Saturday, August 24, 2019

Thoughts on Loss

Yesterday, my wife and I attended the sentencing of the adult in the car who gave a fifteen-year-old a gun with the order, “Wet his shirt! Take care of business!”

The adult was thirty-one years old. The kid who pulled a trigger was fifteen.

We were asked to write and present a victim’s impact statement on behalf of our son, Wil Lewis, and I’ve been dragging my feet in doing so. Mostly because it is incredibly difficult to put into words what Wil’s death means to us. Our lives have forever changed because of what took place on July 12, 2014.

One of the problems is that time stands still. There are no current photographs. There are no current stories. No updates on his job, his wife, his family.
Kim and I celebrate our wedding anniversary on July 11. Normally, a happy occasion, and for the most part, it is. But one day later, we honor the memory of our son, Wil, which puts a cloud over our anniversary. In fact, there is a cloud over all family celebrations and family get-togethers. Because of July 12, 2014, there has been and will always be an empty chair. It will never be filled. It will always be empty.

Wil is, and will always be remembered as a survivor. He was born to an alcoholic, drug-abusing prostitute. He never knew his father. He shared a bed with several of his younger brothers and sisters. There were cigarette burns on his arms. A scar on his foot from being stepped on with a stiletto heal. There was scaring on his back from boiling water.

Twice, his mother dropped him off at an open-air market in Guatemala City, and then left. He was only four-years-old. Yet, he was smart and resourceful enough that found his way back home each time. Their home, a one or two room shack, had a dirt floor. There was no running water. He used rainwater to bathe in, and a bucket and a pump to fetch drinking water.

It took three years, patience, perseverance, and mounds of paperwork, but one month and one day after Hannah was born, I flew to Guatemala to get Wil.

On Friday, July 11, 2014, Wil called Kim and me to wish us a Happy Anniversary. He also had some great news to share. He had received an offer of a job, what he called his dream job, as a Fashion Photographer for Trunk Club. He was to have begun that job on Monday, July 14, 2014. Wil and Maria had discussed having children now that both had full-time jobs with benefits. Kim and I were looking forward to being grandparents.

But on Saturday, July 12, 2014, Wil was shot and killed by a fifteen-year-old boy, who had been given a gun by a thirty-one-year-old adult with the instructions to, “Wet his shirt!” They had spotted a rival gang member and wanted to take his life, regardless of who was in the way.

Each birthday, there is an empty chair. Each Christmas, each Thanksgiving, every holiday or family gathering, there is an empty chair.

An empty chair, because the adult in the car failed to act like an adult. An empty chair, because the adult in the car, instead of turning the car around or instead of just driving on decided to stop and give a gun with an extended clip to a fifteen-year-old boy in order to shoot and kill a gang rival over a rap song. That chair is empty, because the adult in the car, said to a fifteen-year-old boy, “Wet his shirt!” and “Take care of business!”

On the afternoon of Saturday, July 12, 2014, a fifteen-year-old fired a revolver at a gang rival on a crowded street. The sidewalk was full of pedestrians. I imagine some were heading off to a late lunch or an early dinner. Some might have been taking an afternoon walk. Some might have been shopping. Each of those pedestrians had no idea that an adult had handed a fifteen-year-old a gun. None of those pedestrians knew that the adult had given an order to a fifteen-year-old to “Wet his shirt!” and to “Take care of business!”

Our son, Wil, was one of those pedestrians. He had gotten something to eat, picked up some items at a store for Maria’s and his new apartment, and was heading home minding his own business.

Wil was shot in the back. Yet, the gang rival ended up running away from the shooting, but our son, Wil, couldn’t run away. Instead, he lay bleeding to death on the sidewalk.

As a result of that Saturday afternoon, July 12, 2014, our daughters, Hannah and Emily, can no longer call Wil with news, good or bad. Hannah couldn’t share news of her college graduation, news of her first job as a teacher, news that she and her boyfriend, Alex, are engaged. Emily couldn’t share her high school graduation with Wil. She couldn’t share the news that she is a four-year starter on her collegiate soccer team and won an award for All-Conference Defender this past year.

They won’t be able to have Wil at their weddings or any other memorable event. There are songs we can no longer listen to, movies we can’t watch, places that are hard to go to, because they remind us of Wil, of that day, July 12, 2014. Our daughter-in-law, Maria, lost her soulmate. Wil loved her more than life itself. They shared so many wonderful adventures and were looking forward to many more.

