy along with me. In
fact, that is where I'd taught him to hold his head under water the summer
before, where we caught fireflies in the dark the following autumn, and where I
taught him how to swim last spring.
“Our mama whipped me after each of those adventures, for leaving without permission, for taking my baby brother three miles from the house and for involving him in my preteen mischievousness.”
Well, that day, Stacey and I had flung a rope to a high branch of an old
Eastern Cottonwood tree. We tied a discarded old tire to it so that it draped
down perfectly to within three feet of the creek.
So when we got tired of talking about boys, practicing French kissing on our
forearms, and I'd taught Stacey how to inhale an unfiltered Camel that my Daddy had dropped out of his pocket, we started swinging out over the water and jumping off the tire. After about a half an hour, Billy, tired of just swimming
around and watching us said, "Monica, let me try."
"No Billy, you'll get hurt and then mama will really tear into my ass."
"Not if you let me hold on to you and we do it together," he pleaded.
I could never say no to him, so I pulled back the swing and squatted down
so that he could climb on my back and wrap his little legs around my waist. And
as he wrapped his arms around me and locked them across my upper back and
neck, I could feel the trembling starting softly but building. His heart was beating so hard in his chest, I could feel it on my back. So I said, "Billy. Just get off. It's ok."
Then , his voice quivering, he whispered, "No, No, Monica. I wanna go."
Then he paused as if to listen to his own determined words and practically
screamed, "Go, Go, Go!"
So I jumped, and I could hear his voice screeching "Whew!" all the way down until we splashed in the creek. Within minutes, he was swinging out, jumping and doing flips off the tire by himself. He had found his bravery, and I’d like to think, I had something to do with that.
Billy knew that if he held on to me, we would always be together. We were
supposed to be together! But that night, that night, he was alone. When he was
pulled over, he was alone. When they asphyxiated him, he was alone. And when he died in the back of that patrol car, he was alone.
I know we aren’t those two little kids swinging out over the creek anymore,
but somehow in my heart, I always believed that when this time came, I was
supposed to be there to let him climb up on my back and wrap his arms and legs
around me, and we would go together. After all, that’s the way it was supposed
to be. But since it’s not, I’m just left to wonder. In that moment, without me,
“Was he brave?”
Monica Lee Weatherly is a writer, poet and Associate Professor of English at Georgia State University’s, Perimeter College. She has previously published articles in Heart & Soul and Honey magazines, and has had poetry published in Nzuri Journal, Plainsongs Magazine, Tulane Review, and Auburn Avenue, a biannual publication showcasing the intellectual and creative voices of people of color. She currently lives in a suburb of Atlan