I knew him for years before I learned his name.
We all knew him – my neighbourhood friends, my wife and my kids.
OK, none of us really knew him but we sure knew of him. Almost every day, he would walk past our complex several times.
This guy was hard to miss. We knew he was coming well before we could see him.
His piercing screams usually announced his arrival well before we would watch him walk past (I would later discover that his daily walk-bys were to indulge his passion for Vera’s burgers, which is just behind our townhouse).
We would always do our best to greet him as he nervously trudged through our neighbourhood.
Our kids found him fascinating and my wife and I did our best to instill empathy in them, teaching them about Tourette syndrome and how the people who have it can’t control their tics.
Last summer, we finally met.
It was at the baseball diamond in Hillcrest park. I was in the outfield, trying to build up my arm strength by throwing a bucket of baseballs to home plate.
That’s when I met him.
“Where’s the rest of your team?” I think he asked (or something like that).
“No team today, just me,” I said, explaining to him what I was doing and why.
“My name’s Brent,” he said as he extended his hand and offered a firm handshake.
We stood in the outfield and chatted for some time and Brent took a keen interest in my catcher’s mitt – he had never tried one on before.
I threw the ball to him a few times and he quickly got the hang of it. He seemed to like baseball.
“Do you ever sit and watch any of the young guys play here?” I asked, pointing to Hillcrest diamond.
“No,” he said. “I can’t. I would distract the players too much and I don’t think the coaches and parents would like me doing that.”
“Don’t worry about that,” I told him. “You have just as much a right to watch a ball game here as anyone else.”
He shrugged and smiled as he went on his way, thanking me repeatedly for letting him try my glove.
“I’ll bring another one next time,” I told him as he walked away.
I brought an extra glove the next few times I went out to practise but Brent didn’t walk by.
In fact, I didn’t see Brent for quite some time after that.
About a year later, a reader named Lise Brady emailed me, wanting to thank a local restaurant for treating her son so well. Her son has Tourette’s and the staff are always so good to him, she wrote.
PICTURED: Brent Burgher says crab fishing off White Rock pier is where his Tourette’s is most manageable because when he’s crabbing, he’s most relaxed. (Photo: BEAU SIMPSON)
I emailed Lise back.
“I think I know your son,” I wrote. “If your son’s name is Brent, how would you feel if I wrote a story about him? I don’t remember the last time Tourette’s has been written about.”
She talked to Brent and both agreed. Over the next few weeks, I met with Brent three or four times, enjoying lunch together (at Vera’s of course), crab fishing at the end of White Rock pier and walking around in our neighbourhood.
I’m proud to share his story in this week’s edition of the Now. (click here to read ‘BEING BRENT: Life with Tourette’s’).
Tourette syndrome must be a terrible disorder to live with but Brent’s attitude and positive outlook is sure to inspire everyone who reads his story.
As he will tell you, he has come a long way. He just got his first job delivering flyers and I am encouraging him to consider taking on a Now route.
Brent’s scream has become somewhat of a calling card in our neighbourhood – when we hear it, we come running out to see if we can find him to say hello.
But we don’t even have to do that anymore.
These days, Brent doesn’t just walk by our home. He knocks on the door to say hello and ask how everybody is doing.
On Sunday, he stopped by to say hello and confidently introduced himself to my son.
“We should take your son crabbing soon,” Brent said.
“That’s a great idea,” I replied as my son’s eyes lit up. “Let’s do it.”
As we said our goodbyes and he walked down the steps, he turned and stopped.
“Oh yeah, I wanted to tell you something,” he said. “I sat and watched a baseball game here the other day. I really enjoyed it.”
Beau Simpson is editor of the Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.