Death in the Sticks

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I found out yesterday that one of my neighbors from the sticks finally lost his battle to cancer. He had a brain tumor. He was only seventeen. Just a kid. I can’t believe I knew him and now he’s gone.

He wore his pants baggy, almost falling off. His boxers hanging out the top by at least four inches. He often wore a trucker cap crooked on his bald head. One of his hats had fake dreads handing out the back. He was one of those gangster types that you usually try not to stare at too hard because they might ask you what you’re looking at and start a fight. I hate to admit it but I was afraid of him because of what he looked like. I think the feeling was mutual.

As we lived next door to him and we saw each other day after day we began to trust each other. He’d saunter off down the street to score some weed to get high and take away the pain and he’d nod his head at me as he walked by. Sometimes he’d even smile. A really small smile but it was there.

Over time I made friends with everyone in the neighborhood. Even the riff raff. Everyone had a story. Everyone had a reason for why they turned out the way they did, why they became criminals or drug addicts or alcoholics. Everyone had family problems. Everyone had pain. It wasn’t so black and white. I couldn’t just turn my back on them because they were down and out. I knew them. I knew their stories. And so I became friends with them.

Sometimes they would come hang out on my patio and smoke and drink. I tried not to let it be a bad influence on Bug but at the same time I wanted her to learn compassion. When she was gone with her dad I would let them come hang out and take a little break from their crazy lives on my patio. It was a fine line to walk, letting them in but not getting sucked into their worlds.

Some day I would love to write a book about all the crazy neighbors I’ve met in my life, especially on the journey I’ve been on lately. I could tell so many tales. But what’s amazing about it all is how they’ve touched me even more than I’ve touched them. Their stories are full of twists and turns, unfairness and pain but deep inside everyone I’ve met, even the craziest ones, there is a gold nugget of love and humanity.

I don’t want to say that all people are inherently good. I know there are messed up psychopaths who deserve no compassion but I have learned that if you listen to someone’s story, you will be amazed by the challenges they’ve been faced with, the breadth of adversity they’ve been up against, why they made this or that bad decision. It’s a lot harder to judge someone once you’ve heard their story. And everyone has a story.

Allen had a story. He didn’t really tell me too much about it. Little bits and pieces here and there. It’s not the kind of thing you tell the “crazy white lady next door.” I knew his dad was in jail for beating up his girlfriend with pipe on the freeway. His siblings were in and out of foster care and there were like twenty of them. I knew his mom, she was such a kind, sweet woman who always said hi to me but she kept to herself. I can’t really share her story, but know that it was not easy. So, so, so, not easy.

Allen wasn’t really going anywhere in life. If you asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up he’d just laugh at you like it was a joke. He knew he wasn’t going to grow up. It was just one day at a time for him. Just figuring out where his next high was going to come from was all that mattered. He had tattoo of a cross on his arm and he liked to tell me that he read his bible every day and he prayed. I believed him. Bug and I prayed for him too. For a time there we thought we prayed his brain tumor away. But then it came back.

And now he’s gone. I can’t believe I knew him. But I’m glad I did.

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