This is the story of four kids who probably live in your town. I know, because they lived in mine. Their names are Al, Darren, Jake, and Emily.
Years ago, a family moved in next door. They looked a little rough, talked a little rough, and smoked a little much. We had no idea how rough they were. They had two little boys, Al and Darren. The kids were cute, and. . . kids. They were just two little kids. At first, they kept to themselves, but that didn’t last long. The yelling and fighting and a drinking soon spilled onto the streets and the sidewalks. Dad had a problem. With alcohol? Yup. With drugs? Probably. With mental health? Definitely. With Violence?
And in it all were those two little boys.
We tried to be good neighbors, but how do you do the white suburbia neighbor thing with a drunken redneck wrestling six cops on the sidewalk? You want to know? You get real honest. While other neighbors ignored Dad, threatened Dad, called the cops about everything Dad did, I looked him straight in the eye and told him the truth. We know what goes on in that house, and every time we hearing the yelling, the screaming, the smashing of objects (of people?) we will call the police. Because of two little boys. You know what? Dad kind of respected that.
Those boys got older. They made friends. Another boy, Jake, started hanging around the house and before long a girl, Emily, too. I only got to know one of them well, Al. The others were too young or busy or whatever, but Al would tell me things. The things he told me. Imagine laying on top of your drunken father, pinning him to the ground, because you thought he was going to kill your mother. You aren’t a man, you’re a kid, and you are doing this. Al tried to get out of it, but he had no idea how. Maybe he wanted normal, but he’d never seen it. He tried the military. We went running together to get him in shape, but he barely cleared boot camp. He couldn’t get out because he didn’t know where, or what, out was.
I’m not sure when that ignorant bastard Heroin showed up, but he did.
One night, we were sitting in our kitchen and heard it start next door. It was bad. We were in our house with the windows closed. They were in their house with the windows closed. And we heard her screaming. That’s when it all broke. Dad in jail. Mom in the hospital. They all just disappeared.
After that I didn’t see them for months, but then Al would pop up now and then. He bumped around in different cities fathering different children. One day, he showed up at my house looking for a place to live. His brain was fried. We didn’t want him in the house, so we put him in the backyard and gave him some pizza while I made some calls. He said he forgot something at a friend’s house and left.
The next time I saw him was at Darren’s funeral. Al’s little brother overdosed on Heroin. I went to the memorial service and gave my condolences.
The next time I saw him was at Jake’s baptism. While in prison, Jake met a pastor, and Jesus. Upon his release, he wanted to be baptized. I spoke with Al. He read in the Bible about a baptism by the Holy Spirit that can heal. He was praying for one for himself. He knew that only a miracle could save him from his addiction.
Last month, Al died. Almost exactly a year after his brother. Emily is currently fighting for her life in a coma. This week, Jake was arrested with thousands of dollars in cash and several hundred bags of heroin.
Who are these kids? Are they despicable scum bags who you’d avoid on the street? Yes. Have they made terrible choices and bought into foolish lies? Yes. Are they just kids who needed a Mom and Dad and got a nightmare instead? Yes. Are they people who desperately need your prayers and, God forbid, you kindness as well? Yes.
The most haunting thing about these four is that they are literally our neighbors. Yet, I couldn’t do a damned thing to save them. What’s worse? I don’t think I tried very hard either.