He’s a few years older than when I first met him, standing to the side of his parents, newcomers to the neighborhood, making the obligatory introduction. Even then, he twisted in his lanky frame, a mop of dark hair hiding his downcast eyes, mouth closed in a grimace. He reminded me of Eugene, the introverted double of Thomas Wolfe in the author’s melancholic masterpiece, Look Homeward, Angel.
But he’s no Eugene.
I don’t know his given name. It didn’t register during the intros and I expected to hear it again. That never happened. Five years later and the parents have split, the wife leaving the husband, and he becoming even more elusive, silent in the big rental home. He comes and goes irregularly. Swiftly. He doesn’t look up or around, seeking the faces of his neighbors. There’s no tendency to connect.
Stick Boy has a big brother. Tall, softly overweight and like his father and sibling, nameless and antisocial. I’ve seen him leave the house once, getting in the backseat of a car with two teen-aged girls. On this occasion, his thick hair was combed, his clothes clean and he looked expectant, energized.
The neighbors and I gave Stick Boy his name.
Nearly every day, for the last five years, he’s outside, behind the house, playing with sticks. His home occupies a lot and a half, and the property is a wild place, filled with huge, vine-covered trees. The woods are a wonderland for the lonely boy. His toy weapons are the natural deposits of decaying maples. He can proficiently twirl the pieces above his head. He can engage in fights with enemies, real or imagined. Once in awhile, his big brother lumbers out, finds a big stick and goes after Stick Boy. He’s aggressive and rough. Stick Boy outruns him, flees to the deck, outmaneuvers him. This is not friendly sibling rivalry.
After a year or so of seeing Stick Boy and laughing at his antics, I had questions. Does he go to school? Is he locked out of his house? What does he eat? Does anyone love him?
About a year ago, Stick Boy took a turn. From my home, I could hear his voice. At my opened backdoor, I heard his words. It was a lengthy, profane monologue. Stick Boy had discovered the F word. He went on, yelling in the air, “fuck this” and “fuck that.”
It seemed a bit funny. Still, there was something else there. Sure, Stick Boy found his voice and luxuriated in profanity. But there was something else. Anger. Lots and lots of anger.
My questions were partly answered. He ate pizza. Cardboard boxes were piled atop the trash cans. A delivery driver came to my home, looking for the neighbors. His mother long ago stopped her weekly visits, and her bags of groceries halted as well.
The big brother has disappeared. This followed some commotion at the house with lots of new cars coming and going.
The father’s black sedan is often missing. The house is completely dark at night. And now, it’s silent during the day.
Four nights ago, I heard Stick Boy again. It was about 10:30. I’d left my mostly soundproof home for a smoke on the front porch. That’s when I heard the voice. I thought the mother had come home. It wasn’t until the following morning that I realized it was Stick Boy.
The voice came from the front porch. There was no illumination to reveal the speaker. Those familiar F-words populated every phrase. The complaint went on for over an hour. The last words came loud and clear: “I’m fucking sick and tired of this!”
Then I heard what sounded like a slap and silence.
No sign of Stick Boy since.
The slap may have been the door closing. There was no other voice that night, just him and his solitary wailing.
I want to do something and yet, I don’t want to be that nosy, intruding neighbor. Calling Child Protective Services could result in a worse outcome if he’s thrust into foster care.
My brother tells me that Stick Boy is “disturbed” and to “be careful.”
I think he’s desperately depressed, unloved, isolated and with no support network. He’s very angry. I’d love to see him today in his backyard, fighting those monsters. But there is silence and stillness.