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When you say I love you, what do you mean?

When I say it, I'm deathly afraid that you could be a memory.

When you say, “I love you,” what do you mean? Does it signify a long-term romantic commitment? Do you blurt it out in the whirlwind of infatuation? Do you say it to your family who you’ve known your entire life?

When I say I love you, it means you are important to me. It means you’ve supported me through tough times, and though nothing is temporary about our relationship, I’m deathly afraid that you could be just a memory tomorrow.

Most people don’t know this about me, but I have been affected by deaths due to gun violence. The fall is a rough time of year for me. The voices of the lost ones echo through the forests of fallen leaves on their birthdays and days of their killings.


Only one short year ago, a cousin of mine had his life taken due to gun violence. He was such a loving, giving, but misunderstood soul. The pain still grips the family, particularly his brothers and closest cousins. This year he would have turned 37. Though we grew apart as adults, it’s hard to live with the fact that I will never see him again. There are no redos. We can never revisit the days of walking in my grandmother’s neighborhood. I’ll never again hear him brag about whooping us in 007 Goldeneye on N64. There will be no more laughs about wrestling matches in the backyard.

Only silence.

I can’t be 100% sure that I told him I loved him the last time we were together. I think I did, but I really can’t be sure.

At the age of 11, I lost an older brother to gun violence. He was murdered only weeks after his 32nd birthday.


I will never forget the grave tone in my mother’s voice when she called me into the living room to sit down. I remember feeling the uncharacteristic warmth of the sun beaming through the sheers on that early Sunday morning in November.

The other details of how she told me are fuzzy, but I remember feeling numb. I immediately distanced myself from the bad news. My mom doesn’t recall me having a hard time coping. That’s because I didn’t.


I was distant from my brothers as a young child. My eldest brother was in the military and was stationed across the world while the other brother lived across town. So, when my brother died, I did know what to feel.

Then unexpectedly, weeks later, I was overwhelmed with sorrow. I wouldn’t get to see my brother again. We would never have the chance to develop the relationship that I thought brother should have.

Laid in bed enraged. I filled my pillow with muffled screams and just as many tears.


Why didn’t he come around more? Why didn’t he take the time to get to know me? At 11 years old, I hadn’t known my brother known my big brother. And on that day, I realized that I would never know him.

From then on, I told my family I loved them each time I left their presence. Unexpected deaths will do that to you. They traumatize those of us left behind. We do our best to piece life back together.

When I say I love you, I’m afraid I’ll never see you again.

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