Everyone Deserves the Benefit of the Doubt

Even if they appear to be unworthy

He is a man of few words. I see him on my morning or mid-day walks with the dog and he doesn’t wave — doesn’t make small talk — just grunts an uneven hello and shoots his eyes up toward the sky. I never pry. I don’t look for things I don’t need to find. Perhaps this is his way of survival. He walks two dogs; one, a noisy son of a bitch, the other, a genteel sweet body of patchy fur. The dog stares at them, huffs her approval, and paces off in another direction. This is ritualistic for us. Me with my limply left lower limb — she with knees that pop and ache when the weather isn’t warm. We push through the neighborhood that has shaped our lives for the last four autumns.

The noisy son of a bitch spends time on his balcony alongside the genteel sweet body of patchy fur. I guess he puts them outside to get away from them — to give them some sense of unity and comfort with their surroundings. However, we, my neighbors and I, endure intermittent cycles of loud barking. I know what it’s like to have a dog misbehave when all you want is for him or her to behave — to provide solace and peace. But a dog will be a dog, and if given the opportunity, he or she will bark. He’s speaking. He’s announcing who he is, and we all had better pay attention. But on a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon, it’s the last thing I want to hear.


Nosy neighbors will open their mouths.

Someone, at one point, must’ve slid their lips into the ears of the property manager because for a few weeks — nothing. I thought the man had moved. I was wrong. He is still here. The noisy son of a bitch still barks loudly intermittently and I am growing used to it, but I wonder . . . should I? Where did the man come from and what is it in him that allows him the ability to not care about his community? Don’t get me wrong, I won’t assume he isn’t caring — I am assuming he doesn’t care about those of us not close to him in relation.

I struggle with thinking things and not announcing them when I feel as though they need to be shared. I had been partially raised by a few elderly family members who often spoke their mind and well . . . I feel like one day, I am going to just say, “Hey, sir . . . why do you let your dog sit on your balcony and cry out to us? Can you not hear him or are you just ignoring him?” It is taking everything in me not to do this. I am mindful of the times in which we live, and I do not know his regular temperament.

I don’t know how he will react.

I am giving him the benefit of the doubt. He could be a father who lost his firstborn to violence. He could be an uncle who helped raise a wayward nephew, but now has custody of his grandniece. He could be a public safety officer dealing with the struggles of every type of human being you can imagine, and at the end of the day, he just doesn’t have the energy to care. He could be just old and grumpy and unfeeling.

I don’t know.

I search for evidence of happiness or playfulness when I see him, yet his eyes just squint into two tiny specks of solemnity. At every opportunity, I offer a kind, “Hello,” and I seem to pull it back into me when it has been magically swept from his ears. He lives in seconds from what I can see — never dwells in one spot too long — rushes the dogs to relieve themselves on some misguided scale he’s balancing. One day, one of them will tip that scale. I hope I’m not around to witness it.

Initially, I thought he was just having a bad day, but this cannot be so. No one has a bad day every single day. No one is ever truly discontented every single day. I had been taught to respect my elders — to acknowledge them, to help where I see the need. He doesn’t require help. He doesn’t seem to need it. He doesn’t even seem to want to be acknowledged. I steer clear of people who I cannot get a clear read on, and unfortunately, he is one of them.

I am trying to understand my place in this.

Who am I to want to know this man’s life — to want to understand how one’s brain operates to allow him to keep his barking dog on the balcony for an entire neighborhood to endure? I am no one big and bad — I have no authority, but I pay rent to dwell in this community just as he does. I also find it an actual sense of neglect to just leave a sentient being in/on a space/place where it can continue to alert people who don’t want to be alerted.

As an Empath, I crave to first try to feel another’s pain or make sense of it. When I cannot, it bests me — defeats me. There is also this air about me to cure what ails another. I am no savior and this has been a hard pill to swallow for years, but I am not. Currently, I am trying to understand my place in all of this. Am I just the neighbor who lives two buildings down and one across who thinks this is a serious nuisance? Or am I a part of this community deserving of respect, love, kindness, consideration, and understanding?

The latter is what I choose. Shouldn’t he?

I could never leave Jernee on my balcony if she were in a barking fit or even if she began barking intermittently. My first thought would be to remove the noise so it doesn’t disturb my neighbors. My second thought would be to find out what’s wrong with the little one and try to resolve the issue. I realize everyone does not have the same thought process.


I won’t assume. I shouldn’t.

Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt. Even when we think they’re unworthy or total assholes (I grit my teeth as I type this — some people can take you to a place of utter disgust). There is always something brewing and stewing in the lives of others to cause them to act outside of our descriptions of “normal behavior.” I won’t assume this man is uncaring of others. I shouldn’t. As I stated earlier, I don’t know his life or the makeup of it.

All I can do as a person living in the same apartment complex as him is to understand the why of it all. And later, know I am not the type of person to leave my dog out on my balcony to disturb the peace. I know who I am and I know how much I care about my pet.

In time, I hope this is enough for me to breathe in deeply and know the incessant barking never lasts long — it’s just annoying as hell.


Originally published in Age of Empathy via Medium.

