Jeremy Kerley sends text message after text message, knowing he'll never receive a reply.
But he doesn't care.
The process is painful but therapeutic, a necessary step to quiet the hurt. With each message he types, Kerley is reminded of how tight the bond he had once was. But as soon as he hits "send'' on his iPhone, he remembers just how cruel life can be.
The Jets receiver and his "little brother,'' Josh Wilson, used to talk about everything -- life, relationships and especially football. Their bond was tighter than anyone could imagine, their connection deeper than anyone could comprehend.
Even now, Kerley can't go a day without talking to Wilson -- or at least trying.
Wilson was just 25 when his body was found on Oct. 29 after a single-car accident near Kerley's hometown of Hutto, Texas. And after more than a month, Wilson's absence still feels surreal.
"I send him texts as if nothing happened. That's my way of kind of getting over it,'' said Kerley, who celebrated his 26th birthday just 10 days later.
In the midst of another lost season for the Jets (2-9), Kerley is trying to come to terms with the unexplained death of one of his closest confidants. He struggles to stay focused on football at all times.
"It's hard. It's real hard,'' said Kerley, a married father of three. "I think about my little bro all the time.''
"Living through me"
Oddly enough, there was a time when the two were strangers. They were related through marriage, not by blood. "But close enough,'' Kerley said quickly before explaining that his aunt is married to Wilson's uncle.
It wasn't until the sixth grade -- when Wilson relocated about eight miles from Pflugerville, Texas, to Hutto -- that the two realized they were family.
"It was crazy because we were eyeing each other up, like new territory stuff,'' Kerley said, smiling. "So he came over and I was like, 'Who are you?' And then we got to rapping and he was like, 'I've got family in Hutto.' ''
Their bond was cemented that day.
Both were gifted athletes at Hutto High. But there was something special about the future Jet.
"We always kind of knew that I was going to be the one to make it out for everybody,'' said Kerley, whose hometown of almost 20,000 is about 28 miles northeast of Austin. "So he was cool with it.''
Even as a freshman, Kerley was Hutto's best player, according to Mickey Bushong, his high school offensive coordinator. As a sophomore, he was the district defensive player of the year. The following year, he was named the district MVP after quarterbacking Hutto to the state final. As a receiver and return specialist at TCU, he twice was named the Mountain West Conference's special teams player of the year. And in 2010, he was a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award, given to the most versatile player in major college football.
"Me playing football was good enough for him,'' said Kerley, a fifth-round pick of the Jets in 2011. "My little bro was good just living through me.''
Stifling the pain
According to local news reports that cited the Texas Department of Public Safety, Wilson was driving his 2003 Buick LeSabre east of Hutto, along Farm Road 1660, when he drove off the roadway. His car went through a barbed-wire fence and drove into a 25-foot-deep creek bed before hitting boulders on the side of a culvert.
Though Kerley said it's assumed that it was an accident, family and friends still aren't sure. They say Wilson said he was jumped by several people the previous day, so some still question whether foul play was involved.
But regardless of the circumstances, Wilson is gone. And that reality sometimes is too much for the soft-spoken Kerley to bear. He prefers to keep to himself and bottle up his emotions. It's the only way he knows how to be.
"It's been difficult learning how to battle with the emotions of trying to get ready for a football game when that's on my mind 24/7,'' said Kerley, who is second on the Jets in receptions (31) and receiving yards (303). "Prior to that, I felt I had been doing pretty good. I felt like I had a pretty solid season.''
His teammates haven't noticed a change in Kerley's demeanor or a drop-off in his focus. His best friend, running back Bilal Powell, said Kerley does his job every day, as he always had.
"If he's feeling any type of emotion, he does a great job of hiding it,'' said Powell, who was drafted one round ahead of Kerley.
Powell said they talk all the time, "but only what he wants to talk about.'' The running back knows not to push.
"Death is one of the saddest parts about reality,'' Powell said. "That's tough on anybody. You've got to let that person come around. It's not going to get better. It's just one of those things you just have to learn to live with.''
Each day, Kerley stifles the pain as best he can. Just for a little while, just long enough to get through a practice, or a meeting, or a game. Then the dull ache in his heart returns.
"I try, but it's almost impossible,'' he said. "There isn't 10 seconds that go by that I don't think about my little brother.''
On Tuesday night, Wilson came to Kerley in a dream. It was so vivid and natural -- the two of them sitting and talking, just like old times.
Kerley said Wilson speaks to him "all the time.'' But on this occasion, Wilson felt compelled to dole out advice.
In the dream, he could sense there were things weighing on Kerley's mind. So he spoke to him. Like a brother.
Said Kerley: "We had a good talk.''