BIRTH: Michael Brandon Heath was born on Thursday night, July 26, 1979 to Mike and Dale Heath. He was the only son, youngest of three, brother to Andrea and Vanessa. He was born in Milton, Florida like his sisters and raised most of his life in Crestview.
Brandon was always a creative person and drew pictures in detail from as early as 4 years old. I remember his first detailed drawing that indicated his talent. It was of his father’s truck. Although, he could not see underneath the truck, he drew what he believed the truck to look like with muffler and all. He was an exceptional little artist with many more drawings to come. As his love for art increased he was delegated to draw for teachers throughout his school years. He won school sponsored contests and then county sponsored contests in his high school years. His love for art was intertwined with his many other interests. He was our “Renaissance Man.” Whatever he attempted he did so with passion and dedication. It was his design that was elected by his classmates to be used for their class t-shirt.As early as kindergarten, Brandon’s teacher noticed that he had a learning comprehension problem. She was concerned that he had dyslexia but after testing that was ruled out. Because of no real answers she suggested that it was because of his age and immaturity ( “boys mature slower that girls do”.) Brandon started school the month after he turned five. He was left hand dominant and wrote things backwards so it was a challenge for me, his right handed mother, to help him write the correct way but we managed. In fourth grade, Brandon’s teacher suggested that Brandon be tested for ADD because of his lack of focus in the classroom. We went through the school psychologist and then to our family doctor for him to be tested. After it was concluded that he did indeed have ADD (passive form of ADHD) he was put on Ritalin. We saw immediate improvement. From then on, through the school year only, he was medicated. When Brandon entered fifth grade, he was also interested in writing. His teacher showed much interest in Brandon. Sometimes I thought he must be her “pet.” I thought this again when she introduced herself at his memorial. I was very touched by her attendance and her support. Brandon’s writing was such that when he had to take the writing portion of the fifth grade tests his essay was singled out to be used in the Florida Writes booklet used as an example of good writing. He continued throughout his life to improve on his writing skills. He was a dedicated writer, hoping to one day be published. The thing is, he never submitted anything that he had completed. He was always “going to do it.” When Brandon was seven he played soccer, basketball, and baseball, all just for one season because he had to be eight years old before he could play community football. We wanted him to try one season of all the sports before we/he made the decision of just one sport to play. We were blessed with three talented children whom we encouraged to be involved in school and extracurricular events and let them choose the one thing in which they could devote their time and our money. We knew it would be expensive but we managed to afford their choices even though, that “one” thing would turn out to be more than one. We spent many hours on the road between football, band, and cheer leading, music, school musicals, etc… and all things school. Brandon’s love was football. At every community football game (Tigers) he would run across the field and pile on top of the already tackled opponent and then look up into the stands to see if we had seen him make “the tackle”….it was that something “cute” we came to expect. In middle school Brandon learned the sport from that disappointed view of the sidelines. The coaches (Mikel and Day) were very much prone to playing their favorites with their focus on just winning the games and not really teaching all the players how to play the game. I know I would cry behind my sunglasses when they played a game during the day when my young man would pace behind the coaches, hoping to get to play. I know he was very disheartened and I hated to see him dismissed by the uncaring men who first taught my sweet son the hard lesson of rejection. But they were not the only ones…..girls, a particular one, came into the picture…that first real love that makes a young man realize the ambition of his hormones. His middle school years were fraught with bullying and disappointment. I did what I could about both but sometimes I think the scope of things were never made known to me. I learned after the fact through poems that had been written by Brandon about the bathroom and locker room bullying. Most of the bullying was done by black kids who were protected by their color…reverse discrimination. My son was the sweet, towheaded, angel who was kind to everyone and yet, those who could get away with harming him…did. He never came home bruised or cut but whatever happened, happened to his emotional make-up…something that would last a life time. Brandon still remained hopeful, in those years, and he strove to be the best in everything he did….weight lifting included. It was an intentional effort to build muscles that anyone would fear and he did just that. Those same bullies that followed him to high school grew to respect him. Brandon attended local schools and was an alumni of the same high school all of our family attended, including his sisters and aunts and uncles. While in middle school and high school, he was an excellent athlete in football and weightlifting. He broke the school record in his junior year. In 1994, Brandon’s sophomore year in high school, he helped lead the Crestview Bulldogs to the last round in the state playoffs. He played both offense and defense and he very seldom on the sidelines. In fact, the sports commentators speculated “how good it is that #60, Brandon Heath, has two more years on the team.” Ironically, it was the very coach (Day) that ignored Brandon at middle school, who made that comment on the radio/video the night of one of the crucial games that would see them to the final playoffs. Brandon’s record that season was exceptional. We were so very proud of