At the time I sit down to write this, 22 people have been victims of homicide in Richmond, VA thus far in 2021. Gun violence killed the majority of them. One of the dead is my nephew.

Dead.

My nephew is dead.

Right now, he is dead.

He was

shot,

by person(s) unknown,

likely by a boy.

Yes, a boy,
close to his age.

My nephew will forever be 18.

And I think that maybe some boy around his age shot him, although I don’t know for sure who or why,

I know it was
for no reason,
or
for some reason,
that is in no way reasonable
but makes sense to the sorts of boys who feel the pull of the streets,
like my nephew did.

No matter that his parents loved him big and whole
No matter that their families loved them big and whole
No matter that the city is crying and wailing
So many dead
More shot
Living, wounded.

How did this even happen?

They were little boys
who liked Beyblades
and wanted to be breakdancers
and asked their aunts for XBox games for Christmas.
These nephews,
mine and the one who likely shot him
found each other in the streets.

On a street with a ridiculous ass name.
East Ladies Mile Rd.
The streets are always stupid.
East Ladies Mile Rd.
What a dumb-ass street name.
F the East, F those Ladies, F the Mile, and definitely F that Road.
I said it.

Richmond streets

(and the streets of your hood)

ain’t shit

And even though we all know they ain't shit,

they call the nephews.

Streets alive with vicious cycles of petty crime
That at a blink of an eye, a twitch of a finger
Become major.
Major Crimes has a case file with my nephew’s name.

Streets these days that are photo backdrops for young boys,
not yet men,
to flex and floss on Instagram
with all types of illegal shit and guns
they shouldn’t have access to
and
really have no reason for
other than
flexing and flossing on the ‘gram
while letting a loop of Dolph play

(Out here in these streets ain’t no such thing as love)

Short stacks of money
Fanned out on arms whose bones are still growing
Dice and cards played for fives and tens for the story
Gang signs they made up together last summer to be traded on Twitter.
Big Bro this
Lil Cuz that
#Lovemyset.

It’s all
Love until

one of them gets angry

or hungry

or punked

or dared

or desperate

or worse yet,

scared.

And then, they are dead.

Dead like my nephew.

I’ve been thinking that over and over again since I got the call from my sister.
Her son is dead.
It makes no sense.
He should be alive.
She should not have to be telling people her son is dead.

My nephew is dead.

Dead.

I want to make it sound different, be easier to hear, to digest, to think.

I can’t.

It’s ugly every last way I try to

think it,

live with it,

hear it,

say it.

I cannot digest it even though I keep feeling like I should be able to.

I should be stronger
Stronger for my mother, stronger for my sister
I should be strong enough
My stomach should be stronger
I should stop wretching when I think about him

I know violence and death.
I don’t just know it intellectually, I have seen it for myself
I have been a victim who lived through it.
I have been right there, up close, with someone who did not.

I have seen violence and death.

Since I learned that my nephew died
I have started seeing other things.

No nightmares, yet,
Sleep would be welcome.
I have waking terrors
Daytime horrors that come in full color while I’m trying to work

To do something I can control

To live

Even though I know he is dead.

Most vivid is the image that keeps leaping up into my eyes of
my nephew as he was when he was alive

tall and a pound too thin,
trying to look tough and looking like a baby

and the world is eating him.
A yawning hole of asphalt dragging him under.

It makes me sick because I believe it like I imagine it.

The world ate my nephew.

The world ate him whole.

Ate him.

His friends’ pay tribute to a boy
Who is not the one I know
but who is the one I last texted

A boy still enamored with acting out a pantomime of a trap song as if it was supposed to be life

Who didn’t get a chance to change his mind

before the world ate him

The monster of the world opened its mouth

and

ate my nephew.

It was bullets at a convenience store that killed him but it was

the world that ate him.

Ate him before he could live a full life.

I want to hurl when I write that
I want to hurl and spit and scream
And I want to be stronger because

I am not surprised, even as I am in shock.

I have known dead boys before.

I have known boys with guns on the Northside,
boys who lived and killed
and boys who died.

I loved one of them in my own way,
When I was too young to love.
He was someone’s nephew,
and he’d caught bullets meant for someone else’s nephew,
Shot by someone else’s nephew who leaned out the window of a speeding car
like he was in some movie but it was real life and death
on the Northside of Richmond, VA

Where they kill and when they die,
they are so often someone’s nephew.
Back then before the internet was big,
there were no comments under posts that proclaimed
#LongLive…
Though it might have gotten airbrushed on a tall tee.

I search my memory for clues
to figure out what I might do
Now that my nephew is dead, too.

When I got the call that the first boy I loved,
in my own way,
had been shot dead,
it was on a house phone.
Years before Instagram and iPhones
years before my nephew was born
and
he and his friends could chronicle their love for the streets online
in real-time
Trying to outdo Kentrell
On no budget.

My nephew was alive
and now he is dead.

I texted my guy, who had just left for work.
Please call when you get a chance.
His phone auto replied he was driving.
A safety feature I risked bypassing.
Urgent.
Please call when you get a chance.
He called back immediately.
I found the words.
My nephew
is
dead.
Shot.
Killed
by person(s) unknown.
My voice echoing through the speakers of his car.
Repeating my despair back to me.
Quickly, he was back home
Taking our daughter, who still doesn’t know, to school.
Letting me feel,
Getting me food,
Reminding me to eat,
And I keep thinking about how the world had tried to eat my guy, too.
And he was not from Northside but he had barely survived his side

And for days now, I’ve been stuck in a loop of all the dead boys
and the other boys
who were the killing boys
and murdered boys
and wounded boys

and those friends of my nephew
living boys
right now saying that they’re ready to ride for him
telling the world that they were down bad
but they’re getting up.

I know what it means and I hate that I do.

I doom scroll their posts
worried that someone else’s nephew will end up dead
in the street on the Northside.

And it won’t matter that all of those damn streets are just numbers or have goofy-ass names
and that none of those killing or killed nephews
are supposed to be gangsters
and I want to comment on their posts and
say
my nephew is dead.
He was my only one.
Was.
Long Live, JT won’t bring him back.
He’s dead.
No matter how many times they hashtag it,
he is no more.

And because I love him

I love them

I want them to stay inside and never go back outside
if that is what it is going to take
and stop listening to Young whoever
and log off of the damn internet
and take down those pics
and remember their aunts who love them.

Maybe they need to know that it ain't just their friends or their parents but us aunts, too, that love them.

That’s all I got right now

and it is weak but it’s what I got

Aunt love and advice

Stay in your damn house
and live another day
and another
and don’t go and shoot at someone’s nephew

Cause you might actually hit him or his mom or his sister and her baby.

Please don’t.

Please

for the

Love

of

My

Only

Nephew

Who is

Already

Dead.