I live across the street from a crack addict. He confessed to the media that he was smoking crack the night his van collided with a motorcycle, killing two people. After he served a short stint in jail, I saw him sitting on the front porch of the apartment complex where he lives. On my way to work, I stopped and boldly stated that I was surprised to see him. He told me if it weren’t for the witnesses testifying that the motorcycle crossed the center line and hit his van, rather than the other way around, he’d still be sitting in that jail.
When I lived in the suburbs, I never would have imagined a.) living across the street from a crack addict, and b.) stopping to chat with said crack addict on my way to and from work.
The thing is, Donny is a really great neighbor. When I woke up to the first major snowfall a few months after moving into the city, it was Donny who was traipsing up and down the street with his shovel, digging out one car after another. He didn’t ask for money or a return favor. He just did what a good neighbor does.
When I couldn’t start my car, he was the first one to come over and ask how he could help. When my dog escaped from the backyard, he helped chase him down and bring him home. And whether I am coming or going, I can always count on Donny’s loud, robust voice, shouting, “Hey Neighbor!”
Living in the city has opened a whole new world of experiences for me and my children. I am not going to advocate a friendship between my children and Donny, but I do expect them to be polite and say hello when he speaks to them. Knowing him has demystified the whole notion of drug addicts in the city. While I hope and pray that Donny finds freedom from his addiction, I will not run or hide from him because his sins may appear scarier or heftier than mine.
Waving Their Rainbow Flags
On the same note, I will not shun the couples in the two homes directly across the street, just because they are homosexual males. Discussing our weekend plans or talking about the Colts game with these couples is no different from talking about it with our heterosexual, married neighbors in the ‘burbs. Again, knowing these couples has demystified what it is like to be in community with others who have a differing lifestyle. Building relationships, even if limited to quick chats, allows us (me and my boys) to move away from judgment and into a supportive and caring experience with these neighbors.
Tonight as I was driving my son to soccer practice, my car died at an intersection not far from our house, but not in the safest area in the city either. I texted my boyfriend an S.O.S. before calling AAA. He helped push the car to an abandoned lot and then took my son to practice. As I waited for AAA, several people walked by, but I never feared for my safety at this corner where prostitutes are known to solicit business and the occasional shootings take place.
When I called my friend Laura to have her take my two younger boys home so they wouldn’t have to wait, she sounded a little skeptical about leaving me alone at that intersection. I told her no one had bothered us so far and I would be fine.
The minute she drove off, a neighborhood boy-turning-man, appeared from around the corner. He sat down next to me on the curb, but I still wasn’t afraid. Even with the sagging shorts and stereotypical gang-style clothing, he didn’t come across as aggressive or intimidating. When I asked him what he was up to, he looked at me with big, innocent eyes and told me he was walking to his friend’s house. We sat in silence for a while until he spoke: “I thought something must be wrong because I never seen a car parked here like that before.”
(Lamont watching my car getting towed)
“That’s about as far as we could push it since it’s so big,” I said.
“Is everything okay?” he asked, flashing a gorgeous, bright smile.
“Yes. The tow truck is on it’s way,” I told him.
“I thought something must be wrong because I never seen a car parked here like that before,” he said again.
It was then that, although it seemed a little strange, I knew I had nothing to worry about. Lamont was simply hanging out.
He kept sitting on that curb as my friend Laura came back to keep me company and as the tow truck driver rigged up my car. When my boyfriend returned to take me home, Lamont continued sitting. Perhaps there was nothing better to do than sit with a random lady at the corner of 22nd and College on a pretty, summer day. Whatever the reason, I stopped speculating and just let the experience exist as it was. Not all strangers in semi-dangerous neighborhoods are out to take advantage of or hurt me. While it’s smart to be cautious and aware of my surroundings, when I create an environment of openness and trust, I am likely to get those very things returned to me.
Living downtown has caused a great shift in how I see people, and how I live my life. I value diversity and experiences much more than I ever could have in the suburbs where we all looked the same, drove the same SUVs, went to the same churches and frequented the same restaurants. I have the Donnys, the Lamonts and the gay neighbors, with whom I share a diverse neighborhood and a vibrant city, to thank for that shift. You all have made me a more loving, caring and accepting woman.