Monday, April 22, 2018 would have been my son’s 25th birthday. He was shot and killed in north St. Louis when he was 16. His death devastated me. Most days I try not to think about it. It’s been 9 years. Scores of young, black men and children in St. Louis have been murdered since. It’s boggles the mind. I used to check in with the homicide detective that worked his case. That lasted for about three years. He was a good policeman. He tried to crack the case. He even knew who the shooters were. No reliable witnesses, he said. I’m resigned to the fact the case will never be solved. Overworked homicide detectives can only do so much. It’s one of America’s most violent cities.
I remember the day so cleary. Monday, September, 28, 2009. My step-mom Brenda had passed two days prior. Breast cancer took her out. She was a good, hardworking woman. Stern, but fair. She loved me and my older brother as her own. She cursed like a sailor, smoked squares and gambled. Played the numbers, as she called it. Loved her to death.
The plan was to attend Brenda’s funeral later that week in St. Louis, grab my son, pack his belongings, and head back to Kansas City.
The Lou had become hectic for him. His older brother - half brother to some; his mother’s oldest son by a different man to others - was shot and killed in St. Louis in June of that year. It was imperative to get my boy far away from that madness.
I didn’t. One of the worst mistakes I ever made as a parent was allowing my son, Toriano Porter II to return to St. Louis. Less than 90 days later he met his fate.
The following passage is the first time I have publicly shared the story of his death. It’s a painful reminder about the realities of life. We lose, we suffer, but yet we survive. This is dedicated to all of the survivors that know what it is like to have a piece of your heart ripped apart, shredded into pieces and discarded.
When September Ends Part II
I could not for the life of me figure out why my 13-year-old son repeatedly ran away from the home we shared in south St. Louis.
It started barely a month into the new school year. The previous three months may have had a bit to do with it, but no 7th grade student should feel empowered to dash from their home and live astray for days at a time.
The change in his demeanor bewildered me. Things seemed to be at a good point between us. After an easy summer spent with his relatives in north St. Louis, my boot-camp style regulations were probably a tad much for him.
Regardless, I still could not fathom why he felt the need to skip school, steal cars, proceed with high-speed police pursuits and hightail it from the safety of home. I worked from 4 p.m. until midnight, he had plenty of opportunities to leave the house without permission. He often did. Especially that seventh-grade year. He missed 70 days of school. Routine orders were defied and he stayed away for days on in.
One particular day, I asked him.
“Lil T,” I said as we walked less than a mile home from Long Middle School on the city's southside. He had returned to school after a week on the lam. The principal of the school knew that I had an all-points-bulletin out to find him, so the principal called me to come retrieve my son. “Man, what’s going on? Why do you keep running away from home.”
“You put too much pressure on me,” he answered.
Flabbergasted, I snapped.
“Pressure?” I said with angst. “We piss on pressure. Pressure? Fuck pressure. Pressure? I’ve got a $400 electric bill, but have I asked you to put anything on it? Pressure? Because I asked you to go to school, bring your ass home, do your chores, mind adults and be respectful, you think that’s pressure. Man, fuck pressure.”
Snapped is not the best word to describe what took place next. Some call it a blackout, others may call it something different. Either way, I grabbed my first-born son tight, flipped his frail body on the concrete and proceeded to slap him about the upper extremities. Head, shoulders, neck, whatever I could get my hands on for about 15 seconds.
“Man, pressure?” I said. “Pressure? Get your ass up! I’ll show you pressure. We piss on pressure.”
That black out episode was a pivotal moment in our relationship.
It was probably the most unsettling time of my adult life. I had no idea where my kid was. As his protector, his guardian, his father; that was a bitter pill to swallow, stomach or digest.
I lost myself in bud, booze and pills. Lots of pills. Xanax, Ecstasy, Percocet, Tylenol with codeine. Any pill that would numb the pain.
My best friend Rory Watkins - we called him Nose - would come through and we’d get whipped and ride the streets of north St. Louis on a late-night mission to find him.
My best friend for years, Nose was my son’s ‘Uncle.’ He was invested in my son’s fortune and future as well.
Years prior, when my son was five-years-old, we all shared a two-bedroom duplex in Warrensburg, Mo.,where I played college ball.
I focused on graduation after my eligibility expired, Rory pursued higher education for the first time, and the younger Toriano got a chance to spend the second half of his kindergarten year at one of the local elementary schools.
It was a memorable time.
I can’t believe I let my baby go back to that hell hole. A hell hole I didn’t even want to be in, and I let him go back. I kicked myself mightily for that decision.
