Last summer, we were outside doing yard work when this young man walking down the street asked if there was anything he could do to help us. We told him that he and his friend could come back the next day and help us move brush and cut down trees.
We were skeptical that he would come back because what kid wants to spend their hot summer day doing yard work when they could spend it doing anything but?
Flea Market Guy and I were shocked and impressed when he showed up bright and early ready to work.
Of course, FMG started up the chainsaw and taught both of the boys how to use it. I wasn’t worried so much about the trees. I was worried that their parents would be mad that we gave them power tools to play with. And I was worried that one of them would cut off a limb of their own, but they were smart and quick learners and nobody lost any fingers.
For the rest of the summer, every week or so, one of the boys, Justin, would always come back. Sometimes he was with his friend. Sometimes he was alone. Always he was kind, polite, and right on time. He would come the day before to see if we needed him to work. If we said yes, he would always show up the next morning. Always.
Once, he even went next door to our elderly neighbors house and helped him by picking weeds out of the flower bed.
Justin was one of those kids that kind of restores your faith in “kids these days.” Polite. Punctual. Responsible. Friendly.
There were a couple times last summer that Justin came by and asked if he could borrow our lawn mower. He had yards to mow and his wasn’t working. We always said yes, because we knew he would bring it back in one piece. One time, he brought it back, but a cover had fallen off the oil filter or something. He left and backtracked to where he had been trying to find it, but never did. We ended up ordering another cover and fixing it, but the fact that he even bothered to accept responsibility and go look for it was more than most teenage boys would do.
When school started back up, we didn’t see him for a while. At first we thought he had moved, but then one day in December or January, he came walking down our street. We were so happy to see him. He stopped and talked to FMG for a while. They talked about COVID and the new way of school. He told us about his friend who moved out of town that used to help him. I went in the house. They stood outside chatting for a little while longer and then he went on his way. We didn’t see him again.
I found out today that Justin had been shot and killed almost 3 months ago.
He was 15.
He was the first in a string of teenage deaths in my neighborhood this year. We never knew his last name and there was barely a picture in the one article I saw.
Since the beginning of 2021, there have been 5 deaths of young people. They all go to the same school. The details are few and far between. And every time there is another one, I call my own son, who went to that school and check on him.
Most of these kids are younger than Mel. Some he has known, some he hasn’t.
And like many people in my neighborhood, I feel helpless.
There are speculations whispered in the streets about why these things are happening. There are lots of negative comments on social media that I try not to read, because regardless of the circumstances, these are kids. They are someone’s son or daughter.
And now, there is a whole school of son’s and daughter’s being told that they need to learn how to deal with grown up issues like friends dying. A lesson I didn’t have to learn until I was 40. They are being told to go to school when nobody can guarantee that they will make it home alive or that they will even make it out of the school alive. Everybody is talking but nobody is saying anything useful.
I’m heartbroken about Justin.
I don’t know his mother. I don’t know his father. I wish I did. I want to hug his mom and tell her that her son was so kind and always laughed at FMG’s stupid jokes. I want to tell her that he was hard worker and he was punctual. I want to tell her that we always looked forward to him coming by because he always brought a little extra sunshine to our yard.
I’m really fucking sad that this is the world we are giving to our kids. I’m really sad that lives are not valuable anymore. I’m sad for Justin and his siblings. I’m sad for the other four sets of parents that had to bury their children this year. I’m sad that the news gives them 4 lines of text that is supposed to sum up who these kids were.
I didn’t know Justin well. And I’m sad that 5 years from now, if his younger brother’s are looking online for his story, that all they will find is a 200 word news article with a blurry photo. I hope they come across this blog and read about how he made a difference in his neighbors’ lives. I hope they know that his smile was something we looked forward to. Most of all, I hope they remember that he was worth way more than 200 words and a fuzzy picture.
They say it takes a village, but we are no longer villagers.
We live in neighborhoods and we are no longer neighbors.
The unity has left our communities.
And I am sad about it all and I don’t know what to do about it.
For Justin Q. Taylor 2005-2021