Sometimes, he'd ask for a ride after dinner because it was dark and his granny didn't want him walking home alone. Outside his front door, waiting for him, his cat would almost always be pacing. Brandon would pick him up, scratch his head, and wave goodnight.
Over the years of living in West Dallas, we saw a little less of Brandon. He was certainly around but spent more time playing basketball than hanging out with younger friends. We'd see him riding his bike, always balancing a basketball on his hip. He was really good, too. I guess he kept eating his broccoli because he grew like crazy and everyone was sure he'd be playing college ball one day.
Then, last Fall, on the way to the court at a park near his house, Brandon pulled a .22 out of his pocket and shot another kid seven times.
Of all the kids we've known over the years, he was certainly one of the last we'd ever suspect of being violent like that - not even a little bit. Aside from getting a little hostile on the court, and fouling an opponent in the final moments of a game, I never saw a side of him that might lead where it did.
Brandon's victim lived and made a full recovery, then his granny moved him back to Louisiana where she believed he'd be safer. Brandon was sent to prison - looks like he won't be playing college ball after all.
Mercy Street's Associate Executive Director drove south to visit him a couple of weeks ago and the information he came back with was heartbreaking and frustrating and echoed countless documentaries and news expose's on bullying.
The only conclusion authorities could make as to why Brandon shot his peer was that the kid constantly, unrelentingly, sometimes visciously scored on him until one afternoon, he snapped.
"Man, you got no game."
"Your hair so nappy".
"Those shoes look like wookies".
"You got nothin."
"Your house is ghetto".
"Your momma's a whore".
Brandon was wrong. He wasn't justified in pulling the trigger and is now in prison because the judge didn't think so either. The kids asked about Brandon the other night and we were desperately trying to impress upon them the power their words have.
So, when I ran into my friend, Louisa, at a track meet days later, and she started telling me about a bible study she'd just heard on Proverbs 18:21, I knew the Lord was trying to drive home something that's been rattling around in my heart for a long time. He's kinda pushy that way.
Proverbs 18:21 says "The tongue has the power of life and death..."
It doesn't say the power of hurt feelings or warm fuzzies - it says life and death. God don't play.
So, my problem and consequently the trait I may have passed onto my children is this; they come from a long line of sarcasm. And by long line, I mean me. It's actually a combination of sarcasm and trying to be sincerely funny which works for me about 72% of the time. The other 28% usually falls flat, hurts feelings, and gets me kicked out of book clubs. And, yes, I just did math.
Louisa was encouraging me that, with ears tuned to listen, I would learn to hear myself and others speak either death or life into situations, circumstances, or people. Day 1, I listened, really listened, to every word and the volume of death spoken was staggering. I heard my own kids squawking at one another just like Brandon's friend.
"You suck at basketball".
"You FAILED your math test? Hahahahahaha"!
"I can do that better than you."
"I'm smarter, faster, etc., etc., etc. than you'll ever be".
And then, I heard my own words speaking death into situation upon situation with small comments of cynicism, hopelessness, and bitterness. However small, they stung my ears and I had to make several phone calls to friends asking forgiveness. Of course I called right during dinner when they'd be distracted and quick to forgive but that's not important right now.
So, we're working on words over at the Hill house and it's not an easy task, mostly because my children are stubborn little punks. SEE, THERE I GO AGAIN! Life, Melissa, life. Lord, help me. Seriously, though, just like leaving backpacks and shoes in the middle of the kitchen floor, old habits are hard to break especially when our ears and hearts have become dull to adolescent banter and cut-downs. Because we are our kids' most influential presence, I'm seeing how my own words, even in the great name of all things funny, fail to speak life and instead speak slow death.
And we're praying for Brandon and the other young man. That these boys so full of potential and future and hope, would know the One who seeks and saves and restores the years the locusts have eaten. Christ's words are life-giving, redeeming, and pierce the darkest cells - both the cinder ones in South Texas, and the felt one's in Louisiana.