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Book helps author break free from trauma of brother’s killing

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Carlene “Zavane” Spencer-Darrell with her new book, Why I Killed My Brother (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A Bermudian author has laid bare the true story of her brother’s killing at the hands of her other brother in a book that has been 15 years in the making.

Carlene “Zavane” Spencer-Darrell said the process of writing Why I Killed My Brother has helped her to come to terms with the traumatic event and conquer some of her own inner demons.

She is to host a book signing and discussion session tomorrow evening.

Published by Bermudian Brooklyn Knight in December, the paperback not only documents the tragic Court Street stabbing that led to the death of her youngest brother in 1995, it addresses some of the root causes of the incident that were born within her own family.

Ms Spencer-Darrell, who was in her thirties when her brother died, tells the story from her perspective. She said: “For me, during the writing phase there were a lot of tears and isolation, and some moments of awe. You read back and say, is that who I was?

“Bermuda has such a culture of pride and secrecy, and for me it created a huge internal struggle with how I presented myself and who I really was inside.

“There was a lot of guilt for me as it related to my brothers and this gave me an exhaling moment, I could breathe – it is freeing.

“When you judge yourself, you think everyone else is judging you and it is a horrible way to be. Healing is a never-ending journey and there are trigger moments when I go right back to my old self but it is about working through that process.”

Carlene “Zavane” Spencer-Darrell’s new book, Why I Killed My Brother (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

While the events in the book are true to life, Ms Spencer-Darrell has used different names for the characters and has written it under her pen name and true middle name Zavane which in Swahili means Strong Girl.

Her deceased brother is penned as Nia [Unity in Swahili] Cole and the brother who killed him as Jake Cole.

The book is dedicated to Nia. In her dedication she describes him as: “The most beautiful baby I had laid eyes on” and that when he became a young man he was “carefree and always maintained a balanced demeanour”.

Ms Spencer-Darrell was forced to care for her brothers from the age of 11 as her mother worked three jobs and her father was a fisherman and entertainer.

She saw herself as a Cinderella figure and went overseas to attend elementary school in St Kitts.

This is where much of her guilt stems from as she believed that if she had stayed with her brothers “things wouldn’t have gone south between them”.

She also documents a difficult relationship with her mother and a messy divorce between her parents that led her brothers to take sides, not to mention other dramatic events.

“I am starting from when the dynamics of my family led to this event,” she explained. “You never know what is going on behind closed doors, you just see the behaviour and you see the consequence of that.”

She said that the book is particularly poignant in Bermuda’s current climate of violence and said that people had reached out to her to express how it is helping them. One of them was a 20-year-old Black male who told her that her book had made him reconsider the direction of his life.

Ms Spencer-Darrell was featured on the Magic 102.7 talk show On All Fronts! in March with Lew Simmons, Director of Academics for the Department of Education. During the show, author and publisher Dale Butler called in.

“They discussed how the book hit to the heart of what we are experiencing now with the violence between the young Black men. So many families need assistance, so many mothers need help.”

Dr Simmons intends to get a copy of the book in the hands of every graduating senior student this year and going forward.

“I am grateful that people are finding something to pull from it and learn from,” Ms Spencer-Darrell said. “It’s not just a story for the sake of gossip, it’s a story of trauma, healing, learning, understanding and hope.”

Speaking of Jake, who was imprisoned for six years for manslaughter, she added: “I am still very hopeful for my brother. His life has never been the same, he lives with that.

“I don’t think he has forgiven himself even though we have forgiven him. You just never know how one’s journey is going to end. As long as there is life, there is hope.”

Ms Spencer-Darrell’s first book was a journal of poetry Addicted to Hash, the Man Not the Drug based on a true relationship, published in 2015.

Her next book, On the Brink of Insanity, is in the making and documents her daughter’s journey of loss.

The book signing is scheduled to take place tomorrow from 6pm to 9pm at The Griot book store on Parliament Street, Hamilton, where the book is available for purchase. There will be a question-and-answer session and a bar, and Brooklyn Knight will be present.

• Why I Killed My Brother is on sale on Amazon, at The Griot and Brown & Company