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 . . .