Everyone in Howeville, Virginia knew about the Barnes Family Curse, but no one knew more about it than me. The meat in the middle of a murdered sibling sandwich, I lived and breathed that damned curse every day of my miserable life.
The curse sprouted its first ugly sapling when my younger sister and baby of the family, Atchley, went missing on a little weekend trip to grandma’s house just about two hours away from our hometown. Just seven years old, she disappeared from my grandma’s gravel driveway on the edge of a rural town while riding a tricycle around the property where she was left unsupervised for less than 20 minutes.
Atchley didn’t even get the chance to become a face on a milk carton. Some mushroom picker found her a few months later in a muddy ditch within stumbling distance from one of those long, forested, rural routes your brain creates in dark nightmares when it wants to put you in a setting where you should be scared. Not shocking. She was no longer alive by then. Her head was beaten in with what the police thought was a crescent wrench. Her teeth were the only thing they were able to use to identify her.
Those same police would spend a handful of months trying to figure out anything else they could about what happened to Atchley during that sad Spring, but they found out almost nothing. Just that long-lasting image of my first grader little sister experiencing a silver wrench getting smashed against her head until there was nothing else in her world. Beautiful.
To be honest, I was able to get over the thing in a few years. My mom and dad passed away of natural causes (as long as you consider two pints of Old Crow, endless amounts of Coca-Cola, unfiltered Winstons, and years of undiagnosed depression natural) a handful of years after Atchley’s death. Without them reminding me of it every time I saw them, my brain eventually ran out of room for more than passing sadness for her.
Atchley was heartbreak of the deepest sorrow, but it was a one in a billion kind of thing that could happen to any family if they were unlucky enough on just one day.
My brother Jonathan six years later, that was the start of a curse.
Jonathan was the only person in my stereotypically rural American family who had never really been in any trouble in his life. One of my shitty uncle Steves (I had two) used to always ask him, “You the only Barnes who has never seen the inside of a cop car boy?” every Christmas, starting around the age of 14.
The truth was it did seem that Jonathan was the only “good apple” in our family basket. He graduated high school with flying colors, actually went to college (Norfolk State), graduated and was the first Barnes I knew of to ever have a job that involved a computer, in Washington D.C.
All that made it all the more shocking when we heard the news of his murder.
Like so many poor souls, Jonathan Christopher Barnes was found shot to death for unclear reasons in a sketchy motel room on the bad side of Baltimore. In fact, there were two other poor male souls of similar age (28) filled to the brim with fresh bullets in the room with him and a nearly-dead prostitute only filled with enough bullets to turn her into a vegetable, just not quite enough to kill her.
Much like my sister Atchley, they never found a single suspect in the murder of my brother Jonathan. All they could trace was that he set up an appointment via text with the now-mute prostitute and something went very, very wrong. Honestly, having already experienced shitty homicide investigation work with Atchley and with Jonathan already dead and his name drug through the mud by the nature of his demise, I let it go.
The final link in the chain of the Barnes curse was a little silly, and at least in my opinion, a major stretch. My oldest brother Charlie grew up a small town baseball star in our trashy little burg in western Virginia. He was good enough to get drafted somewhere in like the ninetieth round of the MLB draft by the Baltimore Orioles. All I knew was it was enough for him to get shipped off to a small town in Delaware where they paid him like, $300 a week and gave him some nice shiny new orange hats.