It’s the sixth day and Devonte Smith is still hurting.
On July 11, his younger sister, Dariene Smith, was out with friends in downtown Columbus, Ohio when a stray bullet from an unrelated altercation struck her in the back. She later died at an area hospital. She was only 23 years old.
Less than a week later, the 26-year-old lightweight prospect lives a life irrevocably changed, and he knows it. But he’s fighting through the tears and the pain.
“Today being day six, I'm managing pretty well,” Smith said last Friday. “The first couple days were not good. It's like it's a dream, and when you're actually experiencing it, it's a different understanding. It's a dream you're consistently trying to wake up from, but you never do. You have to deal with this new reality that your sister is gone, taken away from you due to gun violence and people not knowing how to settle their differences. People don't know how to take an ass whupping and just be cool with it. It's just too much.”
It was the latest blow in a year that has seen Smith deal with a series of issues in and out of the Octagon that have him wondering where the next one is coming from.
“I've been waiting,” he chuckles. Usually, a chat with the Cleveland native includes more than its fair share of laughs. Not today, though the brief chuckle lets you know that “King Kage” is still there. “I broke my nose, I lost my fight, tore my Achilles, then the corona hit, and now my sister's gone. I'm trying to stay up for the championship rounds, but I'm close to throwing in the towel.”
He won’t. He’s come too far to give up now, especially with the reality that in the last two weeks he’s transformed from uncle to father figure for Darien’s six-year-old daughter and two-year-old son.
“I'm blessed that my sister left me a boy and a girl, a piece of her,” he said. “You've got to look at the blessings, whether they're big or little. You gotta keep moving.”
Smith recalls a conversation with his mother about his new role.
“I thought maybe that's just me being me and I'm putting that on myself that I'm an uncle / dad now,” he said. “And I'm talking to my mom and she was like, 'Nah, that's for real. You are the father figure now.'”
It’s one he’s embracing, as tough as that is for little ones just coming to grips that mom isn’t coming home. It’s especially tough on Darien’s daughter, who is old enough to know what just happened.
“I thought she understood but really didn't get it,” said Smith. “It was kind of like that on the first day when we told her. But the second day, she just broke down. She wasn't making any faces, but her mouth was just wide open, and she was crying and pushing out sounds. She wouldn't talk, she didn't want to lay down, she didn't let me hold her. She just sat there and cried for like 45 minutes.”
Smith and his family have done their share of crying as well, eventually turning that into smiles as they recall Darien’s life and the impact she had on theirs in just 23 years. Now big brother can smile a little.
“First off, she will always be my annoying sister,” he laughs. “The one and only person that could get under my skin. I cherish our arguments, our good times and bad times.”
“How can I explain Darien?” Smith continues. “She was a very strong-minded, bull-headed woman who loved to have fun. She was very outgoing, and now I'm learning new stories about her that shows me that she was even more outgoing than I thought she was. She was still finding her way and she was getting to that point where she was finding her way. She was only 23, with two kids. She just got her first apartment, she jumped from the nest and she was pushing through and dealing with the adult problems and handling them like an adult. She was finding her way, but she still loved to have fun. She loved to go out, she loved dancing and she loved her kids.”
In the midst of finding her way, Darien held two jobs, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, her full-time job turned into a part-time one, leaving her without life insurance. A family friend has launched a GoFundMe page to aid with funeral and burial expenses and financial assistance for her two children. The Smith family is thankful for the outpouring of support, but Devonte would give it all back to have his sister around.
“I'd rather her be here,” he said. “She wanted to plan ahead and plant that seed, but the pandemic kinda messed that up. Every little thing, it just hurts.”
Smith is being strong, though, which is necessary for the uncle turned father figure. And like everything else he’s gone through, he’s facing this challenge head-on.
“For anyone who's just now going through this or may go through this, I pray that you don't,” he said. “But you just gotta take it day by day. First day, it's gonna hurt, but it may not hurt that bad. The second day is horrible. Third day is horrible. The fourth day gets a little easier, but that's horrible too. Fifth day, your energy starts to shift and right now I'm on day six. It's the time part. And you have to wait 24 hours until it's the next day and the next day, and you have to keep repeating that and you just gotta stay as positive as you can. Seeing my family and my mom going through this, it's very hard. But we're getting through it.”