I learned how fragile life could be at a young age.
Darren and I were born one month apart. As cousins, we were constant playmates. I can remember us spending a lot of time running around in the back yard of our grandparents’ house. In their back yard was a fairly large garden that they kept planted almost year round; usually full of tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers. On a particular overcast day, we were playing near the garden when Darren started to yell, “Snake! Snake!” I looked and sure enough, a shiny black snake was squiggling its way through a patch of tomatoes. But, wait a minute, it wasn’t alone as I started to see another one emerge, another one, and yet another one. There had to have been at least a dozen black snakes slithering through that garden. With the sight of so many slimy snakes, I froze. One particular snake writhed towards me; but, Darren saved my life (from a kid’s perspective, mind you) by grabbing my arm as he dragged me back to the nearest porch of the house. We were about five or six years old.
This memory still makes me smile, and chuckle.
That incident was the last real memory I have of us playing together.
My next memory was being at his Daddy’s (my Uncle Harold’s) funeral. I remember as I watched the adults congregated among themselves when someone said that it was probably for the best that he died suddenly. I couldn’t understand why they could say such things. My aunt was now left alone to raise three girls and a boy. I couldn’t possibly see any good in that.
It wasn’t too long after that I noticed Darren falling more and more often. Then, he needed help to get back up to his feet each and every time.
A short while later, he was confined to a wheelchair. At first, we made good use of that wheelchair as I enjoyed zooming him all through our grandparents’ house like a car in a NASCAR race. It was a cool race “car.”
We would spend hours sitting at a table, and play card games such as Go Fish and Slap Jack. At some point, he wasn’t even able to do that as he grew so weak he could barely lift up his arms or hands. Then, he couldn’t even keep his head up.
The wheelchair was soon replaced by a hospital bed in his own bedroom. He could no longer go to school. All he had to look forward to was watching the little television on a dresser in front of the bed. I can remember how depressed he would get; especially since he could no longer play or go to school with kids his own age.
I can remember Darren lying in that bed, his body full of tubes that were connected to all kinds of machines. Machines that helped him to breathe, to pee, even to eat for him. The only things that he could still move were his eyes. Heck, he couldn’t even talk anymore.
Mom would take me to visit him every Saturday. I would go right into his room, take out his collection of Star Wars’ action figures (other times it would be race cars) and spread them out on his bed. Since he couldn’t play for himself, I played for him as he watched.
Eventually we didn’t go over to his house anymore. His mother had placed him in a hospice. A few months later, he got sick with pneumonia, and died one night in his sleep. One month shy of his fourteenth birthday.
His funeral was held on a cold, rainy day. It’s still a blur to me. I can remember hearing my cousins crying for their brother beside me. I don’t think I cried at all. I just felt numb. Empty. And, lost.
He was my best friend.
Now, he was gone.
He had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.