Wil’s smile that lit up a room, his laugh that caused others to laugh, his gentleness, are gone. His smile, his laugh, and his gentleness have been taken from us. All we have left are memories.
All of us have changed. Perhaps we smile and laugh less. Perhaps we are more cautious than we have been. One daughter finds it difficult to take part in any discussion, any stories of Wil, and instead leaves the room to be by herself. Kim cries a little more, hurts a little more than she has. For me, I have regrets. I wonder if I was a good enough father, a good enough dad. Both of us wonder if there was something more we could have done, should have done.

Every July 12th, we do something in his name, in his honor because he is no longer with us. He died on that sidewalk as the adult in the car laughed and made fun of him. Instead of celebrating with Wil, instead of getting to be with Wil, we only honor his memory, Wil’s life. Far from perfect. Far from satisfactory.
The adult in the car received 66 years in prison, ten years over the minimum. He is not eligible for parole. The fifteen-year-old who pulled the trigger received 6 years in juvenile detention. He is now out on the street. His record is sealed. The adult will never be able to hurt someone else again. The fifteen-year-old who is now twenty-one . . . who knows? We hope not.

The thing is, each of us suffers loss. Death of a husband or wife. Death of a mother or father. Death of a dear friend, a son or daughter. Each of us has suffered a loss to one degree or another. Some loss happens in a brief moment in time, while other loss occurs over excruciating time.

And those among us who experienced a loss carry it around with us like unwanted luggage. The Samsonite nobody wanted. Each loss carries its own weight and is measured in the hearts of those left behind. Loss is not anything to get over. Each of us deal with it- each day, each week, each family celebration and get together. The loss is always, always with us. But we deal with it as best we can, as imperfectly as we can. That’s what we do. That’s how we live. Each of us. 
Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make a Difference!

Thursday, August 15, 2019


One of my favorite vacation destinations is the beach. I prefer the ocean, but honestly, I’ll take any beach, anywhere. I like the west coast because the sunsets are gorgeous, but the eastern seaboard is growing on me.

This past summer, my family spent a week on the beach. In the mornings before there were too many people, I would take a walk in the sand. Dolphins played in the water close by. Crabs scurried here and there. I think my footfalls disturbed them so they did their crab walk to the safety of the holes they had burrowed into the sand.

As I walked, I noticed that there were footprints both ahead of and behind me. I was not the first one to walk the shore, nor was I the last. Some of the footprints were small, others large. Some made a deeper impression than others. Some were small and light, barely into the sand at all, but though faint, still visible.

Though I was on vacation, my mind drifted off to school. I thought of the new teachers and staff we hired. I thought of the new kids who would enter and make the school their “home” for the next few years. I thought of the kids who were returning, one year older.

I wondered how many wanted a fresh start, a new beginning. I wondered who among us might allow for that rather than placing their past front and center so that a fresh or new start might not happen.

And I thought of footprints . . .

Small or large. Light or deep. Some fresh, some faded by time and the elements.

We touch lives, all of us. We leave footprints on hearts and souls. Sometimes deeply embedded, while others light and small. We shape the lives of kids . . . and each other . . . by the words we use, by our actions. Sometimes we shape the lives of kids . . . and each other . . . by the words we don’t use or by the actions we don’t take.

Lives change, and we change them. Directions are taken and paths are created by us whether we know it or realize it or not. That is the essence of life, all of life.

With our footprints, it is within our nature, our control, to create a smile or a tear. With our footprints, it is within our power to build up and offer hope, or to tear down and create despair. With our footprints, we can create confidence or cause insecurity.

The thing is, each of us, and each of the kids we work with . . . the kids we see in the hallway or in the cafeteria; the kids who sit quietly in the classroom hoping against hope that no one notices them; the adult who stands in the mailroom or sits alone in a room; each of us has a story.

Each story is likely different from our own. Some stories are like a Disney movie where all is well and resolved at the end, while other stories read like a tragedy, and perhaps there is no satisfying ending and never will be.

And then there are those footprints . . . the ones that came before us and the ones who will come after us. The footprints we leave on hearts and souls and minds, treading kindly and softly, or roughly and hurtful. Footprints that might fade with time or last a lifetime. With each footprint, a story. A story added to the story already being played out. A story, good or bad, happy or sad. And our footprints only adding to the story.

What footprints will you leave behind? What stories will you help change  . . . or create? We have that power, you and I. We use it or abuse it each day. What is our choice . . . Today? Tomorrow? It is our choice, our action or reaction. Our words or lack of them. Our footprints. Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

To My Readers:

I have been absent for about two months. I needed to recharge. I read. I watched movies. I wrote. I spent time with my family, both immediate and extended. I needed it, so I hope you don’t mind.

