Updated: Friday, September 1, 2017, 5:54 AM
That old saying about how you can’t go home again certainly is true for Tanisha Pratt-Thomas.
She’s been able to visit her West Philly rowhouse to pick up clothes and two daughters, but she doesn’t stay long. She can’t. The memories of her son, Tyhir Jaquil Barnes, 15, who was killed a year ago, are too strong there for her to get any sleep. So she stays at an apartment a few miles away in Cobbs Creek — and waits for a time when her soul is at rest enough to call the family home home again.
“I can’t stay here. It’s a lot of memories. It’s a lot of memories,” she told me.
Tanisha, 42, had agreed to meet with me one recent evening after she got off work at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, not long after the one-year anniversary of her son’s death.
We sat in a darkened living room and chatted quietly about her memories of Tyhir, a good kid with a promising future. He’d just finished his first year at Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School, and loved to play basketball and rap. SMG Records released a mixtape of his music shortly after his death.
I’m not going to lie, I got depressed being in that space. I started wondering why I was even there listening to yet another tragic tale about a promising young black male being shot down in the street and left to die. As Tanisha and her husband, Steve, talked, I felt guilty about wanting to leave and wishing I was back outside. As I’d arrived, the sun had been just beginning to set, and I’d noticed one of their beautiful daughters playing near the front steps in the 1300 block of South 57th Street as if she didn’t have a care in the world.
Tanisha, sitting on a couch with her husband of 13 years, told me she sees a therapist. The counseling helps sometimes. Some sessions are better than others, but nothing can obliterate the painful memories of Tyhir’s being gunned down on July 11, 2016, days after his team won a basketball game in Southwest Philly.
Two other teens who had been with Tyhir that night also were shot in the 6000 block of Baltimore Avenue. Tyhir died the next day. They survived.
“Like, really, over a basketball game? Was it that deep? Was it worth it?” Tanisha asked. “Knowing that he’s not here for something so stupid, it hurts.”
Kywayne A. Hill, charged in Tyhir’s killing, is due in court for a pre-trial hearing Sept. 12. He faces a host of charges including murder.
Tanisha said the family is bracing for the trial and trying to get used to life without Tyhir, one of six children. Even before Tyhir’s death, she had been dealing with the loss of her parents. It’s not easy now raising the girls between two homes. The family shuttles them back and forth.
“We make it happen,” Steve Thomas, Tyhir’s stepdad, a master plumber, told me later. “We are a whatever-you’ve-got-to-do family. I’m a true husband.”
“Some days are hard, some days I don’t feel like getting up and just laying there, but we have the girls,” Tanisha said at the house, referring to Tyhir’s younger sisters, 11 and 12.
“If I didn’t have those two, I don’t know. I probably would be in the nut house. I know I have to get up for them and stay strong for them,” she added. “On the inside, I feel like being with Tyhir. That’s how I really feel.”
I gathered my notebook and my iPhone and walked outside, grateful to be back in the sunshine. I took a couple of quick photos and drove off, anxious to get away.
Shortly after I left, Tanisha did the same. She needed to get away, too.
Read full story: A year later, mother of slain teen finds it hard to go home again