Over the weekend, we lost somebody in the neighborhood. Well, to be fair, he's not exactly lost. We know where he is. He's in jail. It's not the first time, and it probably won't be the last, but from now on when he gets out he won't be coming back to our street.
When we moved into our house thirteen years ago, Greg was ten years old. At the time, he was lumped in with the rest of the kids in our neighborhood. They were sad to have to give up their playground, the one that was our yard, that they had the run of while the house had been empty. Over the first year that we lived there, we made peace with the tribe and made a deal: we would be happy to share our grass and our trees with them as long as they remembered to knock on our door and ask first. Greg never did. He was easily identified even at that relatively young age as a kid who was looking for trouble. He would hang to the back, and seldom made eye contact. Even though the front door of his apartment opened up with a view directly into our living room window, we didn't have much of a connection, if at all.
As he lurched into his teenage years, his mother remained patient with him, and his younger brother seemed to be embarrassed by his increasingly frequent outbursts. At first we were patient. I felt like it was a little karma payback for my angry youth period. Now I was the neighbor and there was a kid across the way who screamed and slammed and tore things up. Even so, my wife and I wondered how long the family could hold on to their apartment with all the other tenants either confronting or being afraid of this burgeoning hooligan.
Then there were the drugs. As he grew older still, it became obvious that he wasn't simply smoking the occasional joint. He would sit on the steps of his building, sometimes with a buddy or two but more often all by himself, enveloped in a cloud of ganja. Having done my time back in the day buying drugs myself, it was apparent that Greg wasn't simply involved for his own personal use. The short drives around the block in strange cars. Visitors at all hours of the day and night. He was in sales. Often times I wondered if that was why his mother tolerated his behavior. Maybe she was happy to have the additional income, or at least that her son had found an avocation.
Somewhere in there, the younger son moved out. He had enough of the stress and strife, not to mention the increasingly frequent visits from the Oakland Police. By now, my wife and I wondered how much longer we could put up with this kid. This young man. I had repaired and replaced slats on our fence after he had thrown a tantrum. On one particularly memorable evening, he kicked his front door hard enough to split the frame. After he had stormed off into the night, I went over with my tools and repaired it as best as I could, just so his mother could close the door.
Last week, she finally chose to close the door and keep it closed. She and her younger son have moved away. They aren't telling Greg where they are going. They gave his girlfriend all of his stuff, packed up their own and left. To say that this parting was bittersweet would be an understatement. The relief my wife, who was subject to his foul moods and carryings-on throughout the week, felt was large enough that she had to contain her glee as she hugged Greg's mom and wished her well. But it wasn't a victory. It was an escape. I can easily imagine an enraged Greg, fresh from his stay in jail, showing up across the way and having one more flurry of obscenities and destruction of property before he disappears for good. And becomes somebody else's neighbor.