If it had not been for my mother’s penchant for getting her exercise by walking around the block, we may never have met Justin. He lived one street over from us on the state streets and he entered our lives the day he asked to join us - my mom, my brother and me.

I’ll never know how many times he watched us pass by before coming out to greet us. 

Justin was one year my junior and two years older than my brother. Their birthdays were one day apart.

They became fast friends, and he soon became my other brother. I never recorded him on my Fisher Price tape recorder, but he was the subject of many a sisterly jab.

He had a swimming pool with a spiral slide, and we three spent many an hour there, laughing and carrying on as children do.

He and my brother spent countless hours playing the “Contra” video game, and I’ll never forget hearing them repeat this game code until even I nearly knew it by heart: “Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start.”

Justin ended up attending Baytown Christian Academy with us for a year or two, and then he joined me at Baytown Junior in sixth grade.

I’ll never forget the time he tried to cut in front of me in the lunch line. Instead of allowing him to do so, I dug my nails into his arm until he surrendered and walked away. He liked to tell me he still had the scars years later, although I was never sure if it was true or if he was just messing with me. Ironically, it was a memory that brought us both joy and reminded us of our bond. What else would siblings – if not by blood, but in spirit – do?

We moved the summer after sixth grade, and Justin came to visit us at our new abode. We were helping my mom by clearing branches and throwing them into a giant burn pile, but the real fun began when the fire was lit. 

The pile was transformed into an entity dubbed “Firedog,” and we began “feeding” him the branches. What began as a chore became a fun game, one we did not soon forget. 

When I look back on my childhood, Justin is often there. He is and always will be a part of many a memory. 

He moved away shortly after we did and we saw him off and on throughout the years. He would call or text my brother every year to wish him a happy birthday the day after his own.

I saw my brother on July 27 and asked him if he’d heard from Justin. He said he had not and sent a text, to which I thought Justin replied. He hadn’t, and six days later we found out why. He died on July 26.

Although we had not spoken in years, my heart broke then and there.

The relationship I had with Justin when we were young was like a stone in the foundation of my life – and now he is gone. 

So I write, to honor his memory and the place he held in our hearts and lives.

As the Eleventh Doctor from “Doctor Who” said to his friend Amy Pond, “You’ll remember me a little. I will be a story in your head. That’s OK. We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh; because it was, you know. It was the best. And the times we had, eh…. In your dreams they’ll still be there.”

 Stacy Parent is a lifelong resident of Baytown.

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