My brothers and I spent almost every summer on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi during our childhood. Summers filled with crawfish boils and surprise sour candies from Uncle Lynn, studying Aunt Elaine’s process for the perfect potato salad, and singing and dancing in my aunt’s living room with my cousin Nell.
But when I was 10 years old, my funny and vibrant cousin was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend. She was 16. After Nell was shot and killed, my Mississippi summers were never the same. A sadness set in that remains even today, 24 years later. I hear it — still in her voice when I talk to Nell’s sister. I saw it — still in my aunt’s eyes the last time I visited. And I feel it — in my chest as I write about Nell now.
Since Nell was killed, my uncle Bryant and cousin Xavier have also been shot and killed. Gun violence doesn’t stop with the bullet that takes our loved ones. Its remnants keep piercing those of us who are left to survive the memories. And with the hope that our stories help change hearts, we do survive.