him, as always. * I will note here that I do not apologize for being a gloating mom. Brandon’s high school years were tumultuous emotional years for him, concerning his relationships with girls….always girls. He struggled with the up and down days of his youth and I was privileged to be the one he came to for encouragement. I am thankful that he felt that he could share those tender, difficult times and concerns with me, his mom. I don’t know that I always gave the right advice but whatever I did was always for my children’s welfare and prayed that they would accept what wisdom I could impart. Brandon was growing spiritually at this time, too. One time late at night after he came in from a date, he shared with me about his doubts and fears. Tears fell to the floor as he propped his elbows on his knees, sitting on the edge of the couch. During Brandon’s senior year we helped him apply to different universities that were more about his desire to play football than his regard for academics. Brandon played well during his high school years but was never really noticed by any recruiters who may have visited at that time. Brandon had high aspirations for playing football at Florida State University under coach Bobby Bowden even as a “walk on”… of course, it was not meant to be. We took him to an art college in Memphis and submitted his portfolio but on the long drive back we (his dad and I ) decided it was just too far away to send him. I saw the look of relief cross Brandon’s face when we revealed our concerns to him. Needless to say, he did not attend there, either. When the year was over and he had graduated from high school we agreed that the way to go was to spend that first year closer to home at the community college. He eventually applied to the one near our town. He did not take it seriously because of the company he kept at the time….it was just a joke. Both he and Jeremy attended the same classes. When Brandon decided to get serious (and stop listening to Jeremy) he decided to go to Troy State University but stayed only for a semester…because of, yes, ….a girl. It seemed that this was a serious relationship and the distance was not working out. She was unfaithful and a party girl. She is the one that he writes about most in his dream/prayer journal. Unfortunately, Brandon was too influenced by friends..one in particular who was a leech…Jeremy, a bad tumor hanging on to our son’s life….a malignancy who turned out to be with our son the night he died 10 yrs. later. Jeremy was a friend from their high school sophomore year. He would be the one to introduce Brandon to his future and fatal wife and stand with them as Best Man at the wedding on January 20, 2001. Those two would also be with our son on the night of his “suicide.” (note * those two moved into together just two weeks after our memorial service for Brandon.) GIRLFRIENDS: Brandon was a tenderhearted child and easy to love…even from the first grade he had little girls calling our house and leaving messages. I still have a few of those tapes with two of those giggly girls laughing and calling together to say “I love you, Brandon.” Everyone thought it was cute and his sisters and we would tease him lovingly about his girlfriends. I also have nearly every note that was written to him. His very first girlfriend, Rachel, was at his memorial. In fact, there were quite a few of his girlfriends at his memorial. As far as I know they had not been in touch since high school. Both Rachel and Karen were two I specifically remember. There were numerous little girlfriends throughout elementary school. His first serious love was in the 7th grade. A girl named Allison. Her mother taught art at their school. Allison and her parents also attended our church. I remember when she and Brandon started liking each other we allowed Brandon to bring her along to the state fair in a neighboring town. They were holding hands and whispering in the back seat. I would occasionally turn around to speak. It was strange to see my little boy with a girlfriend. Brandon in the 7th grade. Brandon began wearing cologne in this phase of discovering girls. I would often have to tell him to go back to the bathroom and wash some of it off. There was that scent of Eternity …that was strong and lasted for an eternity and Brandon had a hard time adjusting just how much to put on before he left the house. Like most boys who are becoming aware of themselves, he began to take notice of what he was wearing. He liked to dress neatly and in style, which meant those skateboarding types of clothes and whatever the name of the shoes that were popular at the time. It was during the delicate years of puberty that I noticed Brandon’s moodiness…or what I thought was teen angst. He stayed more in his room and drew a lot..but that was not all than unusual. He wrote stories and created comic characters. He seemed mad for no real reason. Brandon also became more dedicated to building his muscles and working out. Football was his sport of choice and he knew it helped him get the girls. Allison was one of the cheerleaders. From this point on, her initial will be the only way I identify her. A. was popular and both her parents were teachers in the school system. Her mother was an art teacher at the same middle school that Brandon and A. attended and her father taught biology at the high school. Her parents were divorced and both had remarried. A’s mother was thrilled that Brandon and her daughter were an item. She didn’t mind sharing that when we would see each other at church. I most certainly did not think that seventh graders should be seriously involved. A’s mother couldn’t wait for Brandon to take art the following year. For the most part, the seventh grade was that first year of “puppy love.” Eighth grade would prove to be more of a challenge to me…mother of a son who was head over heels in love. I wish I could have prevented all the hurt that would be coming Brandon’s way because of A. and her mother. Brandon was consumed with his emotions at this time. He really did love A. He wrote notes to her and stayed on the phone talking endlessly with her. It was at this time that my husband and I had our home built. We chose a