Would I Reflect on 3-16-77?

Ok, here you go.

On this night, 37 years ago, I saw my brother Tim alive for the last time.  The next time I would see him, over a week later, he was in a white coffin wearing a light blue tracksuit.  I had never seen a dead person before.  Nobody warned me what the deal would be.  Tim looked nothing like the kid I remembered.  He looked much bigger—probably because after the autopsy, he was pieced back together and stuffed with god knows what.  The make up on his face was really heavy in a failed attempt to cover a big bruise on his forehead.  When I touched his hand, I was shocked at how cold it was.  I pulled my hand back and shuddered.  It made me feel incredibly cold.

But the reader asked about March 16, 1977.  It was the last night my family had a “normal” life.  I was 17.  I’m now 54.  More importantly, Tim was 11.  He would be 48 today.  I don’t know what happened to him after 8 pm or so the night of 3/16/77.  I just know it was horrific.  I’ve always known that.  Even if he wasn’t raped and tortured constantly, he was held captive, against his will.  Away from his family.  He was dumped face-first in a ditch in Livonia, Michigan on March 22, 1977.  Hate to break it to you readers who think he was laid out in funereal fashion, like the killer(s) wanted some kind of absolution for what they had done.  Nope.  Dumped, helter-skelter.  Wait until you see the photo.  I don’t have it, but somebody does and I’ve seen it.  It’s not pretty.

And I knew from the second I got home in the early morning hours of March 17, 1977, that whatever was going on was totally and completely wrong and sick.  Do you really want to hear about the rest of this?  I don’t think you really do.  You can imagine it.  Life as we knew it was over.  Police living at our house 24/7 for a week.  Our phone line was tapped and recorded.  The day the cops left, after Tim was put in the ground, we got a new phone number.  My close friends and I still remember the old number—313-644-1539.  Hey, new start—good luck to you.  God’s speed and all of that.  Hopefully no more extortion calls.  Yes, we got a few, along with prank calls from people young and old.  Yeah, you were on tape, but I’m sure the B’ham PD and the MSP have long-since lost those tapes.  We all heard that shit, sitting around our little round kitchen table.  I was 17, but I felt like I was 45.

I didn’t realize until my oldest was a senior in high school how much my brother’s death fucked me up.  It was March of senior year; there was so much to look forward to.  Until I saw photos of some of the events from that spring in 1977, not much of it was in my data bank.  As I watched my son go through senior year, with our own personal family suffering in 2010, my heart broke doubly—mostly for him, but also for me.  Senior year went on for all my friends and I was like a washed-out image in the background.  Spring break, prom, senior celebration and god knows what else I missed.  I was 2,000 feet underwater, struggling to participate.  At graduation, a teacher who at the time was much younger than I am now and who was friends with my parents, told me he “better see me smile” when I crossed the stage to get my diploma.  This was one of literally hundreds of inappropriate things uttered to me over the years concerning my brother’s murder.  I smiled, of course, but I felt like telling him the truth:  I’m drunk, you asshole–and you have no idea what it will be like for me to walk across that stage with everyone knowing my name, who I am and what my family has gone through.  There was no graduation party.  My Mom gave me a ring that was unwrapped.  She said there was a story behind the ring and she would tell me later.  When I asked about it down the road, she couldn’t recall what that was.  When my house was burglarized in Naperville in 2006, the ring was stolen along with all of the rest of my jewelry in my house at the time.

As of early March, the only college I had visited was Marquette University.  I was accepted into the physical therapy program at M.U.  I had been accepted at other universities, including the physician’s assistant program at Emory in Atlanta.  There was no further discussion about where I would go, needless to say, after Tim was murdered.  I went to Marquette.  It was not my first choice, not by a long shot.  But that was the least of the shit on the table that spring, if you know what I mean.  It turned out ok—I ended up going to law school there after I graduated in 1981.   I knew if I didn’t make it there, I’d end up back in Birmingham, which was the last thing I wanted.  I can’t tell you how alone I felt in 1977 and 1978 at Marquette.  Those years, and actually the rest of my undergrad and law school, were the bleakest years of my life.

I feel like I have posted this stuff before, but I remember calling home and telling my Mom that I had been on a bus in Milwaukee and heard a little boy who sounded just like Tim.  I started crying.  She simply said:  “That’s going to happen.”  I never expressed myself that way again.  I would ultimately marry someone who had a similar sense of empathy.  So, uncleholmes, there it is in painful print.  Picture how awful all this shit is—and then multiply it by 1,000 and you will get as much of an idea as you want of how this went down.

My youngest is a senior this year.  I will again go through the strange feelings of happiness and great loss.   Although kids now seem so much older than we were during our senior year, I will just say this:  No one, no one, no matter what age, should have to go through this shit.  Life—and high school—is hard enough with out coming face-to-face with the kind of evil that creates this shit.  And that is NOTHING compared to what Tim, Kristine, Jill and Mark suffered.

So, there you go.  If you want more details about the evening of March 16, 1977, it is burned into my brain and I will give you more.