It was a choice that a friend told me I should have never allowed him to make. She said I let him take the easy route out with a return trip back home to St. Louis to continue to live with his mother. I was never one to give 16-year-olds who haven’t demonstrated an ability to handle those choices a choice.
For whatever reason, I did that time.
The last he lived with me on a permanent basis, he proved to me no matter my rules and stipulations, he wasn’t having any part of it.
“I wanna go back home and live with my mama,” he said that July, an hour or so before he left for St. Louis after a week-long stay with me in Kansas City. I’d relocated two years prior while he served a stint in a juvenile detention center. “I gotta get back home to my mama.”
He had been free for about a year, but believe it or not, we didn’t speak or see each other for about a year. I’d say he ran from me, others may believe I didn’t try hard enough to foster the relationship. Two bull-headed fools toe-to-toe on will and stubbornness.
My stance: ‘My number ain’t changed in four years. He knows my number.’
The bull in me.
We literally did not speak or see each other for close to a year. He was 15, tall, handsome with a mohawk, white v-neck t-shirt and skinny jeans when I finally did see him.
Fresh out of the juvey, I thought he was gonna look like some hard-core thug. All I could think was: ‘That boy ain’t no thug. That’s a 15-year-old that needs his daddy.’
I wanted him to want to move with me. To force him, I felt he might rebel and prove a bad influence for his younger siblings, and give me the Moody Blues all over again.
Hogwash, the friend said.
“That’s bullshit,” she said. Sarah was her name. “That’s bullshit. You let him take the easy way out, and you took the easy way out too by letting him go back.”
She was right. Especially after his older brother Joseph was shot and killed in north St. Louis earlier that summer. I had only seen him once after the day he rocked skinny jeans and a mohawk, and that was the day after his 19-year-old brother died.
By July, I had him wrapped tight in my arms after a week-long visit. In my grasp, after a promise of a renewed relationship; in my sights as I laid down a three-year path to get him to high school graduation.
That’s the day he told me he wanted to go back home to live with his mother in St. Louis.
“I wanna go back home and live with my mama,” he said.
And I let him.
I fired off this warning shot after my persuasions for a grand, and brand new life went astray: “TP, man, you can’t go back there, man. You go back, you ain’t gonna make it through the summer.”
I tried the scared straight approach and he didn’t budge. He wanted back home, and I didn’t stop him.
“I’m going to get my baby,” I said to the friend after she admonished me for my lack of heavy-handedness. “I’m going to call his mama right now and let her know. I will call you back.”
The call to my son’s mother, Denise, was simple and to the point.
She agreed that I should come get him. I explained to her my stepmom Brenda had just died, and as soon as I found out the funeral arrangements I would let her know my plans to make it to St. Louis.
“Don’t tell Lil’ T I’m coming to get him either,” I said. “I don’t want him going M.I.A. on me.”
“I won’t,” his mother said. “I’ll have his things packed. He’s got to get away from here, Tory.”
“I know. I’m coming for sure. Talk to you in a minute.”
That was the Saturday my stepmom passed. Only a day had passed when Denise’s name and number displayed on my phone. It was a Monday and I was on assignment to cover a high school softball game slated for a 4 p.m. first pitch.
Denise’s call came slightly before the game began.
“Hello,” I said, prepared to offer Denise no new details on my stepmother’s service.
“Tory, they got him,” she said. “They got my baby.”
“Denise, whatchu’ mean?” I said. “Whatchu mean?”
“Tory, they got my baby. They know who did this. They got my baby.”
“Denise, don’t tell me that. Whatchu mean? Where’s my baby at, Denise? Where’s Lil T?
“They got him. I’m right here on St. Louis Avenue and Euclid. They got him coming out of Salama’s Market.”
“Denise, tell me he’s moving or something. Tell me they working on him.”
“Tory, they’re putting the tarp up; they got him, Tory. They got him.”
It’s a solemn fact that my son was gunned down in the middle of the afternoon on a early fall day in the streets of north St. Louis. Sun was out, people were out; despite that whoever pulled the trigger wanted my first born son dead. This was no errant drive-by or innocent bystander shot; this was a targeted killing.
I have no idea what my son was into to make someone want to do that to him. It hurts to the core that as a father I didn’t know nor was I there to protect him, steer him or guide him back on the right path.
Pains me to realize I failed as a dad. But it also fuels me. I forge ahead for the both of us. I owe that to not only myself, but to my son and his memory.
Son, you are loved and you are missed. Your death could have broken me, crumbled me, but it didn’t. It made me stronger and more committed as a father.
Simply put, I love you, man. I often wonder what life would have been like with you still around. You are missed and thought of often. Rest easy, son. Rest easy.