By Henry Piarrot
"If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call to make, who would you call and what would you say? And why are you waiting?" - Stephen Levine, poet and author.
In New Orleans on Oct. 28, 1963, 22-year-old Barbara Boetler embraced her youngest son, Toby, for the first time. As she raised him from her breast, he heard "I love you" for the first of many times. But way too soon, shortly after June 2, 1986, she held her 22-year-old son for the final time. She laid her head upon his lifeless breast and cried for the first of many times.
Barbara moved to Nashville during Thanksgiving weekend in 1985. Her oldest son and his wife had relocated to Tennessee a few months before and carried her only grandchild with them. After the trials of raising two sons on her own, she was not about to miss the early years of her grandson, then 4. Toby remained in New Orleans and exercised his independence by getting his own apartment after a series of robberies took place in the complex where he and his mother used to live together. However, Toby would never live in his new town house, as he fell 30 minutes short of a safe getaway.
The angry young man who had been arrested for burglarizing the apartment complex a week before had been released from jail earlier in the day by way of an overcrowding court order. He found Toby's car momentarily unattended and was going through the items in the back seat when Toby returned with his arms filled with more belongings. A fight ensued, and although the bad guy was much bigger than his victim, Toby fought him off and then watched him run away. Unfortunately, Barbara's boy mistakenly thought the incident was over when he opened his door a few minutes later. His attacker had returned, and this time he had a knife. Before he could react, Toby had been stabbed twice in the chest as he stood at the threshold of his own front door. He found a neighbor to call for help, but within minutes he was dead.
Twenty-two years of a mother's pride, joy and pain lay lifeless among a growing gathering of people he never knew.
Toby's assailant had just graduated from stealing stereos to stealing futures. There is no grief like losing a child, especially by homi- cide. Unless you have experienced the pain, there are no words to describe the heartache. No one can know the sorrow that surviving parents feel unless they have also gone through the horror of losing a part of themselves by the hands of another human being.
Last Tuesday was to be Toby's 40th birthday. Barbara and her oldest son planned a dinner together to reflect on the occasion. A day does not go by that they do not think of their lost son and brother. They wonder who he would be, whether he would have a wife, children, a great job he loved to do. The unlived memories are far more painful than remembering the events that either will not soon forget.
Tragically, murders occur every day across America. More Americans have been killed by their own countrymen this year in California than have been killed by the terrorists in the Middle East since the current Gulf War began. The parents of military personnel grieve no less than parents like Barbara. However, some solace can be reached in knowing that your son or daughter gave their life for a greater good to possibly exist in the world. Barbara and her family continue to emotionally wrestle with the shear senselessness of homicide. Happy birthday, Toby. Your mom and your brother love you very much, and we miss you terribly. As long as we live, you will forever be in our hearts and on our minds.
Henry Piarrot is a Hillsboro Village merchant who contributes stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Please send story ideas to email@example.com