Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Staying alive is a struggle

I've always read articles and looked at research that talks about about how a child living in the inner city has less chance of living to their 18th birthday. Yet, even though I had read that, I think I had convinced myself it wasn't quite true. Though the kids and adults I knew might talk about losing people who they knew well, it was only people I knew of and not people I really knew and had interacted with on a personal level. I guess because I've been here 11 years and it hadn't touched me personally, I assumed it wasn't quite as dramatic as it was presented in the literature. Unfortunately, these days, I'm learning that those statistics I always thought must be explaining other cities are actually statistics that hold true for my Dallas neighborhood as well.

I have lost several people over the past few months. I can split those into two categories--both equally discouraging. 1) Lack of health care and care in general and 2) urban violence.

Just yesterday I found out that B.J., a young girl I know, drowned in her own bathtub. B.J. was mentally challenged. She was 17 years old. Her mother is in jail. Her 19 year old brother was trying to keep watch over his three siblings as they all crowded into his aunt's small apartment along with her family. I am not sure of the details of her death, but I have heard that B.J. wandered around quite often. I would guess that the lack of ability by the family to meet her needs as a mentally challenged adult ultimately led to her unintentional death. I am afraid of the guilt her brother is probably taking on himself.

Just two weeks ago Pat, another mentally challenged adult in his 30's or 40's, died of suffocation and dehydration after he crawled in to sleep in a car on a too-hot night in Dallas. Pat also had a home where he could stay and an aunt and cousins who cared for him. However, he, too, wandered all the time. He had been beaten up several times by people who simply took advantage of him, but he had always managed to survive. I think of how Pat could maybe have lived longer if the family could have afforded to get him into a home that worked with mentally challenged adults...if there were even one available anywhere close to our neighborhood.

In March, my friend Priscilla, a lady in her early 60's died after a fight with cancer. I don't know if she could've hung on longer if she had better care, but I do know that the statistics show that higher poverty areas have alarmingly high rates of heart disease, diabetes, and death due to lack of health care and other poverty issues that create more health problems.

Just six months ago, I also lost Sam, a 22 year old who was also shot and killed in broad daylight because of a case of stolen drugs they assumed he had a role in.

Then, last night I was awakened by a phone call at 2:30 a.m. saying that Tyree, a 20 year old friend of mine, had been shot in the back of the head. I got a phone call about an hour later telling me he had died. Evidently he was sitting at the bus stop and some guys were driving around mad at another guy who had challenged them. Shots rang out. Everyone ran. Tyree didn't have enough time. He's gone.

I have listened to B.J. as she told me with such pride that her teacher at school loved her because she told her so and how her brother loved her because he bought her some tennis shoes.

I have given Pat rides home at 2:00 in the morning after he had finally gotten tired of wandering around so he had decided he would throw rocks at my bedroom window to wake me up so that I would give him a ride. (Pat was very resourceful and had created his own survival strategies).

I have watched Priscilla give people her last dime...to the point of not being able to pay her own rent...when she used to volunteer for the food pantry when I was there.

I have watched Sam grow up and went out of my way to speak to him when he was a kid. As a still shy adult, he would always walk by my house and nod his head to say hi.

I have taken Tyree to church, dealt with he and his brother as belligerant kids, helped him with resumes as an adult. Whenever I would see Tyree, he would harass me about something. Despite him making fun of my strictness with kids and teens and my high expectations of him and his friends, I always felt there was a respect there.

Judge these situations and their circumstances any way you would like, but they were all friends of mine. No matter what the circumstance, losing my friends is extremely difficult. It doesn't get any easier--especially when they are so young.

Please pray for me today. Please pray for his friends.
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