Lanky Joe Landon is 6 foot 4 inches with a goofy sense of humor. He’s got an inviting smile like his mother who says his bookworm qualities always made him appear more together than most kids his age. Two weeks after Travis died, Joe was back at work at the Harlem Heritage Tourism and Cultural Center, and the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem.
Walk around Harlem and this history buff will point out where Malcolm X took center stage and the problems Harlem is facing today. Children who misbehave at the back of the group may find themselves writing a one-page apology.
The night that Travis was killed haunts Joe because he can’t forgive himself for the words he muttered. His mother just told him Travis had been in an altercation; she didn’t say he’d been shot. At first, Joe was furious that his brother had to interrupt his one night out with his friends. He remembers thinking to himself; “I will kill him if he isn’t hurt.”
The flashbacks are becoming more severe, as the months unfold with no justice for Travis. On January 11th, Travis would have turned 19. Experts say these events can exacerbate PTSD. Joe is now struggling when he’s alone, with family and the community. “I just don’t want to be seen in public anymore,” he said one night in winter when he skipped his performance with the choir.
Nine people in Joe’s life have died since 2005. “ One way or another, [death] comes at me or someone I love like a disease,” he says. “Maybe this is God trying to say I should come home.”
Joe’s beard has grown out and his thin frame seems gaunt. His earrings glow in the sun, matching his navy blue sweater vest and checkered shirt. When he’s not hard at work, Joe finds solace in his music. He never leaves home without his iPod, headphones and some Motown music playing. He also plays the bass guitar but since August he’s lost the motivation to play with other bands and perform because Joe says he can’t find the energy to do much at all.
Since October, Joe has spent most of his nights locking himself up in his apartment in the Wakefield section of the Bronx, and sleeping. “This has really handicapped me mentally, emotionally and physically,” he says. Joe complains of chest pain, shoulder aches and continuous bouts of asthma attacks.
Psychiatrist David Grand believes that frozen trauma in the brain has both psychological and physical effects on the body. “It literally has to do with physiology, which part of the brain reacts most to the trauma,” he says. And the NCPTSD reports that 15 to 35 percent of the patients who complain of the chronic conditions that Joe says he has may also have PTSD.
These emotional, mental and physical symptoms are affecting Joe’s professional life too. Neal Shoemaker, his boss at the Harlem Heritage Tourism and Cultural Center, is worried that Joe isn’t dealing with his grief. The kids at the after-school program have noticed a change in Joe too. His supervisor advised him to see a grief counselor, but Joe says therapy is for the weak. “It’s like this,” he says. “Don’t cry over spilled milk. Wipe it off the floor and move on.” Still, whenever he watches a football or baseball game, Joe remembers Travis. “We used to call each other up and just talk about sports.” His voice softens, “I miss him. I love him.”
Joe only goes to visit his mother for an hour each month because she hasn’t put Travis’ things away. He says it’s just too painful. When Joe went home in October, his mother says he just wept. “Imagine, I’m holding a grown man in my arms as he just cries for his brother.” Joe says, “I just sat there. Waiting and hoping that maybe Travis would come back.”
Travis’ friends aren’t doing any better. Some of them are frustrated that the police haven’t solved their friend’s murder. They are looking for his killer.