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Losing My Brother Kareem
Destiny Cox

Names have been changed.

My brother Kareem was my best friend for 10 years and 18 days, until April 28, 1996-the day he was murdered.

Kareem was born on April 11, 1972. He was my mother's first child. As an adult, he was light-skinned with thick eyebrows, about 6 feet, and wore glasses occasionally.

Growing up, Mom said, Kareem loved to have fun. He was a great dancer and went to parties with friends from high school. He got into trouble sometimes, but never anything severe.

Close From Birth

He was 14 years older than me, but our birthdays were a day apart. (My birthday is April 10.) Since I was premature, I had to stay in the hospital for another month. According to Kareem and my mother, he came to the hospital every day to see me until I got out.

Years later, he often picked me up from elementary school and rode me home on his motorcycle. He'd circle around the block a couple times before we went home because he knew I loved the air I got each time he turned the corner.

After he parked his motorcycle and chained it up, he'd have me put the lock on the chain and touch it with my index finger. He said I gave it good luck.

Usually when we got upstairs, I didn't get my feet halfway through the door before he said, "Des, homework time." He did well in school and wanted me to do the same. I'd go through my homework once, then he'd go through it with me and correct my mistakes.

Big Brother and Father

My brother had to deal with other responsibilities too. Kareem met his girlfriend April in high school and dated her for two years. Then, in her last year of high school, April got pregnant. My nephew Kareem Jr. was born when I was five.

Kareem Jr. was eventually nicknamed Tink. He took the attention my brother gave me, and my brother and I started getting into spats. One day I started crying, and Kareem said, "Destiny, what's wrong with you?"

"Nothing," I said coldly.

"I know something's wrong. You have an attitude with me," he said, sounding comical.

"Well, I don't appreciate you not spending that much time with me anymore," I said, still crying.

"Well, I have a son now, and I have to show him attention too," he said, drying my tears. "He's a baby. I showed you attention when you were a baby, right?"

"Yes," I admitted.

"OK then, you know I pay you attention, but from now on whenever I take Tink somewhere, I'll take you too," he said with a big smile. All I could do was laugh, because at this point he was tickling me like crazy.

Kareem still lived with us, so I still saw him almost every day. He picked me up from school with Tink sometimes. He was going to college and working, but hung out with me when he had time.

We Were Going to Go Shopping

One Saturday night, my family was in a good mood because we had relatives visiting. I was even more elated because the next day Kareem planned to take me shopping.

I was walking with him the week before and saw a denim dress that I wanted, so I asked for it for my birthday. "You're a spoiled brat and have big ears, but I guess I can get it for you," he said, pulling my ears out.

When he told me he would get it that Sunday, I was happy because I could wear it to school on Monday. So on Saturday, I was waiting for him to come from work at his construction site.

When he called Mom and told her that he wasn't going to work, I was happier. I thought that meant he'd come straight to our house. But I thought wrong. He told Mom he was going to a party.

"Kareem, why are you going to a party with Todd?" she said. She was upset because my cousin Todd was a gang member. "He is only going to get you into some mess."

I don't know what Kareem said on the phone, but I did hear my mother say, "Be safe, Kareem."

Last Words

After they finished talking to each other, she passed the phone to me. "Don't worry Des. We're still going tomorrow to get your dress," Kareem said, before I even opened my mouth. He was reading my mind.

"What time will you be here?" I asked.

"I don't know, but I'll be there. Do I ever break promises?"

"Never," I replied.

"I'm happy you know that. I love you, Des."

"Love you too. Hurry up and dance, then come home."

Those were my last words to my older brother and best friend, Kareem Howerton Sr.

That night, I stayed at my aunt's house and hung out with my cousin Faith. The next morning I woke up to screams from the next room. Faith and I ran into the room to find my uncle holding my aunt. She looked like she was going to collapse.

"Why?" my aunt kept saying. "This cannot be."

"It'll be OK," my uncle kept telling her.

I kept asking what was wrong. "Destiny, we have to go to your house," he said. "Get dressed." After we got dressed, Faith and I started to pray for Todd and Kareem because we had a feeling something had happened to them.

When I got to my house, my cousins, Grandma and April were there. Mom was nowhere to be found. I asked Grandma where Mom was and she told me she went to the precinct.

I thought she got arrested, so I asked what happened. Grandma said Mom was OK and that when she came back, she'd tell me what happened.

image by Gary Smith

'Your Brother Is Dead'

Out of nowhere, my uncle said, "Destiny, your brother is dead." I just looked at him with disbelief, then it sunk in when everyone started to cry. Then I cried.

"This is not true," I said to myself.

My mother soon walked in. Her eyes were baggy and her face was red.

"Mommy, is Kareem really dead?" I said.

