Trent 2011

He didn’t bring the trash cans out this Sunday.

He always did. For everyone. He would brave barking dogs (mine included) and uncertain house guests to open gates throughout the neighborhood and bring the trash cans out to the street for the early Monday morning pick up. Some people called him ‘slow.’ Others less sensitive called him ‘scary’ and the meaner ones called him ‘retarded.’

But to me he was just Trent.

Sometimes he would rifle through the trash to find bottles to recycle, but always, always, he would give me a hard time about just about everything: how the girls come and go at all hours from my house (they really don’t), how my parents were going to drag me away and lock me up someday (they probably won’t), how my dog Stella would rather live with him (she definitely wouldn’t).

Stella didn’t like him. There was something about his energy that flipped a switch in her and she would bark aggressively whenever he came through our gate. She’d search for a ball to hold in her mouth, because she knew that’s what she was supposed to do instead of biting him. She got ripped apart by a pit-ridgeback mix when she was about a year old and has carried a protective streak with her ever since, which I soften by giving her choices of other things to ‘kill’ when she feels threatened. Things like tennis balls.

Trent was understandably sometimes wary of Stella, but he left a pile of tennis balls for her on our front porch last week. He’d found them in someone’s trash can and I told Stella the balls were from him the next morning as she headed to the beach with one of them in her mouth.

He came over later that day and let himself in the gate, like he sometimes did when he wanted to talk about the trains or his Grandma up in heaven. Stella snarled and ran for one of the balls he gave her while he called ‘Stelllllla, Stelllllla, heeeeerrrrreee puppy’ over and over and patted his jeans with his hand.

He eased himself down onto the planter box in my backyard and held the wood framing for support as he sat with his feet flat on the grass. Stella circled about five feet away from him, her low growl rumbling and hair bristling down her spine. She shook her head violently, clutching the ball in her huge jaws, but I knew she wouldn’t do anything to him; it was always this way.

Then she stopped.

She looked at him with her head low and ears back and stepped a couple of steps back, then a few more steps forward, until she was within striking distance. I was starting to feel slightly uneasy when the most unimaginable thing happened.

She stretched her neck out as far as she could and put the ball in Trent’s hand.

He looked down at the ball with a childlike wonder and threw it as far as he could, which amounted to a few feet past her. Stella pounced on it like a puppy and brought it back to him, but the ball dropped through his unready hands onto the grass. She gently picked it up and again placed it in his palm, again and again until he could grip it. And he threw the ball again, laughing like I’d never heard him laugh.

They played for a long time, Trent and Stella. I thought about taking a picture because this moment hadn’t ever been among the remotest of possibilities and no one in the neighborhood would believe me if I told them about it.

But I stepped back into the shadows of the house and watched the impossible become possible between these two beings with minds and bodies long ago damaged by something outside their control. These perfect souls now connecting with love, for the first time after years of mistrust.

It was the first time and the last time.

Trent died a few days ago on New Year’s Eve. The neighborhood will have a memorial service for him here on the street sometime next week and everyone who knew and loved him will be invited. Including the trash truck drivers. And Stella.

Today is Sunday and kids are playing, dogs are being walked, strollers are being pushed. But something is missing out there on the street.

He didn’t bring the trash cans out this Sunday.