Mellanie Washington was sitting on her bed hen it hit her: It was almost the third anniversary of the day her son Tavon was shot.
"Wow," she thought.
She sat there for a bit, remembering: Aug. 8, 2016. A warm night, her West Side street abuzz with reports of a shooting nearby earlier in the day.
She flashed back to how she'd been relaxing on her front porch when, from out of nowhere, the bullets came, how one struck her 10-year-old son, Tavon, and how, for a long time afterward, nothing in his life, her life, her family's life was normal. She feared it would never be normal again.
Strange, she thought, sitting alone on her bed in 2019, how the anniversary sneaked up on her this time, unlike the first one, which had inspired her to throw a party.
"Do you know it's going on three years?" she asked Tavon later.
"Mmm hmm," was all he said.
Interesting, she thought, that he kept close track of the date.
Tavon is 13 now. He's lanky and taller than his mother. He has a light mustache. He shakes his head and looks down - with a hint of a smile - when his mother says girls find him handsome.
Three years on, his body still aches sometimes from the nerve damage caused by the bullet that struck the base of his spine then shot upward and ravaged his organs. But he loves playing basketball, and he often plays with his shirt off, despite the long scar that snakes along his abdomen.
"I got shot," he'll say, if someone sees the scar and asks. If pressed, he'll tell the story.
Several weeks after Tavon's shooting, my colleague Jason Wambsgans and I began spending time with him and his family to find out how it changed their lives. Our story appeared in December 2016. We've visited them every August since, knowing that one swift, violent act is likely to be followed by a long cascade of consequences.
Washington and her four children live now on a quiet Northwest Side street bordered by neat lawns, in a small frame house up a flight of wooden stairs. There's a single folding chair on the front porch, where Washington likes to sit and enjoy the peace.
"Boy, look at us now," she said, when we arrived. She laughed.
"It's beautiful here."
She was sitting at a folding table in the sparsely furnished living room - she plans to assemble the furniture she has bought one of these days - and she wore a T-shirt that said "LOVE."
She'd just finished her 5:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. shift in a nursing facility, where she helps to prepare and serve food. She looked happy. She said Tavon - who was still in his bedroom, where he spends a lot of time playing video games - was happy too.
Tavon's twin sister, Taniyah, sat down beside her.
"It's quiet here, chill," Taniyah said. "You can go anywhere. On the West Side, it's like crazy."
In this ethnically diverse neighborhood, there's a safe park nearby. The neighbors are friendly. Tavon can walk safely to the Walgreens. Taniyah likes walking over to the Dunkin' Donuts.
But even in this sanctuary, the shooting still shapes their lives. They monitor Chicago's violence on the TV and online. Washington follows a Facebook page that pings her every time there's word of another shooting. It pings a lot.
Sometimes when she's watching the news, she might say, "Oh, my God, another one!" so loudly that Tavon comes into her room. They'll watch together, worried that the victim is someone they know. Yet no matter what horror is on the screen, they find consolation in one thought: Tavon survived.
Once a week, still, Tavon sees a counselor at Lurie Children's Hospital.
"Do I have to go?" he used to say.
"Yes, you need it," his mother would say.
"I'm fine," he'd insist.
"You need to go," she'd say, knowing that he wasn't.
Now he goes without hesitation. His mother takes Thursdays off work to drive him. Taniyah goes once a month too. If anything has become clear in these three years, it's that a bullet never wounds just one person.
I've written about Tavon several times without saying much about Taniyah. This time, she was eager to talk.
"Tavon is harder, more serious," Washington said, explaining their differences. "Taniyah is joyous."
Yet the twins have always been close, and on that August night when they were 10 years old, Taniyah stood next to her brother as he bled on the floor.
"Twin, don't leave me!" she cried. "Twin, don't leave me!"
She recalled sensing he'd been hit even before she saw. She remembered watching him lie for weeks in a hospital bed, hooked to wires, telling herself, "One day he ain't going to hurt no more."
Three years later, she still wonders if she could have done something that would have prevented the shooting. To this day, when she hears certain noises - say a bang from a construction sight - her heart beats faster.
But her counselor has helped her make peace with what happened.
"It took some time," she said.
Tavon talks less openly about the shooting and its repercussions. Often he buries his head in his hands before answering a question, and even then he's terse.
"Good," he said when asked how he's feeling. But he had a qualifier.
"In the past, I didn't used to have no attitude," he said. "Now I have an attitude."
In these three years, everyone in Tavon's family has been buoyed by the people who have stuck with them. They received more support than most shooting victims do, and they know it.
They make a point of saying how grateful they are to Thompson Bailey, a Denver real estate investor who heard about the shooting on the news when it happened. He came to Chicago to help them find their new house, gave Washington a car and regularly checks in. He got in touch this week because he knew the anniversary was coming up.
And one day this summer, the two detectives on the case stopped by to surprise Tavon with a Milwaukee Bucks jersey.
(A Police Department spokesperson said that two arrests were made in Tavon's shooting but both people were released without charges.)
On the anniversary of the shooting, Washington marked the time quietly by making Tavon's favorite meal: pot roast, mac and cheese, greens and cucumbers, served with tropical punch Kool-Aid.
In a couple of weeks, Tavon and Taniyah will enter eighth grade, the grade that marks the end of childhood, the beginning of people seriously asking, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"
Taniyah dreams of being a radiologist or a counselor. Tavon dreams of growing up to be a basketball player, though he also imagines himself playing football.
One of his favorite Netflix series is "All American," the tale of a black teenager who's recruited from his inner-city black high school to play at wealthy Beverly Hills High. The show starts with a shooting.
I asked Tavon what he liked about it. The main character, he said.
"What he grew up from, and what he became."
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com