Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Walk Around the Block - A True Story

The humid heat smacks me in the face like a steaming wet towel as I step out the door onto the porch. I stop a moment, absorbing the heat and squinting in the brilliance of the day. Sweat pops out of every pore and my grandmother’s voice plays in my ear, admonishing, “Ladies perspire.”
Yes, grandma, but I am perspiring ferociously! Dodging fire ant hills, I start across the yard to the road for my daily walk around the block. I wave to my nearest neighbor, whose daughter was my first friend here when I was the new kid on the block. That was 33 years ago, when I was ten. Everything is familiar and familiar is comforting. But as I near the corner, I spot a dozen or so unfamiliar adolescent boys, and there seems to be an argument of some kind. I hesitate briefly, considering turning and going the other way.
“No, it’s my neighborhood and I refuse to be afraid!” I tell myself firmly, secretly wondering if I’m being foolish. I keep walking as I consider this, and have just decided that the foolish thing is to be afraid, when an older teen punches a younger boy, hard, in the side of the head. The electric tension of confrontation is palpable among the boys and they come alive. I sense that things are about to escalate, and am no longer thinking of myself as my usual indignation against bullies gains the upper hand in my mind. Although I am only a few yards away now, none of the boys seem to be aware of me.
“Shall I call the police, or are you going to leave him alone?” I call. The boys, barefoot and carrying fishing poles, begin to disperse. The victim heads off down the street alone as the older boy, the one who punched him, puts on a show for my benefit.
“Come on, Louis, we’re friends, right? You’re okay, right?” he calls to the retreating boy, all the while chuckling and winking at the few friends still hanging around. I turn to see the effect this has on Louis, as the older boy calls, “Hey, Louis, you want some of this?”
An explosion sounds and I jump, grabbing my heart and gasping, “Oh!” It is nearly the fourth of July, so I assume it was a firecracker, and turn with laughing eyes to the boy I am now right beside.
“Wow, you scared me!” I exclaim as I meet his eyes, and at that moment catch something in my peripheral vision. Turning further I see, in his left hand, a gun pointing up at the sky.
Chuckling, he turns to his remaining friend and exclaims, “Hey, I scared that lady!” as he heads through the ditch and back to his own neighborhood. My mind tries to explain away what just happened, and I try to convince myself the gun was a toy. But having raised boys, I am familiar with a wide variety of toy guns, and none of them would have made a sound like that. Besides, I’d seen it clearly and it was real. I continue walking, past the old tree fort, and see Louis, who never even paused, jump a fence and go into a back yard, where several adults acknowledge him briefly and continue talking and visiting with each other. He sits down in a lawn chair, and then meets my eyes with a level gaze. I gaze back
into his eyes and smile warmly, but I don’t stop walking or say anything, remembering what it is to be a preteen who is glad to be safe but doesn’t want to lose his new freedom by alarming his family. I am strangely detached from what just happened.
“It’s not as if it’s the first time something like that happened here,” I think as I turn the corner. On my left is the Wilson’s old home, and my mind goes back to the summer I was 12. All of us kids spent a lot of time at the Wilson’s house, chiefly because there were rarely any adults home and also because five kids lived there. My mom let me go, because she was right next door and what could happen? Not much did happen until the day I arrived to find Sam from across the street sitting at the breakfast bar playing with a handgun he’d managed to sneak out of his Dad’s bed stand. The boys all thought it was funny as he pointed it around the room at different objects and pretended to blow them away. The girls thought it was dumb and possibly dangerous.
“It’s not even loaded,” Sam pointed out in exasperation. Just then the door opened and Sam’s friend, Chuck, came bounding in. Sam, grinning, pointed the gun at him and pulled the trigger. The gun roared to life and Chuck stumbled back, stunned.
“You shot him! I thought you said it wasn’t loaded!” I yelled furiously at Sam.
“You shut up! He didn’t mean to! He feels bad enough without you yelling at him,” Danny Wilson screamed at me. He shoved me and I shoved him back.
Someone finally decided Chuck should sit down. He was just standing there, with a small hole beside his nose and another one behind his ear. A few minutes later medics came rushing in and whisked him off to the hospital. He grew up and went in the Marines. I guess if you’ve been shot through the head you don’t have anything to fear from the Marines.
A mockingbird gently brings me back to the present, serenading me with lovely trills and calls, inviting me to play Name That Tune, and I whistle back to him, still thinking about kids and guns and neighborhoods. A lot of the old families from my childhood are still here, but some of them have moved. “The neighborhood has just changed too much,” they say sadly, shaking their heads at what once was. But the rest of us stay, and all in all, it’s pretty much the same as it always was. The faces are all brown from the Florida sun, but now there’s a richer variety of chocolatey-brown tones, Americans from everywhere around the world. Flocks of children still play, though their parents call them to dinner in a smorgasbord of languages. The woods that surrounded us have made way for development, but the road is still full of bicycles and dogs, and kids still fish in the pond at the center of our block. Things aren’t always perfect, but they never were. It’s just a neighborhood, like any other neighborhood. Coming full circle, I’m home.


Cherdecor said...

A true story! Wow! You had more courage than I would have. Great story though!

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Oh my, I'm stunned. I didn't grow up with guns, have never even touched one. I don't think I could relate such a story so matter of factly. (That's amazement speaking, not criticism.)

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Good morning. I tagged you for a meme . . . if you're willing to play. See my blog.

thedailydish said...

Another beautifully moving story, Tracie. Thanks so much for sharing.

Merle said...

Dear Rosezilla ~~ Great story, thanks for sharing it. Thank you for your comments and I am so glad you enjoyed Benny the man
on the bus, that poor teacher and the gumboots. Also the preacher waiting for help and not recognizing it when it came.
And finally the joke about the pilot walking the dog. I liked the one you told me about "Why don't blind people sky dive -- because it scares the dog."
Take care, my friend, Love, Merle.

jenniferw said...

My older sister was accidentally shot when she was six years old, with a gun belonging to our alcoholic and petty criminal "stepfather." She wasn't playing with the gun but had been told to carry it and dropped it. The bullet went through her forearm and lodged just beneath her right ear. She lived but suffered substantial disfigurement. After proclaiming herself an agnostic at the age of 13, she accepted Christ at 16 and today is a radiant pastor's wife, mother of seven, and grandmother of six. I believe Satan wanted a victory there but did not get it because "Out of a fall/Love makes a steppingstone/And quite reverses/All the foe has done." To God be the glory.

I hate guns and we have never had one in our house, but I believe in our constitutional right to bear arms in order to defend ourselves and our families.

jenniferw said...

I forgot to say dear, that was a beautifully written post. I enjoyed every word.

Connie said...

What a scary story! You write it well. Based on a lot of what is written here I wanted to share my friend's new blog with you, I think you will enjoy it! It is called Eve's Sisters, about women in the scriptures. evessisters.blogspot.com
Check it out!

trish said...

That was an amazing story! I stopped by to thank you for leaving a comment on my blog and what a treat I got in reading your story! :)

Sara said...

You tell that story very well....and your neighborhood sounds somewhat similar to mine here in Southern California...

Country Girl said...

Extremely well-written story. I felt your indecision as you struggled with the decision to keep walking or turn the other way. A gang of young teens can be dangerous, and apparently so here.

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