This story starts on my 21st Birthday. Most people spend their 21st partying with friends and having the time of their life. I spent my 21st in Atlantic City County Correctional Facilities, serving a year sentence in jail. I know plenty of inmates pleaded their innocence but in my case I actually was innocent. I was convicted for the intent to sell a drugs because a friends bag of marijuana was found in my car after an accident. Either way, the jail time and my innocence isn’t what my story is about. After about four months behind bars and feeling completely empty, I was finally released, on parole. I walked out of that gate everything felt new, the air was fresher than ever before, the Boardwalk seemed like it never ended and my smile was wider than ever. I just couldn’t wait to get back home to Delaware. The only problem was that after my initial parole check-in I learned that I had to serve the remaining 4 months of parole in Atlantic City, a place loved to visit but was now forced to call home. It was anything but home to me.
My mother did everything in her power to make things a little easier to digest. She was a hero throughout all of this. She took her time and found a shelter for me to stay and gave me some money to hold me over for a little while. Eventually she had to leave. I had mixed feeling about staying in a shelter, I guess you can call it pride. I was afraid of being alone in an unfamiliar city and even more afraid of staying in a shelter for abandoned young adults. I didn’t go to the shelter that night, instead I met up with a former cell mate who an thought I could trust. We ended up back at his place with some friends of his and as the night was about to end I found myself being held at gunpoint and robbed of everything I had. With my head down and nowhere to go I strolled the boardwalk thinking of everything back home, my mother, my brother, my niece, my girlfriend at that time who was pregnant with my child, I thought of anything to keep me from doing something to further the damage. I kept walking and I reached the point where I realized that I’d be spending the night without a place to sleep, without a family, without any money, without hope. I reached the end of the boardwalk and sat on a bench and there were a few people still out at the time. A few minutes went by and a dude around my age approached and ask if I had a cigarette in which I did surprisingly. He introduced himself as Eli.
That moment felt like destiny, during the conversation I found out that he was staying in the same shelter I was supposed to have went to earlier. He said it was a good place with good people. After being robbed I knew I shouldn’t trust anyone but something told me to put all of the trust I had left into Eli, So that I did. He took me to the shelter and got me signed in and I had a place to rest my head safely. If it wasn’t for him that night I don’t know if I would even be alive today. From that moment on we became brothers. Nobody could separate us, nobody could beat us, nobody could break us. We pushed each other to find jobs and we did just that. Having a little bit of money every week made us feel like the richest men in the world. We spend most of our days drinking and just chilling around on the boardwalk. We both loved the casinos. The slots were our favorite. We only played one slot machine, our lucky machine, “The Twilight Zone.” We’d go back to that machine almost every day and most of the time we’d leave winners. We simply had a blast together. The days and weeks rolled by and time eventually came winding down for my parole to be up and for me to return home. I couldn’t wait to leave Atlantic City but I did not want to leave Eli. I promised him that once I got back on my feet I would make sure I’d return with money and if I got my own place he’d be more than welcome to come back to Delaware with me because a shelter was no place for him or anyone. Eventually I returned home and life seemed better than ever. At the same time I had a felony and it become almost impossible to find a job. Eli had my home number but I was barely ever home. I was too busy catching up with the friends that I missed so much. Eli never left my mind. I felt like I was trying to make it for the both of us. A few months went by and I had got money from a settlement on a car accident before I went to jail. The first person that came to my mind was Eli.
At this point it had been months since I heard from him. That weekend a friend and I made plans to go to Atlantic City. I was extremely happy. I bought more than $1,000 dollars with me and we made our way to Atlantic City. I planned to surprise Eli with a couple hundred dollars for himself. We arrived and I told my friend I had some business to take care of. I wanted to get to the shelter as soon as possible. I reached the door of our shelter and walked in, everyone was happy to see me back and I was happy to see those familiar faces. I asked a friend there if they have seen Eli or how I could get in contact with him. I never forgot the look on his face when I asked him that. It was like someone stole the happiness right out his soul. He looked at me with the saddest look and simply replied …. “Eli’s dead … he killed himself Brian,, I’m sorry.”
At that moment I felt like my world came crashing down. I didn’t know how to reply or what to do. I walked out in tears and slowly walked to sit on the bench where Eli and I first met. I sat there, empty, with every memory I had of Eli passing through my mind. I felt stuck, there was nowhere to go. Eventually I pulled myself together, I got up and I found myself in front of our favorite slot machine. I jammed 100 dollars in and whispered to myself “Eli, this is for you”. I pulled the lever one time and to my surprise I hit for $1,000. I felt this calm come over me. I knew it was Eli reaching out to me. For a moment I felt a bit of joy but reality would set back in soon. I spend hours alone, not even contacting my friend who I made the trip with. I did plenty of soul-searching. I took to the bars in the city and eventually found a spot on the beach and relaxed there until my friend called me to return home.
Here is where I wish the story ended but, it just didn’t. Years passed and Eli had never left my heart. One day, I received a call from Eli’s sister whom I’ve never met. His sister asked me general questions about Eli and myself, our friendship and our time at the shelter. Later in the conversation I grew curious as to how she even got my phone number so I asked… Her voiced lowered and she said “Eli called your phone just minutes before he committed suicide.” and “that it was the last number in his call log.” Again, I was in pieces. I know we was only trying to get Information on her brothers death but she delivered news that haunts me to this day and may haunt me forever. Not only was it that his final call but maybe if I picked up he would still be alive today. Maybe he just needed me to tell him I was still thinking of him and that I thought of him everyday. I replay that moment in my head every day, why couldn’t I had answered that phone ? Could I have saved his life ? I guess some things aren’t supposed to be answered but I’d give my own life to go back and be there to answer that phone and possibly save Eli’s life. Eli, you’re still the reason I wake up through the bad days and push to do better in life and cherish the lives of those close to me. You gave me a reason to make sure I put more smiles on people’s faces than frowns. Thank You and for that I love you.
Rest In Peace, Eli