July 29. Today marks the fourth July 29th since my youngest brother was stabbed to death in a fight on a street corner in Easton.
He would have turned 40 today. That's what his grave marker will indicate. Tyrone Matthew Kane, July 29, 1960, to Nov. 26, 1996, with some quote my mother will surely find fitting. I'll drive down to Easton sometime next week and bring her to Baltimore. Then, we'll pick out the marker for the King Memorial Park grave.
July 29 is still a crushing time for me. In fact, summers in general are. My last happy summer was in 1995. Summers are now just barely adequate, riddled with dates tied to lost loved ones: Barbara Kane Noland, born Aug. 11, 1948, died Jan. 28, 1996; and Carolyn Kane Harris, born June 19, 1950, died May 26, 1997.
Two sisters and a brother dead in less than 18 months. All born in what are considered summer months. No whoop-'em-up seasonal vacations or celebrations for me in the hot-weather months, thank you. Not just yet.
They say these things are supposed to get better with time. I suppose one day they will. But not today. July 29, 2000, fills me with just as much dread and angst as July 29, 1997. Like June 19 and Aug. 11 - the days my late sisters were born - it's one of those days I'll just have to tough it through somehow. But of the three birthdays, making it through Tyrone's is the toughest.
I still remember the last time I saw him alive. It was August 1996. Tyrone was living in Easton, down in Talbot County on Maryland's Eastern Shore. I had driven down to see an exhibit on slavery at an Easton history museum and I stumbled on the corner of Port and West streets - an area notorious for drug dealing. There were a host of street riff-raff milling around, assorted natives and drug dealers and addicts and such. And there, standing on one of the corners, was my youngest brother.
"My youngest brother?" I asked myself. "Out here with this low-life rabble? Oh, hell no."
But I held my tongue. We talked a bit. He told me where the museum was. As I drove off, I was tempted to ask him just what the heck he was doing out there. But I decided not to.
"He's 36 years old," I told myself. "I've been talking to him for years, trying to set him straight, trying to get him to stop the drugs. What more can I tell him?"
He'd been on the stuff longer, it turned out, than any of his relatives had imagined. The day he died, Easton police found two rocks of crack cocaine he had squirreled into his socks. After graduating from Mervo in 1978, he got a job as a printer. He moved from the family house on Cordelia Avenue in Pimlico and got his own place. He soon bought a car, and was able to chauffeur around his oldest brother, who didn't even learn to drive until he was 41, and then only at the insistence of his employers at The Sun.
He lost it all - the job, the car, everything. How, I wondered? When did he start using drugs? I didn't learn until later that he had started using marijuana as early as the sixth grade, smoking with guys after school on the playground of a neighborhood elementary school.
It all became clearer to me as I met more addicts around his age. Like Tyrone, they had started using drugs early, sometime in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was just around the time, I remembered, that my generation - the elder siblings of those addicts - were extolling the virtues of getting high. Our younger brothers and sisters followed our idiotic lead. Many today are still doped up.
I met one addict, I think, earlier this month. He was a bike-riding guy who looked to be in his late 30s or early 40s - around the same age Tyrone would be now. He stole a pack of blank videotapes from the trunk of my car and headed down Reisterstown Road. When I caught up with him in my car, the terrified soul was so frightened he tried to flee, hitting a pay phone and crashing to the ground.
Part of me wanted to grab my steering wheel lock, jump from the car and rearrange the guy's kneecaps as he lay on the ground. But I had seen too much of my youngest brother when I looked into the man's eyes as I pulled up next to him. Didn't Tyrone go on the lam from Baltimore because folks were looking for revenge because he had stolen from them to feed his drug habit? Wasn't it possible this guy was an addict, looking to peddle some blank videotapes and make some quick dough, to buy a hit? And, wasn't it just as possible that he was somebody's brother?
The incident happened just a little over two weeks before July 29, so close to Tyrone's birthday the chain of events seemed eerie somehow, almost like an omen. It was enough to make me ponder if it would be more fitting for me, on July 29, 2000, to work toward helping addicts get off drugs and what satisfaction it could possibly give me to kneecap one.