In what technically is my backyard (and actually a shared courtyard) there is usually an afternoon gathering of children who play together when they get home from school. It's oftentimes anywhere from 4 to 10 kids, and I'd venture a guess that they range in age from 5 to 11. Two of them live in the condo I walk past to get my mail - a brother and sister named Nate and Angel, respectively. We always speak to one another when I'm getting the mail or if they are out playing closer to my door. They're all good kids, and they get along well and occasionally get very loud in their excitement from playtime - you know, being children and all.
When the notice went up a couple of months ago that coyotes had been spotted in the neighborhood, I warned Nate and Angel to be aware of them, especially if they were out in the evenings. They informed me in earnest that they weren't allowed out after 6PM, and I told them that was fine but they might be out with their parents and just to keep an extra eye out. They walked with me down the sidewalk to learn what I knew about coyotes, and by the time I reached my door, Nate thanked me for being so helpful, going so far as to tell me that I was so nice that I was like his cousin. He wanted a high five and then the two of them bounded off to play with their little friends.
Any time I'm outside and they're able to see me, it's always "Hey Brad! How are you today?" Their parents are nice as well, and I've also met the other neighbor kids' parents and complimented them all on how sweet their children are. When my friend Lira was here a couple of weeks ago, we happened to be out walking when Nate fell down and skinned one of his hands and a knee a bit. I helped him up and told him to go and wash his hands and get his Mom to check him over to see if he needed bandaging. He seemed a little embarrassed at having fallen in front of his friends and on the way up to his front door, Angel stopped him to see what happened and he snapped at her loudly and angrily. A bit later that day I saw him again and asked him if he was okay and did he hurt himself at all, he informed me that his knee had a new band aid on it but that otherwise he was okay. I took the opportunity to remind him that I understood he might be embarrassed about the situation, but it wasn't very nice to yell at his sister when all she wanted to do was check on him to see if he was okay. He gave me a bit of a half smirk, reached out to shake my hand, and then told me that he wanted to be a nice brother and tell her he was sorry. Off he went, and I watched from across the courtyard as he sauntered up to his little sister and gave her a hug, then sat her down on the grass and spoke to her for a minute or two. She hugged him back and all was right in the world again.
This afternoon I was in my kitchen putting a pan of lasagna in the oven when I heard the familiar screeching and laughter from the kids. Through my open windows I could see them running around and riding scooters, talking about secret hideouts and who was going to be the bad guys - and then without warning the mood turned dark. One of the upstairs neighbors, a fairly big guy in his late 20's, began screaming at the kids and hurling profanities at them. By the time I made it to the window, all 10 of them were on the sidewalk in the center of the yard looking up in astonishment and fear at this angry man chastising them for being too loud. By the time I got my shoes on and made it onto my patio they were looking around at each other as if they needed somewhere to hide when I called to them, and Angel first met my eye. I asked what had happened, and to come over and talk to me when she began to sob - then two other girls and another little boy, and eventually Nate - all crying their little eyes out, telling me that the man had threatened them and said he had called the cops on them.
Oh H A I L naw.
I told them to go get their parents, I'll be down there in just a second. I walked out the front door to greet a still very much crying and deeply hurt and scared brother and sister, waiting on me to walk with them. The other kids were waiting as well, clearly afraid of walking below this guy's balcony. It is noteworthy that I never found out who the guy was, nor did I really want to know, because I wasn't going to make this about him - it was about those babies as far as I was concerned. By the time we all got down to the other neighbor's place, Randy, the father of a couple of the kids, was already outside. I told him what I knew so far, and did my best to console the children that were still visibly shaken and that I wasn't going to stand for this. My neighbor and good friend Ozzy was coming home from the gym about this time and caught up on what had happened before heading back to his place, intercepting Damien on the sidewalk and informing him that someone was yelling at the kids and I'd gone off to handle up on the situation.
I went with Angel and Nate to speak to their father about what had happened, explained it to him, and with both children there made it clear that I was never going to let anything like that happen again on my watch. Their Dad is a great guy and he thanked me for looking out for them and for filling me in on the situation. I reminded him that he had great, polite, well behaved kids who always speak to me and with whom I would keep an eye out for, and I wasn't about to have them feeling unsafe in their own backyard. Angel was so upset that she just went inside while Nate stood next to his father, occasionally heaving and sniffling and wiping away tears. I bowed down to his eye level and told him that he had done nothing wrong, he had nothing to be scared of, and that I was not going to let anything bad ever happen to him when he's playing by my place and that I wouldn't ever let anyone bully him like that again. He stammered and nodded his head and said to me "You're always my nice friend, you always help me like when you told us about the coyotes so we wouldn't be hurt or killed or anything bad." His father rubbed his shoulders and looked me in the eye with a huge smile, shook my hand, and before I left to go home I told Nate that if he or his sister ever had any trouble to come and get me if I was closer than Mom & Dad, and I asked him to tell his sister the same thing. I told his Dad not to worry about them, and that he knows where I live if he should ever need me for anything regarding the kids.
Just before this, Damien came walking up the stairs and stood behind me, listening. As we walked home I filled him in on everything. He was relieved that I hadn't gone ballistic on the guy, which is probably what I might have done had the kids not been outside still. Damien knows how I get, especially when someone is mistreating kids, and imagined a worse case scenario involving taking money out of our savings for my bail.
Five minutes after we got home there was a knock at the door. I answered it and standing there was a red eyed, still visibly shaken Nate. I said "Hey Buddy, what's up?" He said "I just wanted... *sniff* ...to say... *sniff sniff* thank you for helping us not be... *sniff* ...afraid. You're like my best friend since I moved here." I crouched down and told him "Well, that's what friends do - they help each other to not be afraid. Don't you worry about that guy, there are lots more grown ups around here who are not anything like him, and even if there were, we'll handle it. Go - go play and have fun, okay? Thank you very much for coming to see me, I appreciate it, but I want you to go and have some fun right now, alright?" He high-fived me and off he went, and within a few minutes the joyous noise of children playing in my courtyard were the only sounds you could hear.
Now that that's all said and done, LET me hear a motherfucker say one goddamned ugly thing to any of those kids again, and see what happens. I'm from GEORGIA, bitch - YOU DON'T KNOW ME, we don't cotton to that shit, okay? Not in MY backyard, you don't!