38th and Baltimore

July had been a long, hot month. August even longer. About a month ago we discovered the couple we had been living with for nearly a year to be heroin junkies. The questions started when the rent was three months behind.  Why was it that they always seemed sick and never left their room? Finally, all of our missing spoons made perfect sense.

When confronted, they retaliated with only water works and apologies. They knew they had to leave, and we could only hope it would be to rehab. I have little personal experience with addiction but have come to believe that the tears of a junkie are saltier than yours or mine.

Next week’s news was not found at home but on the radio. Attempted murder and grand theft at the local pizzeria in our neighboring back yard. Not waking up to the gunshots or seeing any of the blood made the words eerily easy to hear. My foolishness reminded me that we were still safe, so all  was well.

A week later to the day, my close friends were in town. We were at their concert a few blocks away from the house. My girlfriend Jasmin called to tell me a man was shot six times to death at the barbershop across the street. Her words were dark but calm and merely informative. My foolishness again removed us from proximity of the danger. I thought, “It was close yeah, but it wasn’t a random act or anything.” “No one I know is hurt. Everything is ok.” And, “We live in the city, this shit happens.” (Just not to us.)

The next week, Tuesday at three o’clock, the Missouri sun and humidity rained down on me like a heavy wet blanket. After a long day of labor and hot filth, I walked up to our front steps anticipating the embrace of an air-conditioned sanctuary. I reached the top step and heard a splash behind me. Turning around, I find I nearly missed being showered with…booze? I stopped a moment to listen to the patterning of tiny feet on the porch above my head.

Maybe it was a hunch. Maybe it was paranoia. Or maybe it was the rumor that our landlord had fallen off the wagon again. Whatever it was, something urged me to leave my beautiful 70-degree apartment and to pay my landlord upstairs a visit. Just to make sure everything was ok…It wasn’t.

Her door was ajar and loud music seeped out. I entered to find Jonathan, a local crackhead drunk, stammering incoherently on the couch. The generic Oi Punk that was blaring through the stereo shouted “1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4…” Jonathan repeated it over and over as he shook his head and swung his limp hands at the couch. The fool was so far gone he couldn’t even notice me standing in the same room. I stepped over 4 Loko cans and dirty shit diapers as I walk to the bedroom. There she was.

Dirty black feet and blacked out on the bed, there was my landlord. I called her name a few times. Stones have given me more of a response than she. In the next room was the most sickening sight yet. On the recliner sits Corbin, her son. Three years old with some sort of undiagnosed disability, he sat covered in his own filth, preciously ignorant of his unfortunate home. Finally, now, my  heart hurt.

What is it about the innocence of a child that makes the wrong so wrong and the right so clear? Drugs, theft, shootings, and murders have left me relatively unmoved. But something about the sight of a child who doesn’t even realize the severity of his own unfortunate state, finally affected me. I took his hand and we walked down to my apartment. The whole way down I kept in mind that my hand could have just as easily belonged to a neighborhood junkie or even a murderer. I thanked whomever it may concern that it’s not as I ran the bath and cleaned him up. By dialing child services, I had accepted that my girlfriend and I would soon be homeless and gladly took the plunge. I gave them our address while he smiled and laughed. I bathed him and pretended that we were having a great time.

The police arrived first and took his mother and Jonathan away. They left the lost soul in my care until child services came. 4 Four hours later, when they finally did, we said our final goodbyes. Thankfully, he will be too young to remember a lick of the day’s events. Before they took him, I stuffed a photo of Jasmin and me in his little cargo shorts pocket. The back read, “We love you little guy. We’re sorry we couldn’t do more. Be good and mind your P’s and Q’s”. I didn’t know what else to write, so I just jotted down what I remember my folks always saying to me when I was a boy.

This was the day we finally decided to leave 38th and Baltimore. After all the light has been shed, the darkest lesson I have learned here is this that my story is not even dark. To some it may seem dim or even sad, but to those who live here it is not a dark story. It is only another story.