Connect with me on Social Media:

Twitter at @jrlewisauthor

Diane Donovan, Senior Reviewer for Midwest Review had some wonderful things to say about Spiral Into Darkness:

“Joseph Lewis excels in building more than just a 'whodunnit' mystery. His is a novel of psychological suspense that weaves a 'cat-and-mouse' game into the equation of dealing with a killer who is much cleverer than anyone he's run up against in his career as a detective. Tension builds in an excellent, methodical manner as Lewis creates a scenario that rests firmly on not just the actions of all involved, but their psychological foundations. The result is a powerfully written work of psychological fiction that is highly recommended not just for mystery and police procedural readers, but for those who appreciate literary works well grounded in strong characters, plot development, and emotional tension. Great buildup, great insights, great reading!”

Readers Favorites wrote:
“If you enjoy thrillers, especially psychological ones, Spiral Into Darkness by Joseph Lewis will grab you good and proper in the opening two chapters. You will find yourself avidly turning pages as a serial killer accosts his victims, confirms their identities and blasts away their faces with a .38 pistol. If you are interested in both the good and bad sides of humanity and why we each turn out as we do, Spiral Into Darkness won’t disappoint.”

Best Thrillers wrote:
“The Bottom Line: A thoroughly compulsive police procedural by one of America’s most promising new writers. Joseph Lewis, author of our Best of 2018 pick Caught in a Web, is back with another crime thriller featuring world-weary Milwaukee detective Jamie Graff . . . While Lewis savagely explores romance, drama, and sexuality with his wider cast of characters, Jamie’s interpersonal life is refreshingly free of drama for a cop, enabling him to be the determined, resourceful rock capable of cracking the case. The result is a thoroughly compulsive crime thriller.”

And, Spiral Into Darkness has made it into the Top 50 Indie Books by Reader’s Choice!

Best Thrillers had previously reviewed my book, Caught in a Web. It was named as a PenCraft Literary Award Winner for Thriller Fiction! Best Thrillers called it “one of the best crime thriller books of the year!” I am both proud and humbled.

If you do read Caught in a Web, Spiral Into Darkness, or any of my other books, please leave a rating and a review. I would appreciate it. Thanks for this consideration!

Spiral Into Darkness:
He blends in. He is successful, intelligent and methodical. He has a list and has murdered eight on it so far. There is no discernible pattern. There are no clues. There are no leads. The only thing the FBI and local police have to go on is the method of death: two bullets to the face- gruesome and meant to send a message. But it’s difficult to understand any message coming from a dark and damaged mind. Two adopted boys, struggling in their own world, have no idea they are the next targets. Neither does their family. And neither does local law enforcement.

Caught in a Web:
The bodies of high school and middle school kids are found dead from an overdose of heroin and fentanyl. The drug trade along the I-94 and I-43 corridors and the Milwaukee Metro area is controlled by MS-13, a violent gang originating from El Salvador. Ricardo Fuentes is sent from Chicago to Waukesha to find out who is cutting in on their business, shut it down and teach them a lesson. But he has an ulterior motive: find and kill a fifteen-year-old boy, George Tokay, who had killed his cousin the previous summer.

Detectives Jamie Graff, Pat O’Connor and Paul Eiselmann race to find the source of the drugs, shut down the ring, and find Fuentes before he kills anyone else, especially George or members of his family. The three detectives discover the ring has its roots in a high school among the students and staff.

Book One of the Lives Trilogy, Stolen Lives:
Two thirteen year old boys are abducted off a safe suburban street. Kelliher and his team of FBI agents have 24 hours to find them or they’ll end up like all the others- dead! They have no leads, no clues, and nothing to go on. And the possibility exists that one of his team members might be involved.                        

Book Two of the Lives Trilogy, Shattered Lives:
Six men escaped and are out for revenge. The boys, recently freed from captivity, are in danger and so are their families, but they don’t know it. The FBI has no clues, no leads, and nothing to go on and because of that, cannot protect them.                        

Book Three of the Lives Trilogy, Splintered Lives:
A 14 year old boy knows the end is coming. What he doesn’t know is when, where or by whom. Without that knowledge, neither he nor the FBI can protect him or his family.                       

The Lives Trilogy Prequel, Taking Lives:
FBI Agent Pete Kelliher and his partner search for the clues behind the bodies of six boys left in various and remote parts of the country. Even though they don’t know one another, the lives of FBI Kelliher, 11 year old Brett McGovern, and 11 year old George Tokay are separate pieces of a puzzle. The two boys become interwoven with the same thread that Pete Kelliher holds in his hand. The three of them are on a collision course and when that happens, their lives are in jeopardy as each search for a way out.     

Photo courtesy of Christopher Sardegna and Unsplash