Terry Jenkins to Perry Nixon and Te’Jan Adris Jenkins
Dad, you and I were not that close. You weren’t a constant in my life, so I don’t have any of those warm Christmas memories, like the kinds you would expect to see in a storybook or a movie. I do have memories of us together as adults and times we’d talk. You’d apologize for something or ask forgiveness or express your love for me and my children. Once you got sick around 2015, your mental state was altered by a stroke and you couldn’t express yourself. You had to go into a nursing home — couldn’t live alone — and after that your health continued to decline. During Covid it was especially sad because you couldn’t understand Covid. And you couldn’t speak and clearly express how you felt because your speech was affected by your stroke. They would have video Zoom visits but you didn’t understand that. And during those visits, you would be a little upset. I could tell that the look in your eyes was like, “where are you at,” “why aren’t you here?” and “why haven’t I seen you?” I didn’t see you for five and a half months because of Covid. When I saw you, it was the day before you passed, to take you off life support. You were on life support when I saw you after your birthday, which was the end of January. Then in February Covid started, and by March the nursing homes and hospitals — the world shut down.
So I couldn’t go see you
I oftentimes say I never got a chance to grieve my father. The death of my son just overshadows it completely.
Te’Jan Adris Jenkins. Weeks and months and weeks and months thinking of what to name you. I wanted your name to begin with a T. My name begins with a T and your sister’s name begins with a T. So I wanted something with a T, and I wanted something nobody had.
I think of you just all the time. There’s some funny memories that come to mind: like this one time you were running around the house. And you were very active as a kid — like you would be playing with a football and a scooter and drinking juice. You would do it all at the same time! You were playing one day throughout the house and your father put a towel around your neck, tied it around your neck like a superhero. And you played and played and I remember after dinner… I remember you running into the living room and jumping up on your father’s leg. And you said, “Dad, I’m tired. I don’t want to be Superman no more. Take this off, Dad. I’m tired. I don’t want to do Superman no more”.
Your father passed away when you were just beginning to be a teenager. And it was really rough for you but you didn’t express how rough it was. And I tried to get you counseling and therapy and things like that. Sometimes you went and it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. But I know that was something that you struggled with. So sometimes I feel like when I think about you, and thinking about you dying, like, did you go to your dad and say, “Dad, I was just tired of being Superman”?
Because in Philadelphia, unfortunately these teenagers, they’re under so much pressure and they’re living in a war zone. This city is a war zone. And it’s a struggle and a lot of them — most of them — don’t even see themselves living past 21! So I’m wondering if you felt that? The neighborhood we lived in was not a good neighborhood. The people in the neighborhood were not good people. And you were surrounded by them. And I think of that memory and say, is that how you felt? When you passed away, were you like, “I’m just tired of living like this”, or “I’m tired of being this superhero in this world”, and went with your dad?
I would want you to know, I hope that you know, I’m sure you know that everything that I did or said to you, with you, for you– especially in your teenage years — was to prevent exactly what happened, from happening. We often had fights over the amount of what you felt was control, and not letting you go or just doing the right thing in life and being with certain people. They were not your friends. And I certainly hope that you know now that they weren’t, because not one of them even rang my bell to offer their condolences.
We do owe our children so much more. And I feel like I owed you so much more. You know, I feel like I failed you. Because I knew it was a war zone. And I didn’t leave.
Some people love the ‘hood. They love this drama, they love the fighting or whatever. Some people really, really do. If you walk down the street, on some of these blocks (not all) you’ll see people sitting outside laughing and talking, having a good time. And they’ll be talking to each other while you go to work. You come home, and they’re doing the same thing — and they’re happy. You’re miserable. You’re going crazy, wishing that you could live somewhere else, or be somewhere else or work somewhere else or drive something else… and they’re just as content, even with trash all around them.
So, some of the people want to be right where they are. But this is something that I struggled with. I up and left, as soon as you got killed. And I did that without a second thought and without worrying about how much it was gonna cost me. I wasn’t worried about my retirement anymore. My pension or the reason I stayed in the city, you know, none of that was important to me once you were no longer here, Te’Jan.
