"WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU KIDS? HEY GET OVER HERE NOW!"
Instantly, I flashed back to my encounter with the Latino boys' mother from Kids in the Alley. How do I look in this moment? Guilty? Have I done something wrong by talking to these kids? Should I keep my distance like "good neighbors" do? Why do I somehow feel defensive like I've been caught red handed?
Maybe I should have slinked away to my apartment, but I don't believe in that. Instead I saw a chance to know another parent in spite of the again imperfect circumstances that prompted this meeting. I walked over to his yard with the kids as they were reprimanded for taking one step out of sight. As an explanation I offered, "They were just asking me about a bike that's behind my garage. I don't know whose it is, though."
He looked at me with plates of food in his hands, maybe not hearing, so I continued, "Do these kids have bikes? I could try to find some kid bikes at the Bike Kitchen if they need some."
Still not responding directly to me he seemed to soften and said, "Tommy, you need a bike don't you?"
I reexplained that they were asking me about a bike that's hanging out behind my garage and has apparently been there for a while. As he set down the food, still sort of evasive of my presence and his acknowledgement of it, I stepped forward and said, "I'm Aaron. I live up there on the second floor."
He told me his name and vice-gripped my hand. I mentally buckled my chin strap. That was the last we said as I left them to their dinner.
Two days later I found him alone outside and he called to me, "YO!" (again with the yelling!) "I hope it's OK but the kids took that bike yesterday since no one was using it." It was OK. I have no clue whose it is or why it was in my yard to begin with; it certainly doesn't belong to anyone in my house.
We talked for several minutes and I came to learn quite a bit about him. He was a railroad worker before his back gave out. He has an online business now and has mostly reinvented himself. Last year he took in a friend and accompanying children who were left homeless after domestic trouble elsewhere. He paid way too much money a week to rent a extended-stay room for them when his apartment got too cramped. He is back now but even moved himself out to give them enough space to live in his apartment when the extended-stay room became too costly. He said a hurried goodbye, feeling he might have bored me.
I guess what I needed to know, and probably part of the reason I wanted to meet this man, is because I knew deep down that he wasn't just a man that yelled at kids. He had to be more complex than that, but The Man Who Yells was all he was going to be in my eyes unless I took the initiative to meet him.
The world is full of people that are not black and white, I believe. We are grey people. We exist, as my pastor likes to say, "in the already and not quite yet." We are grey because we include darkness and lightness. We are not fully realized. Our histories are blurred with a swirl of dark and light times. They are not often in proportion either. My history is relatively light compared to many, so maybe I'm privileged to be able to feel this way about people. I'm not certain, but since I have the perspective I do I think it best to be proactive with it.
It's planting season. See you out there in the dirt.