12:46 p.m., Sept. 6:
Just another normal day. I sent Botham an article via text titled, “Florida man accidentally burns home down after lighting Nike shoes on fire in protest of Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad.” Minutes later, a red heart showed up at the top indicating he loved the article. I smiled and went on with my day. I didn’t know this was going to be the last text exchange I would have with my baby brother.
My phone rang, and without looking at the caller ID, I knew who it was.
Botham was on the other end with a smile in his voice, “Guess where I’m heading, Big Sis?” His joy was so contagious I started laughing. He was heading home early from work because of rain and was overjoyed. I said, “Count your blessings.” Botham and I were raised in the Church of Christ, and the saying comes from an old hymn that goes: Count your blessings. Name them one by one.
Botham had many blessings to count. The week before, he was on a strict soup diet after a wisdom tooth extraction. That day he got the green light from his dentist to eat ice cream. Botham loved dairy! When we were growing up, my aunt Desma and I called him Milky Way because of his love for anything with milk: ice cream, milkshakes, egg nog, cereal.
Once Botham purchased a tub of ice cream, he was set for the evening. We spoke about his upcoming birthday, the start of the football season that night. We exchanged our normal daily banter. We spoke almost every day, about everything and nothing. We always started a conversation via text and finished it over the phone.
I spoke to my baby brother for 24 minutes on his last day on earth. We said our goodbyes in our special way — “bah-bye” — and hung up our phones. Minutes later, I thought, “He didn’t tell me he loved me. I’ll give him hell for that the next time we speak,” not knowing there would never be a next time.
12:29 am September 7th
The ringing of my phone woke me up. My grandmother always said calls in the middle of the night was never anything good. And she was right. The number on the caller ID made my heart race. It was a 214 area code, the same as Botham’s. On the other end of the line, this female introduced herself as a case worker from Baylor Hospital and I immediately thought, car accident. I started looking around my bedroom for my shoes and purse to get to Dallas to go take care of my brother.
The case worker asked me if I knew Botham Jean and I replied "Yes. He’s my brother." She asked me where does he work and I told her PWC. She asked me for his home address and I started fumbling with my phone to open the contacts application and recited it to her. She asked me for his date of birth and for the life of me, I could not remember the year. My heart was beating so loud I had to strain to hear this lady’s words. To her question I replied September 29 and he will be 27 years old this month. At that point I took over the questioning and asked her what happened to my brother. In a very calm voice she shattered my world. She explained to me that Botham was brought to the hospital with a gunshot wound. I interrupted her and asked if he was alive. That was all I cared about. I will never forget her words for as long as I live. I hear it everyday at random times, multiple times a day. She said, I’m sorry to have to tell you, but he succumbed to his injury.
“HE WAS SHOT THROUGH HIS HEART AND HE DIED.”
Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! I repeated these three words over and over uncontrollably. I couldn’t understand what was happening. I didn’t realize I actually said the words until the case worker stated very slowly, “HE WAS SHOT THROUGH HIS HEART AND HE DIED.” I heard nothing after that. I immediately became cold and my teeth started rattling on this hot summer day. I pulled the covers over me for warmth that never came.
How do i tell my mother her son was killed? Why was he killed? Was he scared? Was he in pain? Did he see it coming? Did he die alone? Did someone hold his hand? Did someone try to save him? All these questions swarmed my head until I settled on one: Should I tell my mom now or in the morning? Should I let her have just one more good night's sleep? I started walking towards her room before I lost the nerve. I turned on her light and broke her heart.
Growing up, my mother always told us, “Be a leader, not a follower,” and Botham did just that. Entering Saint Mary’s College High School at age 11, he seized every opportunity put before him. He formed a choir because he had a passion for singing. Upon graduating, he received top honors for Spanish, Principles of Business, Principles of Accounting and the top award called the Spirit of Saint Mary.
I miss my brother every day. I miss his hearty laugh. I miss our conversations. I miss our spirited debates about TV shows. I miss his pop-up visits to wherever I was. We always spent the holidays together: Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, his birthday. Botham once drove from Dallas to Maryland to spend Thanksgiving with me. I miss being able to confide in him. He never judged and received everyone with open arms. One year I was preparing for a trip to Saint Lucia and Botham called me while I was at the mall purchasing a tattoo cover-up. I wanted to cover my shoulder tattoo because no one back home knew about it; I did not know how it would be received because we were from a religious family. Botham stopped my purchase with his encouraging words: “Be you, Allisa.” I did just that.
Botham should be remembered for his heart. He loved helping people. He called me one Saturday while watching protests against the Muslim travel ban on the news in Dallas and felt helpless. He decided to purchase cases of water and handed the bottles out to the protesters at the airport. While at Harding University, he organized a group of students who visited Saint Lucia annually and helped vulnerable communities. They volunteered at the Boys Training Center, which housed wayward boys, the Transit Home for orphaned children and the Comfort Bay Home for the elderly.
That’s what it means to Be Like Bo. To be kind to others. To give without the expectation of something in return. To love wholeheartedly. To seize every day. To give thanks for everything, big or small. To give your life to God completely and do his work. Botham did all these things and more. The Botham Jean Foundation will continue what he started while promoting Christian intervention for social change.
— Allisa Findley
For more information on the Botham Jean Foundation, please visit: www.bothamjeanfoundation.org