The Boy Who Could, But Chose Not To

The Boy That Could, But Chose Not To

Robby was one of those boys who had destiny written all over him. Specifically, in the area of athletics. I do not remember when he first took the field in the big three: baseball, football, and basketball—the main sports for kids in our day. He was best at baseball, probably because he enjoyed it more and had greater access through Little LeagueBabe Ruth, and high school.

A Star In Sports

To illustrate his destiny, I recall when he was playing on a Little League team, and they were behind. It was the last inning. Robby hit the ball, and it had just enough force to roll to the back fence and stop. Barely. The ball went under the glove of the third baseman and rolled unimpeded to the left-field fence. It was like the ball had eyes and the defense was playing in slow motion. Robby knocked in the winning run.

He was the hero. Again.

Another time on the high school football team, someone knocked him down on the 20-yard line of the opposing team. He got up and ran diagonally across the field to make the tackle on the player near the 10-yard line—70 yards away. It was a magic moment. Nobody could catch the opposing player. It was even more spectacular because when the guy knocked Robby down, his helmet came off. He got up, ran the guy down, and tackled him with no helmet.

A Star In Prison

When Robby was in Central Prison in Raleigh, NC, Clyde King of the New York Yankees came to interview him. He was that good. Unfortunately, only Robby could mess up his destiny. He was incarcerated and would never be able to fulfill his dreams on the field.

Robby was typically the first person to break a record, or he was the youngest to do “this or that.” I recall reading the papers many times where it said, “Robby Thomas was the first to (fill in the blank).” He was gifted. Even when he went to prison, he played on the prison teams, was a star, and got the MVP trophies.

An Angry Child

I do not know what went wrong with him. I’m not sure why he was angry all the time. Perhaps it was the same reason that I was an angry kid. All five boys were unhappy. We were pagans. Dad yelled and beat us every day, virtually. Dad was mostly verbal, which was typically the result of his drinking. I don’t recall him ever being sober, though I’m sure he was.

Robby was caught in the wake of awful parenting and continued to spin out of control. There was no spiritual intervention. His path was set. The boy who was destined to succeed rewrote his destiny and died a tragic death.

I never assumed Robby would be an old person, sitting in a rocking chair on a back porch somewhere with a wife and grandkids. He never gave that vibe. He was born to die young.

And he did.

The Brother With the Most Talent Was Murdered Young

The Brother With the Most Talent Was Murdered Young

My oldest brother, Robby, was born in July 1956. It feels weird to sound out his name in my mind. I only knew him during my pre-salvation years, and that was more than forty years ago. To think that he was my brother is surreal, as he seems to have belonged to another mother. But he was my oldest sibling, and then he wasn’t because a man murdered him.

And nobody cared.

Robby was a rare individual. He was more gifted than the rest of us, speaking of sports specifically. If someone would have voted “the most likely to succeed” from the bunch of us, Robby was the hands-down favorite. I was jealous because we all knew that he would make it out of our hell-hole with success.

I’m not sure where it went wrong, but it did in the worst kind of way.

The Dreaded Phone Call

In June 1987, I received the phone call that nobody wants. It was from mother. It was early. She told me that Robby had broken into a mobile home, and a man was sitting across the room with a double-barrel shotgun in hand. He unloaded both barrels toward Robby’s head. Robby put his hands in front of his face in an attempt to protect himself. It shredded his hands. He fell face down on the floor. It reminded me of Goliath when David sunk a rock into his forehead. The Bible says that Goliath fell forward, face down (1 Samuel 17:49).

The man took the shotgun, spun it around to where he was holding the barrels. He used it as a sledgehammer on the back of Robby’s skull. He broke the stock of the gun by crushing my brother’s head. It was the blows that killed him, though he could have died from the gunshot wounds if he had time to bleed out.

And then it was over. Robby was gone, a dash between two dates: 1957-1987.

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes (James 4:14).

The authorities did not prosecute the killer. The police looked at it as one less criminal off the streets, and Robby broke into the mobile home anyhow—as the killer described what happened with no witnesses. Robby had just gotten out of prison in February (1987). He lived most of his adult life incarcerated.

He was an “institutionalized convict,” a person so acclimated to the inside that he could not live well on the outside. The rehabilitation programs didn’t work for him. Doing crime was his passion, which became the portal to prison, where he thrived. The three times they released him, he did things that led back to his “comfort zone.” His last release led to his murder.

A Girl With a Significant Other

Robby had a girlfriend on the outside while he was on the inside. They were pen-pals. The plot twist is that his girlfriend had a husband (or significant other). Robby decided he wanted the letters, which is why he showed up at the mobile home one dark evening. The one brother with the most potential was the first one to die. One more would follow a similar fate ten years later.

The brother, who never missed a day of school until his 10th-grade year, died 31 days before his 32 birthday. The person who was always one of the best at whatever sport’s league he participated threw his life away.

And there was no mercy.