So I feel like if I could have just done that, when you were alive, maybe it’d be different. You were certainly worth me making whatever sacrifice that I made to leave. Your life was worth it. And I wish I had made it. I wish I had made the choices when you were a lot younger, prior to even turning 10. But I stayed, because I wanted support for your sister and I wanted to be in an area where people could help me with her, and lots of different reasons. But I don’t care about any of those reasons now that you have passed.
I’m not blaming the parents because our kids go to school; they’ve got other people around them who have social media, they have videos, they have these video games, that they’re all emulating. I never bought you these games, but guess what— you played them with other people. I didn’t get you a smartphone until you were in high school. But guess what — it didn’t matter. Everybody else around you had one. I tried to censor what you watched and heard. But if every parent isn’t doing it, or every household isn’t doing it, or every school…
You went to private school. Did it matter? None of that mattered in the end, and you still made some very poor decisions. And those decisions and the decisions of the demons cost you your life.
When I think of you running to your dad, saying, “Dad I don’t want to be a superhero anymore,” that’s one of the memories that often makes me smile. And I’m hoping that when you got to Heaven, that you ran to your dad the same way, and jumped in his arms.
I remember last year thinking like, “dang I’ll never get to do this.” You know, we think we’ve got forever to get something right. I’ll never get to do these things again. Never! That’s what made me think of that: we always say forever, forever. Like, what is forever?
The loss of me never getting to see you graduate. The loss of me never being able to see you get married. I mourn that; you do have a child (but you passed away before custody proceedings). So when we talk about mourning a loss of things, that would be one of them: the possibility of me never having an opportunity to have a grandchild. I may not have a chance. I don’t have a chance to have another one.
At times it’s just rough when you think you’ll never see that person again.
You know, that I’ll never get to hold you again, kiss you again. Tell you I love you or hear your voice or even fuss at you. It’s knowing that I’ll never be able to do all of those things ever, ever again. I remember. We say I love you forever and always, forever and forever. We think about forever being so far away. And when the death angel comes and hits you, you realize that forever is today.
This is what I wrote last March:
“When I was a child, forever seemed like a long way away. We tell ourselves forever and hope that is a very long, long time. But honestly, forever is now. Live forever. Love forever for that tomorrow- forever is now.”
I take things moment by moment. Today I’m hanging in there. It was very, very hard for me to concentrate, or to focus on anything, or sleep, of course, in the initial months of this. I would say in the last two months, I’ve kind of been able to get through some TV- watching. Where I can watch a whole show or maybe a series- a couple episodes of something and really enjoy it or understand it. Before, I really couldn’t and I stopped watching all my favorite shows. I stopped watching basketball, I stopped reading — anything that was over three paragraphs, I couldn’t do it. So today, I would say, I’m doing better. A little better.
This day is better than a lot of days that I’ve had. My daughter asked me today…we were talking and I was doing something and she said, “Mom, are you sad? Are you going to cry?” She asked me that twice today. I was looking at some pictures in my phone (someone went to visit my son’s grave today and sent me some pictures), and I didn’t even realize…I don’t know what I looked like, but to my daughter, she saw a change in my face? I don’t know. But she sensed that something was wrong and she asked me, “are you going to cry?” She asked me this again today while we were in the store. We were in the store today and we were talking and I hugged her. And she hugged me and she said, “Mom, are you sad? Are you gonna cry?” I said, “No, I’m not going to cry”, and she said “OK”. I said, “You don’t want Mommy to cry?” and she was like, “No”.
So, she helps me a lot. I know that if it were not for her, I don’t know where I would be.
Yeah, so when it comes to memories, I have them but I don’t have one that comes up or a certain one — different ones come up every day. I get pictures, social media gives us memories every day. And that helps us, you know what I mean? When we see pictures from Facebook from 10 years ago. It happens almost every day. Those memories are nice and fun and give you something to hold on to, you know. You know, when you look at those photos or things that you may have both posted, you know, it brings back a lot of memories, of course. No, I just have random ones every day. Haven’t had that many dreams about them. And the ones that I did, I don’t really remember them. Trauma is something.
So my life has been really hectic and trying to hold it together for my girl and just trying to… you know? I look at pictures, Facebook and my phone. And I just wonder, will I ever find this person again, this Terry? Old Terry?
Because she’s gone, when I see the smiles and those pictures and maybe how much fun I was, you know — I’ve done things. I’ve been out, I’ve been away. But this, you don’t have that much fun. You don’t. You don’t laugh the same way, you know?