Damn, baby brother. I can't believe it's been nearly 10 years since you left us.
I'm standing at your gravesite in King Memorial Park as Mom walks over. It's two days before Memorial Day, and Mom's doing what she usually does: visiting the graves of her three deceased children and her late husband. The holiday is, mainly and rightly, about honoring American soldiers who have fallen in battle. But a lot of folks do what Mom does: honor relatives who have passed.
I'm none too happy as I stand at your grave. The ground has given way to the left of your bronze marker, which is sinking into the ground. I can read with little effort "Tyrone Kane" and "July 29, 1960," your birthday. But "Nov. 25, 1996" is partially obscured. That's the day you were standing on the corner of Port and West streets in Easton, Md. The day you and Anthony Tyrone Mills exchanged angry words.
According to what I learned in court later, Mills was in your face. You punched him in his face. He pulled a knife and started slashing. You kept punching and backing up. You tripped over a curb, and Mills stabbed you in the left side of your chest while you were down. A question has been nagging me ever since.
What were you thinking?
Of the three brothers Gregory, Michael and Tyrone Kane, you had to have known that only one of us - Mike - was any good at hand-to-hand combat. But you were engaging in hand-to-knife combat, where the odds against you were really unequal. And what were you doing on that notorious drug corner anyway?
You remember when I saw you at the corner of Port and West? It was either the summer of 1996 or the previous summer. I was looking for the office of the local historical society to get some directions to the birth site of Frederick Douglass when I just stumbled on the corner of Port and West.
And there you were, on a drug corner filled with dealers and addicts. I stopped to talk, but I didn't hear a word you said. I was only thinking, "What's my kid brother doing on this corner?"
I knew why you were there. The crack still had hold of you. After you died, cops found a rock of crack in your sock. Mills said later he was high on booze and drugs when the two of you were fighting.
That was at his hearing for post-conviction relief and modification of sentence in 2002. Mills had asked to be released so he could attend drug and alcohol rehab in lieu of prison time. I guess he was asking the judge to overlook the fact that he'd killed a guy.
I wasn't surprised when I learned of the hearing. I expected it after I got a letter from Mills in the summer of 2001. It took him five years, but Mills said he was sorry about the whole thing.
He expressed regret about your death and about the death of our sister Carolyn, who died six months, almost to the day, after you did. Massive heart attack. That's how much your dying affected her.
Did I believe Mills? I'm still not sure. When I saw him at the post-conviction hearing, he looked me in the face for the first time and said he was sorry. His uncle and cousin talked about his troubled childhood: being raised in a family of alcoholics, being shunted off to special ed classes in school, dropping out of school and beginning a steady drift into drug and alcohol abuse.
I sat in the courtroom and compared Mills' life to yours. Yes, there was some alcoholism in our family, but apparently not to the extent there was in Mills' family. And you were never in special ed.
You got a diploma and a trade in printing from Mervo. Then you drifted into drugs.
"I really am sorry," Mills said, looking right at me. "And Tyrone Kane was my friend. If he was here today, he would say I was his friend. I ask for your forgiveness." The judge didn't buy it. Mills didn't get a reduction in sentence.
Was he sincere? Spending five years of a 30-year bit for second-degree murder at Eastern Correctional Institution might put even the most hard-core felon in a contrite mood. But Mills' admission might give him some trouble when he goes before a parole board.
I can hear parole officials now: "Frankly, Mr. Mills, we're worried what you might do to an enemy who ticked you off, considering how easily you stabbed one of your friends to death."
I'm thinking of Mills as I stand at your grave, baby brother. It's May 27, 2006 - Mom's 84th birthday. She's praying over your grave now, much as she has prayed for Mills. She sent him a letter telling him to get right with God.
As Mom prays, I'm thinking of all the family you've missed out on. Your nephew Ray - my son, who took your death especially hard - has three children of his own. Your niece Jennifer, my daughter, has three. Her two youngest ones, Kaila and Spencer, questioned me one day about why the uncle they'll never know died.
I answered as best I could, but frankly I think I still don't know.