The Nature of Horrible Things

And how they still sneak up on you sixteen years later

a man looks down into an almost empty glass of beer
Photo by Jimmy jimmy via Pexels

We meet the afternoon chill in the air with our bodies tucked further into warm clothing. Jernee steps out before I do and I hear my neighbor briskly skip down the stairs. The faint scent of liquor speaks to me before he does. I nod — say “Good afternoon,” and attempt to mind my business by watching Jernee search for a proper spot in which to relieve herself. He is the type of person who does not understand personal space. He comes closer to us and, unlike Jernee with him, she growls under her breath. I step back from him — putting at least three more feet between us.

I recall the time and it’s just barely 1:45 p.m. He is home on his lunch break. He smiles. He sends his “Heyhowyadoin’” to me within seconds of stepping on the final stair. It’s all mumbled together — glued, yet I am fluent in slurred speech. I know this speech just like I know the smell. I know the smell. I know the smell. He has tried to hide it with Old Spice and two gulps of water but to no avail. I cock my head to the side and whisper to myself, this cat is drunk and is going back to work. Hell . . . naw.

He tells me his grandchildren have been staying with them. I know this. I speak to his wife — to their little ones. I see them as they come and go. They are beautiful mini models of their mother and father — his son and his son’s girlfriend’s children. He says as erratic as a functioning alcoholic can, “They get up at 4:30 in the morning sometimes, see. And you know, I don’t get up until 6:30 and that throws my day all off, you see?” I do see. I understand. One’s sleep is important.

He steps closer again. I step back. He holds up one hand and quickly says, “I ain’t gon’ keep ya. I know you gotta walk ya dog.” I thank him. He wanders off toward his car and away from us. His wife knocks on my door five nights later. She has a flier in her hand — an invitation to her church for some sort of celebration. It is the same church she drags him to on Sundays. And I understand — I get it. She is looking to God to save her husband. Just like I was looking to God to save my mother — to save me.

I don’t have the heart to tell her I do not do large gatherings — even if they’re outside. I do not do well in crowds nowadays and neither would I want to. I take her flier. I smile at her. I tell her to have a nice night and to be safe. She smiles back and thanks me.

I ran to the church for so many reasons in my early twenties. I ran even harder in my mid-thirties. So much of me wanted to heal my mother and so much of me needing healing of my own.


I drank because I couldn’t get my mother to stop drinking and doing drugs. I drank because I was afraid of coming out. I drank because I was going through a series of harsh breakups and couldn’t find the answers why. I moved out of the townhouse my best friend and I shared. I left. I gave no reason — only a 30-day notice and paid my half of the utilities and mortgage for the next two months, or was it just the following month? That detail is foggy.

She faced me the day I told her with tears in her eyes, asking me to please talk to her. And I couldn’t. Here was a woman who would cause me to stop drinking. It would occur several months after I moved out. The night I knew I wouldn’t drink anymore, my best friend and I had attended a work-related party at a small pub near her place. Her colleagues — her comfort zone. I am told I had too much to drink. I am told, on the way home, she had to pull over to the side of the road so I could vomit. I am told she had to help me up the stairs, get me into some pajamas of hers, then help me to the toilet so I could vomit some more.

I awakened the next morning in her bed and could not remember what had happened and why I was there and not at home. She was sound asleep, but her expression had seeped in worry. I got up to use the bathroom, and this caused her to stir. I asked her what happened, and she told me. She calmly said, “I was not going to take you home where I could not keep an eye on you. You were pretty fucked up, Tre.” And that was my “A-ha!” moment.

When a person loves you enough to ensure your safety in your inebriated state — when they care enough to make sure you’re not sleeping in the clothes you upchucked in the night before — when they clean you up, change your clothes, and guide you to their bed so you can sleep; there is nothing else that can match that. Cold turkey is what they call it, yes? I stopped drinking.

I could not imagine what she must’ve been feeling to do all of that for me and not completely cuss me out, as I had done so many times with my mom. She cared about my life — she showed me. I don’t think no one ever had before then or I had forgotten it if they did.


A year and one half later, I brought Jernee home. I was determined to shield myself from the past evils that attempted to drag me down with them. I needed this four-legged creature to keep me safe — to give me joy. I had something to do when I awakened — something to train, to feed, to nourish . . . to love. I had a feeling of purpose again just barely two years before — I felt I hadn’t, and I did not want to go on.

So when I see my neighbor and he is running away from whatever demons chasing him — I understand. I may not know the cause. I may not know exactly what’s beating him day in and day out and pulling him toward drowning his sorrows in tempting liquor mid-day. I don’t even know why he feels the need to talk to me — to step into my space, but I can listen.

Had it not been for my best friend, I would’ve been following the paths of my maternal great-grandmother, grandmother, great-aunts, aunts, and uncles — my mother. I understand because I can still see the bottles of Hennessy and Tanqueray and Old English my mom kept stored in her home. I can smell each one of them while they’re still locked in their casings. I can see her struggling to piece back together a broken home — a dysfunctional family — unruly boys.

I see myself trying to find a way out. I hear my best friend’s voice . . .“You were pretty fucked up, Tre.” And I understand.


*No one’s shit smells like roses and honey, baby. Everyone has a stench.©My late maternal grandmother.


Originally published in Age of Empathy via Medium.