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MY LOSS AND HEAVEN’S GAIN Life can be cruel and bitter. You’re up one minute then your world crumbles and you don’t know which end is up. It does not seem fair when you take a look around and see that everyone else outside your world seems to be happy and whole; so what happens to you within your world? Who set the bomb off when you were not looking? These were some of the thoughts I used to carry before coming to the realization that no one really lives a dream life. Unexpected things happen to everyone; maybe not as extreme as others and maybe even more so; but they do happen and that’s for sure. We have to play the hand we’re dealt in life. We never know a person’s pain or sorrow until we take a walk in their shoes; so please take a walk in mine. On July 25, 1989, I was lying across my bed relaxing and enjoying my day off from my evening job. I worked two jobs to help support my five children. I had four daughters (Ketra, Traci, Gina and Kym), my youngest and only son was Rodney (nickname “The Rock”). Ketra had joined the army and was stationed in Fort Leonardwood, Mo. Traci was at SIU in Carbondale, IL. Gina and Kym were still home and Rodney had just been dropped off by his dad. My ex-husband, Eugene, was a very good dad. My girls were daddy’s babies but Rodney was a momma’s boy! 1


I worked a lot; so, whenever I was off I made sure I cooked a big meal for my children. I worked as a Security Supervisor in the day and a bartender at night. My ex-husband and I worked really hard to be able to afford that house in University City, Mo. I wanted to live there so that my children would not be in the inner city and would be in a better school district as well as a better neighborhood. The evening of July 25th 1989, after I finished with dinner (which I made my children’s favorite meal of chicken and macaroni cheese); I lay back down. Rodney joined me and for no reason at all, he said he would never leave home. I laughed aloud and said, “Rodney, the girls are calling here already, you will find a wife and have a house full of children and you will surely leave me.” His response to that was, “I love you and I will never leave you.” At that time he was fourteen, stood six feet two inches tall and was very loveable. I kissed him and told him that I loved him too; not knowing that would be the last time I would kiss my baby and tell him of the love I had for him. Rodney O. Brown went into the kitchen with his sisters and he only ate the chicken I placed on his plate. When I started fussing at him about eating his dinner, he said he would finish when he came home because he was running late. He jumped up from the table, grabbed one of his pro caps and a basketball and headed for the back door. I reminded him, on his way out the door, not to lose that cap because it cost his dad a lot of money to constantly buy those caps and he was always losing and misplacing them. He nodded, as if he heard me, and then he was gone. The basketball court was only two blocks from our house; although they had night lights, Rodney was never allowed to stay late without one of us with him or the coach. The coach was

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one of the University City Police Officers who lived a few doors down from us. His son, Alex, was Rodney’s best friend.

At or around 8:15 that evening, I told my daughters to start getting dressed because Rodney would be home soon and would be going to my mom’s to spend a little time with her. My mother’s health was starting to fail and she enjoyed having us sit with her from time to time and watch television and do household chores. I went to take a shower and while I was in the shower a pain went through my heart and I thought I was having a heart attack. I’ve never felt that pain before or since. I called out from the bathroom and the girls came running frantically. They helped me to my room then called my sister, Odie, for help. I later found out that they had also called their dad. I heard a knock on the door and I thought it was either Odie or maybe Rodney had forgotten his key; I beat the girls to the door. At my door stood two detectives and one of them was an old classmate named Larry Washington. When Larry saw who I was, a few tear drops filled his eyes as he turned and walked away from my stairway. I looked at the detective left standing there, tall, lean, much older, and very stern as he addressed me, “Ms. Brown, did you

