Life Lessons,  Moody Blues,  the sticks

Death in the Sticks


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.


  • JennyBean

    I’m sorry to hear about Allen. But I love your heart in this post. Well done for opening yourself up to the unfamiliar, for stretching the boundaries of your comfort zone and exposing yourself (and Bug) to different people. It is something that I really struggle with sometimes. Well done. :)

  • Stephanie

    I’ve been following your blog for a while now (courtesy of Bethany Actually linking me to it). And I have to say, this is the MOST BEAUTIFUL post I’ve ever read on your blog. Not that I don’t love most of what you share, but it is absolutely beautiful. I linked to it on my facebook page because I think it’s what we all need to remember, that everyone has a story and judging those we don’t know is not helpful to anyone. And that you can let people in without letting them influence your choices. And we can still love them and miss them when they are gone. Beautifully and brilliantly written.

  • Another Elizabeth

    This made me cry. You are such a thoughtful and compassionate person. Thank you for reminding us that everyone is a whole person with a story — often a story of adversity and challenge, and sometimes, a story without a happy ending. For those who have little in life, we may not be able to do much that’s concrete for them, but at least we can choose to really see them and really hear them. I can tell you do that. Good for you. I really admire you for that, and I hope you keep doing it. That makes the world better.

  • Amy

    I know a 17 year old with a terminal brain tumor and it’s awful. He’s already far surpassed any doctor’s expectation of how long he would live, which is awesome, but then there’s the whole not knowing. Should he be planning for college? At first they said he would never drive (because he’d probably die too soon, or the tumor would make it unsafe), but now he does. They said he’d never make it to high school graduation, but who knows now? Every day is a gift.

  • Lorey

    What a beautiful memorial to your neighbor. You were the face of Jesus to Allen- showing kindness, compassion, and acceptance. Bug is very lucky to have a Mom who goes out of her way to instill these traits in her as well. Thank you for sharing this story with us.

  • SAJ

    Wow. Thanks everybody. I don’t mean to paint myself as some kind of saint. I was far from it. I was fearful of my neighbors and I’m sure I didn’t help them as much as I could have. But thank you for your kind words.

  • Jen

    What a sad story :( I wish that Allen’s time on earth was filled with less strife. I think maybe you were meant to be there when you were.

  • Carol

    I am sorry for the loss of Allen. What you say is so true, everybody has a story, and you can never make assumptions about people’s lives and decisions because you just don’t know.

  • bethany

    so sorry, so glad you knew him, and those nuggets are worth digging out … so glad you took the time! never can be sure you got more from them than they did from you, a listening ear and open heart/patio are gold currency for sure. xo.

  • Bethany

    My next door neighbor has two brain tumors; one is cancerous, one is not. She’s become a good friend of mine and taught me a lot about bravery, hope, and compassion. You’re right, EVERYONE has a story. And each one of us is screwed up in one way or another. This is what makes life so very interesting. I’m glad you knew him too.

  • OMSH

    That breaks my heart Brenda. I feel for his family, for his Momma’s loss, for the loss of a life so young, for the hopelessness he seemed to endure. ((Hugs))

  • BeachMama

    Oh Gosh Brenda!! You have touched so many lives in your ‘little journey’ you made a difference in Allen’s life. You cared and showed him compassion, that is more than so many others would have done. Sorry that he is gone, way too young, it seems as though he never really had a chance.

  • bethany actually

    You are so good at finding people’s stories. And now that you’ve shared Allen’s, his story lives on.

    (Unrelated: since when are there so many Bethanys commenting on your blog?)

  • Susan

    Dearest Brenda, that was such a beautiful expression of love and compassion and it deeply touched my heart and will so many others. Allens life was enriched because you chose to make a differance. Bless you for being an example for all of us to reach out, we are all in this world together for a reason….. Love and miss you!

  • Alma

    thanks for sharing this story it really touched me.
    so good of you to expose Bug to these experiences in life to different people.
    he is in a better place and is now remember by great people like you to tell his story.