"Yes, sweetie," she said, with tears rolling down her eyes. I cried again, even harder this time. I ran to my grandmother, and she hugged me tight.

He Got Stabbed

Mom said the police told her that a fight had broken out at the party. A witness told the cops that it was between a friend of Todd's and another guy. Kareem tried to break up the fight, but Todd's friend was stabbed twice.

My brother tried to help him out and pull him to his car. Then Kareem realized that he'd been stabbed also. He got to the car, but before he got his keys out, the guy ran out of the party and stabbed Kareem until he was unconscious. Then he ran away.

My mother always told Kareem not to get involved with other people's messes, but he never listened. He was just a very caring person.

I Became Isolated

I couldn't believe Kareem was gone. I didn't want to think about the reality of it. I wanted him to play with my ears and call me "big head." I wanted him to watch TV with me.

While my mother made funeral arrangements, I became isolated. I didn't go to school or outside much because I thought I should wait until Kareem's funeral services were over.

But I wanted to go outside. I wanted to continue to do normal things. I didn't want to do anything that made me believe that Kareem was dead. The first two nights after his death, I even stayed by the door and waited for him to come home. I was in deep denial.

So many people showed up at Kareem's funeral. There were two lines going around the corner of the block from the funeral home. Some people came up to me and gave me hugs and flowers. I was happy to see that so many people loved and appreciated Kareem.

Some teachers and students from my school came to his funeral too. They knew him from when he picked me up every day. Some of the boys looked up to him because he talked to them about going to school and how it would benefit them.

I Broke Down

During the service, I promised myself I wouldn't cry because so many people were crying and I wanted to be strong for everyone else, especially Mom. Even when I saw his body, I didn't cry. I hugged and kissed him in the casket.

But towards the end of the funeral, I broke down. I couldn't help it. Everyone was crying except me; it wasn't fair. At the gathering my family had after the funeral, I felt a little better, probably because I'd gotten to say goodbye to Kareem.

A couple of days after the funeral, I returned to school. My grades soon started slipping fast. Instead of focusing on school, I thought about Kareem. Mom tried to talk to me about his death, but that didn't help much. I felt like no one could understand me, so I didn't want to talk.

She tried to help me feel better by buying me new toys and clothes, but that didn't help either. I was in my own world. I felt like my heart was getting smaller and smaller each day.

Turned to an Old Habit

Living without Kareem was really hard. I always missed him when I was at the park next to my building because that's where he taught me how to ride my bike.

I soon turned to an old habit: writing. When I was younger, I wrote things down that bothered me and often felt better as a result. So I adopted writing as a way to heal my grief.

I wrote letters and poetry to myself about Kareem that usually explained how much I missed him and how much he meant to me. I also wrote about the good times I spent with him. Writing became my window to let out the pain that I felt over Kareem's death.

Still Feel Sad Sometimes

When I first started writing my poetry, I wrote things like "I can't believe my brother is gone…" or "Why did this have to happen to me?"

But I gradually began to accept my brother's death not just as a loss, but as a life experience. After three months of venting, I wrote things like, "Having my brother die has made me a stronger person."

A couple of my friends also helped me with Kareem's death by spending time with me when I was sad. I managed to pick up my grades by the end of the term. I realized that letting my grades slip wasn't helping matters.

Even after I began to feel better, though, there were times that I felt sad and depressed, but that's normal.

Now I'm 16, and it's been six years since Kareem passed away. His case never made it to trial. We never found the man who killed him. There weren't enough witnesses willing to talk to the police.

Knowing that Kareem's murderer hasn't been found bothers me a lot. Sometimes I wish I could get revenge myself.

Obviously, I'm not totally over it, but I deal. When his birthday comes around, or during the holidays, I miss him deeply and wish he was in my presence. I cry a lot at those times and get depressed, and I know that'll continue to happen in the future.

Kareem's Legacy

My mother and I still don't talk about Kareem's death much. When she does talk about it, she gets emotional and cries, so I don't bring it up. But I feel that it could be helpful for us to talk about him more to keep our memories of him alive.

Losing my brother has made me appreciate life more. Now I try to live every day to the fullest. I never know when I'm going to go.

Although I've always been a nice person, I'm nicer now to people who I don't even know. I show others what my brother showed me, and that makes me feel better about not having him around. It shows that I learned from him.

Try to Give Myself the Best

I stay involved in the community like he did, and strive to be myself. I know Kareem would want the best for me, so that's what I try to give myself.

Kareem's passing has also helped me to cope with death better. When my grandmother passed away, I handled it a little bit better than my brother's death. I didn't cry as much and I talked about how I felt more with my family members.

I don't think of Kareem's death as a loss anymore because he's still with me spiritually. I count on him to bring me strength and to look out for me. I will always love my brother.

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