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have a son by the name Rodney Brown?” I could not have imagined the look upon my face at that time as I said, “No, I do have a son name Rodney Brown!” Then I passed out. Eugene, my two daughters, my sister, brother-in-law, mother and as many neighbors that could fit into my living area of my home along with the paramedics were there when I came around finally. I don’t remember how long I was out; I only remember crying forever and not being able to stop. Police were everywhere, including Larry. He looked a little better, as if he had taken a few minutes to get himself together. He was no longer teary eyed but his voice (as I remember) was weak and not strong as it was when he had played football in high school. Larry explained everything that had happened to Rodney on that evening before we went to identify and claim Rodney’s body. Two teenagers, drug dealers, had been in a high speed car chase. They were chasing a sixteen year old boy from South St. Louis. The two boys in one car were seventeen and nineteen years and they were from downtown St. Louis; so why in my neighborhood? The neighborhood I thought would be so safe for my children. The neighborhood I have to work two jobs to live in. The neighborhood that I moved to and my taxes doubled. Once these boys got the basketball court where my son was playing, the shooting began and the young man (the target) jumped out of his car and began running toward the basketball fence while the other two open fire. The kids were terrified and began to run everywhere screaming, including my Rodney. All of a sudden (one of the kids told the police) Rodney stopped and picked up his cap that his mother told him not to lose. When Rodney stopped, he caught a bullet in his back, it came out of his heart, and then God said, “Welcome home my Son, welcome home.”

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Later that evening, the police contacted the counselor in Carbondale to let Traci know what had happened to her little brother and that her dad was coming to get her. When her counselor told her the earth shattering news, she locked herself into a closet and was crying uncontrollably. Her dad took control when he got to the campus and was able to calm her down and bring her home to me. The Red Cross sent for Ketra to come home from the military, I was surrounded by my beautiful girls once again but I felt so all alone. My heart had an emptiness that I knew would never be filled again. That hole was put there by the hands of strangers; in less than a wink of an eye my life had changed forever. Since my son’s death, I have lost my mother and father. I loved my parents dearly but I did not feel the same emptiness as when I lost Rodney. The feeling I felt on that day he died is the very same feeling I feel today. Making Rodney’s funeral arrangements and watching all my daughters grieve in their own ways was like taking on much more than I thought I could ever handle. I made it through with the Grace of God. The nineteen year old boy, one of the two from the drive-by car, was found in a trash dumpster two days later after the shooting. He was the shooter. To my knowledge, no one was ever accused of his murder. The driver was tried as an adult and given life. I never went to his trial with the rest of my family. I wasn’t strong enough to look at that young man and not want to do bodily harm to him I was mad! I was mad because he was involved with the senseless murder of my son and the son of some other mother (the boy that tried to get away, but didn’t). I never met her either but I shared her pain immensely. My son’s death consumed me totally. My daughters were beginning to feel left out of my life. After Kym, my youngest daughter, graduated from high school, I decided to make

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a visit here to Springfield to see some friends. I came back twice then decided to stay. After remarrying and starting another life here in Springfield; I am better as time goes on. Once, ten years ago, my husband and I went to New York to vacation. We were waiting for the ferry one morning to take us to Stanton Island. Maurice, my husband, had gone to the McDonald’s counter to get coffee. I turned around on the bench where I was sitting and there sat this little boy. He looked to be about seven or eight years old. He remind me of Rodney when he was that age. I struck up a conversation with him because he was alone and that was strange due to the fact that it was very early in the morning. He looked to be homeless. He was dressed in dirty jeans (over sized), dingy white shirt (buttoned to the neck), dirty off brand tennis, and no socks. I asked if he was hungry and he said yes, I turn to tell my husband to please get this young man some breakfast along with ours and Maurice said, “What boy?” I turn quickly and in my amazement; he was gone. Needless to say; the rest of the trip was spoiled for me because I was looking (unconsciously) for this young man that I will never forget his sad little dirty face. Was it my eyes or my heart playing tricks on me? I give my children and my grandchildren all the love I can. I still carry fear. The fear of the strangers at my door with that question no human being with love in their heart every want to hear. I never want that knock again so I pray; I pray for our society, I pray for our youth, and I pray that my mother is enjoying Rodney’s love as much as I am missing his love.

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Bobbie Johnson Comp – 111 T. Elliott

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My Loss and Heaven's Gain