October 3, 2012

Nothing ever happens on my block

On our latest visit to my folks, in the same house where I grew up, I finally met some of the new families who've been restocking that quiet suburban block with young kids, after three decades of mostly adult living. They hold block parties and July 4th parade activities, and generally hang out on the street at the end of a day. Great!

One of the houses still devoid of young kids is where Andrew grew up. He was a couple of years younger, and we'd sometimes visit each other for what today would be called "play dates", We also just ran around the neighborhood, climbing trees and filling afternoons with forgotten pastimes.

I hadn't seen or heard of Andrew in probably 25 years, but last month the talk on the street was all about him. Turns out, this smart kid with the strange father and quiet mom had lived out his adult years as a criminal, including an 18-month stint in prison. Then finally, he got himself into a police chase after the stolen SUV he was driving clipped another car waiting to get past an accident scene. On a secluded path between the train tracks and the Schuylkill River, not far from where I learned to windsurf, he ambushed the officer -- an Iraq veteran and father -- with his Beretta. Before dying, the officer returned fire, hitting Andrew. My former sometime playmate, who reportedly had told friends he'd never go back to jail, then shot himself in the chest, ending his unfortunate and evidently miserable life. 

The fallen Marine is a huge tragedy for the community and his young family, and the first fatality for his township's police force. 

For myself, it's sobering to think what if any decisions and influences might have altered the course of a self-centered only child with little patience for wrong answers. It's far-fetched to think any of us growing up there should have done anything to intervene -- who stays in touch, anyway? I do feel a special burden and even guilt, just for having briefly been part of his circle on a small street with two-dozen homes. And instead of the old man who'd designed the ejection seat for the Navy (the late Mr. Castleman), we'll now be known locally for the murder-suicide hoodlum who lurked among us.

Andrew's mother was already not well, and he'd been living at home. His web cam still faces down on the street from a second-floor bedroom -- which freaks out the neighbors. But they're definitely relieved that he's no longer around, especially with a whole new young generation to raise and nurture. And none of the young parents seems strange at all, thank goodness.

The quiet block where we're raising our own kids is not so different -- families with young kids living next to longtime residents who now boast grandchildren -- and, so far, no violent criminals. 

Dedicated to the memory of Officer Bradley Fox, Plymouth Township Police. Rest in Peace.

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