You could count the rows of bricks on these gritty apartments like wasted gravestones, like memorials for forgotten bodies scattered on hillside tombs. But bricks don’t make flesh worth remembering — lives do. So you remember: thumping bass from opened windows, young lovers with locked lips. Rebel flags drawn back to let the sun in, Jimi Hendrix played on broken guitars. Busted bottles. Floors scrubbed fresh with the scent of pine. Happy Days reruns. Strangers calling out for a cigarette or the time. In one room, an old lady hums How Great Thou Art, an opened Bible on her lap. In another, a lost soul with a grimy shirt for tourniquet, a needle poked halfway through sagging flesh. The Olive Street Market — busy for this time of day — but still, you’ll wait, talk to neighbors, a buck and a quarter for a banana, fifty cents for a Charleston Chew. Outside, neighbors sit on rusty lawn-chairs, bitter brews in wrinkled hands. They’ll tell each other tales. How the law caught up with the Adkins boy, after he went and stole the copper from out the cable man’s truck. How Jeffery just come back from St. Mary’s — triple bypass, too much fried food — but he’ll be OK. In the distance, HPD sirens — Which one they come to get today? Everybody knows the routine: stay close to your door, hang out your windows, keep watch, but don’t seem like you’re staring. They line the suspects on broken concrete, hands in plastic ties behind their back, lost dreams on their blank faces, yes ma’am and no sir on their tongues. In a moment, they’ll be gone — a momentary pause, an abrupt semicolon in their fractured lives — off to the Regional, worn cots and three-solid-meals a day. And back at the T? You’ll watch the whirligigs outside Mrs. Whitecraft’s door spin, watch your mother braid your sister’s golden hair, blow bubbles through twisted metal coat hangers, know first loves and first heartbreaks and first cars — junky as they might be — until you’re old enough to leave, or young enough to die — whichever comes first.
– For K, who almost made it. Almost.
Photo credit: Author