I was touched by the recent story of Fairfield woman and my Facebook friend Rosemary Norris Southward who found out what happened to her brother who had disappeared in Florida 36 years ago when a DNA match proved that remains found in 1976 were his.
Rose wanted people to know that her brother James wasn’t just a victim who went to buy some marijuana in 1974, but was much more than that. She described him as a creative dreamer and a poet.
My brother, Kenneth James Wade, committed a murder-suicide 21 years ago today. He took the life of his girlfriend who had two small children before killing himself. There is nothing I can say about that except that there was more to him than his final cowardly, selfish, heartless act.
There was a weird detachment I felt when seeing the body-bag picture of my brother on the front page of the newspaper. I knew it was him and knew what he had done but it didn't seem real. And it didn't seem like he could actually do such a thing.
That's not to say that it was completely out of character either. He was a high-strung guy who had a problem with alcohol and loved guns. He was also an egomaniac with low self-esteem. Yet he was so much more than that. He was my big brother.
I’m the middle child in my family of five boys and Ken was three years older than me. Ken wouldn’t let anyone else play with his toys. Ours would get broken quickly but even as an adult he had some of his from childhood in pristine condition.
I remember once when we were in elementary school in Virginia we got into an argument walking to school. We started calling each other names and it escalated until Ken dropped an F bomb. I then knew I had him as I used the capper; “Ooooh! I’m telling mom!”
We continued sniping at each other until we got to the front of the school where we finally engaged in full-on fisticuffs. Our skirmish was broken up and we were escorted to the principal’s office. I tried to weasel out of it because he was in 6th grade and I was in 3rd to no avail. The Principal got even more angry when he discovered we were brothers.
We got away with a warning and on our way home that afternoon we both agreed to the sacred Nobody Tells On Nobody Rule to avoid a whuppin’.
Nobody could get my goat like Ken. He knew precisely how in that annoying older brother way to get under my skin. He was the one who convinced me I had brain damage after I suffered a seizure when I was eight years old.
The best time in my life with my brother was when were both teenagers and shared a room, he on the bottom bunk and me on the top. We would stay up late night talking about girls.
We were active in our church youth group, mainly because there were girls there. Ken had a Dodge Dart with a crankin’ stereo and we would head out to church events in other cities bumping BT Express, the SOS Band and unfortunately the first popular dirty rapper, Blowfly.
After church on Sunday nights we would walk up Fairfield Avenue past the water tower (now gone) and down to Bransford school and play tackle football. I was the only one brave enough to tackle him. He was a gifted athlete and excelled at football at Armijo High and was named to the all-city team. He also later coached youth football as well.
At Sierra Bible Camp I remember when he showed some of his wit. Each cabin had to do a skit and every person in the cabin had to be in it so some of the guys were props like trees and such. Ken held some sprigs and a sign he'd made that said "Pretend I'm a bush."
Ken’s name literally meant 'handsome' and he was and he knew it. I was jealous of him because I didn’t see myself as good-looking and was never as confident as he seemed to be. Plus, he was like the perfect example of what my dad wanted a son to be and I was just about the opposite. The white sheep of the family you might say.
We would play dominoes all the time and Ken and my dad were always partners and played against me and my mom. If they started to win, you never heard such gloating. They were sore losers and bad winners but we had a great time playing. I remember playing as adults and both Ken and I smoked and we would smoke each other’s respective cigarettes for some reason.
I sat down to play some bones a few years ago and it hit me for the first time that Ken and my mom and my dad—my whole dominoes group—were now all dead.
Ken always had an explosive temper. I remember once when he was playing a board game and my sister-in-law Patty experienced it for the first time. They were having a good time when all of a sudden he knocked the game up in the air and stormed out. Patty asked if he was always like that and Kelvin’s reply was “Only when someone drops a hat.”
After Ken’s murder-suicide I dealt with the whole guilt thing. We had drifted apart as adults and were into different things. At that time he was into going to clubs like the Galactica in Sacramento and dressing up while I was into partying at rock concerts.
He tried to get us together but I always balked at it. The Kubel Ross Five Stages of Grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. There was no denial or bargaining, but I dealt with depression and anger for years afterward.
I mean, how could you do that? And on Mother’s Day of all freakin’ days? And not just to my mom but to his girlfriends’ kids as well so that forever on a day when the world focuses on cherishing their mothers that would be the day they dreaded thinking about?
Plus there are often really two anniversaries of that terrible day as in this year because Mother's Day and May 13th don't always fall on the same day.
I felt guilt and depression and wrestled with the “if onlys.” But all that stuff is futile. Ultimately, I had to work through that stuff and did so in a systematic way with help from both mental health professionals as well as other organizations which have sustained me.
The ripple effects of suicide and murder can be felt for years and even decades later. Heck, one thing I learned is that if you die in this day and age you will still continue to get junk mail forever!
It may sound silly but one of the things I thought about later in 1990 was that Ken had gone to the Club MTV tour the previous year and remarked at how much Milli Vanilli sounded like their records! He never found out the truth!
I will always love my brother and he cannot be defined by simply how he ended up.
I wish Ken could have worked on his issues. I’ve had to work on mine. Facing your demons eye to eye is not fun and is not easy but it is the best way to know yourself and deal with life as it is and not how I wish it would be.
Rest in Peace Ken
Rest in Peace Myoung