secluded area out of town in a rural subdivision a year before, not really knowing that A. lived a bicycle ride from us. It was a great temptation for a 13 yr. old boy. Brandon was not allowed to visit A. unless her mother or step father were at home. I am sure that Brandon would visit when we didn’t know about it because he had a good friend who lived even closer to A. and Brandon was over at that friend’s house a lot. One Saturday during the summer following the eighth grade, A.’s mother asked if Brandon could come over to visit and watch a movie. She assured me that she and her husband would be there to chaperon and that I had nothing to worry about. I don’t recall how long Brandon was at their house but I do remember that Brandon was brought home by the step father. When Brandon came in he was quiet and went to his room. I just thought he was tired even though it was in the middle of the afternoon. The next day at church I was treated oddly by A’s parents. I smiled and was my usual self but there was something not quite right. I didn’t know what to make of it. I found out when A.’s mother called a couple of weeks later to ask if I would meet her at the chapel at church so that we could talk. She asked me if Brandon had said anything to me about the day he had been invited over. Of course, he had not. A.s mother was a friend of our pastor because his daughter was the best friend of A. I remember feeling as if a student being summoned to the principal’s office upon arriving at the church to meet with A’s mother. We had agreed to meet at the chapel. The preacher drove by as he was leaving the church and I saw him leaning far over the steering wheel to see if he could see us. She had obviously told him of our meeting. I guess she felt safe there in light of what she had to tell me. She had piercing green contacts in her eyes that she always wore. They made her look alien and creepy. Her dark bobbed hair was always topped off with her sunglasses and her face always prudish like that of a snobby debutante …if she hadn’t been so short she would have been looking down her primped up nose at me. I would have described her just the same even if I hadn’t been upset with her for what she was about to reveal. We took a seat in one of the pews. I don’t remember our conversation verbatim but the gist of it was that she and her husband had both retreated to their kitchen the day Brandon was invited to come for a visit, leaving the kids in the den. When she looked in on them after a few minutes, Brandon and A were in an embrace and that Brandon’s hands were all over A. SHOCKING!! Adults leave room…Romeo and Juliet caught GROPING!! And the House of Capulet crashes. Of course, I expressed my disappointment in Brandon and that I understood her feelings about having them not “see” each other anymore but you would have thought that her daughter had not reciprocated the embrace and that she was a victim of rape! I remember being so kind and nice to that woman all the while she was planning my son’s demise. I even stated to her before I left the chapel that maybe in the future Brandon and A. could be friends again. She agreed…Liar. It certainly explained why Brandon was sullen and not himself. He had told me that he and A had broken up but he did not tell me why. Meanwhile, the mother of A went on an all out campaign against my son. She must have painted a lurid picture to her teacher friends, a few of whom attended our church. It was a very unfair picture painted of Brandon. When we had our mother son talk about the matter, I scolded him and thought the break-up was punishment enough…and I had nothing to do with that. Let A.’s mother take the much deserved blame. I could see the my son was hurting and that he felt horrible about his actions. This is the time when Brandon’s pictures took a darker turn and he began to think about suicide as depicted in all of his drawings and writings. His depression was expressed in poetry and stories and the comics he created. I decided it was time to take Brandon to counseling to a child psychologist. He saw a male counselor who related well to Brandon and took him fishing at a pond right outside his office. After a time, the counselor decided that Brandon was going through situational depression and concluded the therapy. When school began a month later, it was a very tough time for Brandon. His first year in high school was overshadowed by a pubescent mistake between two consenting, hormonal teens. He did not want to go to the usual events he used to love. He did not want to ever go back to our church. I understood his feelings and for a time I did not make him come to church. I didn’t feel like being there either but I taught the youth Sunday School. News got out about the fall from grace and the telling was all one-sided as told by A’s mother. I can’t imagine her audience not coming to the conclusion that A. was somehow a willing participant. Why would a mother tell this kind of story to the general public…the school public? Didn’t she know it would make her child look bad, too? I don’t think she told the truth about any of it but I was hot on her heels telling the real story once I found out how she was imposing her side on anyone in the teacher’s lounge. To make matters worse, I was a substitute teacher for the county and spent much of my time at Brandon’s school. Our phone was constantly ringing from the calls of other girls who found out that Brandon was available. He took it in stride and was kind to them but his heart had been sold out to A. and he was having a difficult time. He was too busy with football to really be able to enjoy other activities. Football was all consuming and it could have been a good distraction except for the fact that teachers/coaches are like a clan, especially in a small town. They all feed from the same trough. I have to stop here…this is where my son’s life takes a significant turn…one that molds him and takes him into the real world where I could not protect him. I will add here that I am combating the emotions that run high while in the midst of my grief and loss, so I write Brandon’s biography as I am able to bear it. I promise to continue writing in the near future.