It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, and while I have plenty to write regarding myself, I wanted to take a moment to dedicate a post to my former neighbor Darlene.

Darlene was a salt-of-the-earth person. Not very bright (I’d say she was probably classified as “special needs” in school) and not very healthy (probably over 300 pounds during the time I knew her), she was exceptionally friendly to everyone she met. An avid fan of the Giants and 49ers, she would always greet me with a “Let’s go, Giants!” whenever I saw her since she knew I’m a fan of the Oakland A’s.

Her grandmother owned several properties in the neighborhood: a duplex in which she was the landlady, a house directly across from the duplex where Darlene’s parents lived, and another house on the cross-street that led to our street. The street is a court, which means no through traffic, so all the neighbors know each other. Since Darlene’s family lived on these properties for several decades, Darlene’s father took it upon himself to be the block security officer; he enforced parking to ensure people weren’t parking in spaces that were normally reserved for other houses, and he steered away the riffraff when necessary. When her grandmother died, the shit hit the fan.

In a bizarre power-grab, Darlene’s aunt and her boyfriend claimed to possess the grandmother’s last will and testament which stated that all the properties were left to the aunt, including the duplex where Darlene lived and was landlady. As far as I know, her aunt had poor mental health and was basically sequestered by her boyfriend, so in the end, it was the boyfriend that was reaping the financial windfall of Darlene’s grandmother’s death. The aunt and boyfriend lived in central California, and every time Darlene’s dad tried to go through legal proceedings about the will and ownership of the properties, the aunt and boyfriend were never at their residence when lawyers tried to serve them papers, but that did not stop them from collecting the rent.

The duplex housed a number of residents: a family lived in the front unit, a formerly homeless couple lived in a trailer in the driveway and acted as caretakers of the property, and the rear unit housed Darlene along with two other people: “Cathy” and “Caleb.” Cathy and Caleb were the adopted children of Darlene’s aunt.

Darlene did not get along at all with Cathy and Caleb, and for good reason. Both Cathy and Caleb did not hold jobs, but relied on criminal activities to earn money. On one occasion, I found a man knocking on the door of my other neighbor’s house, whom were away on vacation at the time. I asked him what he was doing and he said he knew the owners, but when I told him that he had the wrong house, Cathy came out of the duplex dressed in red lingerie and asking “You’re Chris, right? I actually live over here” at which time both of them went into the rear unit of the duplex. Clearly the man was a john for Cathy’s side-job as a prostitute.

Cathy and Caleb had regular guests with whom they met through jail or committing crimes; they always stayed in the garage. One of the frequent guests was a woman named “Diane.” Diane and her friends had set up a bike-stealing gig. I learned this because my road-bike was stolen from my backyard and when I told my neighbor about it a few weeks later, he relayed the information that in the backyard were a number of stolen bikes that were being painted and resold; my bike was probably long gone.

Cathy and Darlene were always fighting. Cathy felt that the duplex belonged to her since she claimed her mom owned it, so she could do whatever she wanted, including having whomever she desired as guests. Darlene did her best to stem the tide of criminal activities, including calling the police on occasion. These battles went on for a few years, and hearing the high-pitched yelling from across the fence was a common nuisance. (One time I heard Darlene yelling about a man named “Paul” who had a warrant out for for his arrest, and Cathy’s response was “Big fucking deal, Darlene. I have like four warrants.”)

One Saturday as I was leaving my house around 7am to play ultimate in Santa Cruz, the duplex had two firetrucks, a police car, and an ambulance in front of it. I went to the door and found “Anthony,” the homeless man that lived in the trailer. He was on the phone with Darlene’s dad, who was away on vacation at the time. “It’s not good. You need to come home.” Then I saw Darlene being wheeled out by the paramedics, her face completely blue and a few small cuts on her face. One paramedic asked if they should try CPR to which the other replied that she was already gone. Darlene had died the previous night.

Before she died, she sent one last text to her mom to tell her about her latest confrontation with Cathy at around 2am that morning. Darlene confronted Cathy about all the people staying at the duplex without paying rent, etc. Cathy told Darlene that she was going to call the police to have Darlene removed for “trespassing” on her property. Darlene said “Over my dead body” to which Cathy responded “That can be arranged.”

Darlene was found by the woman who lived in the trailer a few hours later, around 6am. She was found on her stomach in her bedroom with the door wide open. Darlene was medically obese, so it’s no surprise she was unable to pick herself off the floor. How and why she got there is questionable. Normally she’d be able to call for help and the people living there would help her, but no one helped her that night.

What I think happened is that Darlene was pushed and possibly hit her head on the way down, which would explain the cuts. If/when she called for help, no one responded, and the weight of her body slowly suffocated her. However, the coroner listed her cause of death as “not suspicious” since there was no proof she was pushed or strangled. In the end, Cathy and Caleb were never charged with any crime despite the ominous text Darlene sent a few hours before her death and their notorious past.

As a post-script, the property was eventually bought by some neighbors who are also land developers and everyone was evicted. This did not stop the previous criminal visitors from trespassing frequently, so a security guard was hired. His first night there, he stayed in Darlene’s old bedroom. At 3am, he sent a text to the new owners explaining that he was sorry and couldn’t stay there, citing that he heard the distinct sound of heavy breathing at night despite knowing he was the only one in the house.

My lesson from this experience: treat people well, especially those we would prefer to ignore. Even though she was slow and awkward, Darlene was a good person. I rarely enjoyed talking to her, but now that she’s gone, I’m glad I was able to be a light in her life, at least for the short time I knew her.

Rest in peace, Darlene, and I’m sorry this happened to you.

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