Some kid was stabbed outside our house yesterday.
At rush hour.
On a busy street.
As much as I love the little bubble we’ve created for ourselves in Rogers Park, we still get reminders that our beloved neighborhood has been on the “ing” part of “up-and-coming” for the better half of 20 years. I am surprised that my mom hasn’t called me yet from her suburban bat cave where WBBM Newsradio 780 streams 24-7. She usually does anytime a Chicago area “Park” neighborhood is in the news.
“There are a string of robberies in Lincoln Park. Is that near you?”
“Richton Park has a big fire. Is that near you?”
“Highland Park has –“
When we first moved into the area, we lived in what is affectionately known as “The Jungle” – a 3-block radius bounded by a cemetery, a warehouse and the lake. Newly developed condos – ours included – were sandwiched between dilapidated Section 8 housing. It had character – and characters – with bargain basement housing prices and an open air drug market on every corner.
But suddenly, many of our friends couldn’t visit us anymore.
Was it the fact that we were so far north?
Or was it the midday “firecrackers”…that weren’t.
We were the first of the gays to move into the area, but being lesbians, we didn’t clean it up so much as become community activists who hung out there until the boys moved it and made everything pretty. We were naïve and childless, fearless and righteous, with nothing to lose – we thought – but our front teeth as we confronted drug dealers, admonished litterers, and encouraged prostitutes to take their business elsewhere.
Occasionally, we even broke up fights.
My first one was a garden-variety “meet-me-afterschool” confrontation between some scrappy 8th graders – 2 brown girls in the ring (tra la la la la), surrounded by their peeps. I stepped in, grabbed both by their shirts, and tsssked the adults who had gathered to egg the girls on. I shooed the onlookers away, then walked the geekier girl home; the other I left to her friends.
My second encounter was an alley intervention – a boyfriend/girlfriend (perhaps pimp/ho?) disagreement that had escalated to what I deemed unacceptable behavior – a man shoving the woman against a brick wall, hand raised to slap.
“Excuse me, sir.” I began, then Helen Reddy took over. “That ain’t no way to treat a lady, no way.” I would have continued with the lyrics, but his buddy, who I hadn’t seen when I turned off the sidewalk and into the alley interrupted.
“Just checking if everything is ok. It looks like it’s not.” I tried to make eye contact with the young woman, but she was determined to look anywhere but in my direction.
“I’m fine,” she mumbled.
“Okaaaaaaaaay.” I tried to draw the word out as long as possible so I could commit their descriptions to memory for my later call to the police. 6’2, African American male, red shirt, 260-270; 5’11 African American male, 170 maybe, shirtless T; 5’2 African American female, 120…
“Well, I’ll be around! So…you know…watch yourself.” I gave the two men my most menacing glare, confident that I had left them cowering in fear.
Flash forward 3 years when it was time to add kids to our family. We knew we would need a larger space, so we followed the Village People edict to Go West – about 10 blocks – to the land of Victorian houses and double lots, of gay couples with matching Subarus and 2.5 kids.
Homo Sweet Homo
It was to this backyard that I returned last night after the picking the kids up from camp. Over Olivia’s pre-dinner cries, Gabe’s post-snack singing, and Nick’s non-stop commentary, I heard a young man’s voice cry for help.
A blur of brown and blue whizzed past the front fence, followed by another blur of bodies, all running, yelling.
Then more running.
I need to get the kids inside. If they heard anything, they gave no indication. And once inside, my middle-aged mind was immediately consumed with domestic tasks like feeding the kids, letting the dog out and trying to figure out what that rash was on Gabe’s leg. A low-level buzz of rationalizations played in the background. Those must have been kids playing, just being silly, chasing each other like that…
Only later, after tucking Olivia in, did I look out our front window and see the police tape stretching from our front fence down the block.
And the 5 police cars.
And the 6 officers.
“What happened?” I asked the officer closest to our fence.
“An altercation a few houses down. Gang-related. Did you hear anything?”
“I thought I heard something…”
But then I froze.
Then I was afraid.
And then I forgot…not just who I had once been, but who I wanted my children to become.
But next time, I’ll remember.