This is something I don’t really like to talk about. I don’t like to talk about it because I am reaching and hoping and grieving for the loss of a reality that has yet to be. How can I grieve for something that has never been? I don’t know.
There are a lot of things I don’t know. But I do know this: I hear gunshots every day. Just a few minutes ago, three in quick succession and a loud engine squealing in the aftermath. In the morning last week, just one, like a big boom that shook the house around 8am while I was still getting dressed for work. The silence in the moments that followed was eerie and hollow.
I don’t like to talk about it because there’s a bullet hole in my front door I secretly pray won’t be the first thing people notice when they come over. I don’t want them to be scared. “It was here when I bought the house,” I try to explain, as if that somehow makes it better. At first I thought that maybe the bullet came from the inside out, as if that somehow made it better.
There are sirens, too. My dog howls in the backyard when they fly by, as if she is helping to sound the alarm. She howls at the ice cream truck too, so maybe the alarm is just mine. The police are on every corner, in the stores where I buy my off-brand organic eggs and quarts of paint named “Glass of Milk” and “Silent Night” but somehow I don’t feel more safe.
The nights are anything but silent. There are loud pops and cracks and revving motors. There are gunshots (or maybe firecrackers, when I’m feeling optimistic) and more sirens and once in awhile, a screaming couple who chase each other up and down the street.
I don’t like to talk about it because today on Facebook a friend posted that she couldn’t go to the movie she was planning to see with a friend because there was a shooting at the mall. She arrived and the police were evacuating everyone. She said she cried all the way home.
I knew about it before it was news. It’s starting to be that common. And it’s not just in my neighborhood, close to my home. It’s on all of our doorsteps, in our workplaces and fun places and school places.
My heart is riddled with holes. I imagine yours is, too.
At night, I sleep with the windows open, anyway. The first Junebug of the season just flew inside (because let’s face it, not all of my windows have screens on them). It buzzed around for a minute and then landed on my bed. I am seriously scared of Junebugs. Especially when they fly into my hair or my car and just buzz and buzz. But I scooped it up with my hand and tossed it back into the soft breeze. I don’t want to kill anything anymore.
Here’s what I do want to talk about: Tonight before the sunset, I sat on my back porch and heard gospel music. It was loud and brassy and all about a girl named Shirley wearing a short skirt. It came from the brick church just behind my house. I usually only hear it on Sunday, so tonight was a real treat. I laughed and laughed when they sang about that Shirley.
When the wind blows just so, I can hear my neighbor’s wind chimes. And every morning like clockwork at seven, and eight, the church bells. They ring in solemn routine that soothes and reminds me that some things are still okay.
And don’t get me started on my neighbors. They are just the best. Diane, four doors down is the resident cat lady. She lives in a blue house with blue tarps on the sides of her porch and keeps food and water out for all of the stray cats. The stray cats on our street look like kings and queens. They are so well fed and loved by Diane. One day, when Maya accidentally escaped from the backyard, she brought her back and knocked on my door and left a little pile of food for her to eat so she wouldn’t run away again.
Jesús in the green and turquoise house catty-corner to mine is a saint. He’s from Guadalajara and Chicago and gives me a good reason to practice my Spanish. His yard is the tidiest and he tells me about all of the other neighbors and what’s going on. I’m not sure how he knows, but he does.
Abdullah on my left has a big family. Ranging in age from four to twenty, I see his kids come and go a lot, on their way to school or hanging out with friends. He told me about the folks who lived here before I did and how everyone on this street is so nice. Last week he ran into me when I was taking Maya for a walk. “You’re a good neighbor,” he smiled. “Don’t leave.” Which made me feel prouder than I probably should have. He wears a lot of track suits and I catch him out walking around while his wife and her friends sit on the porch in plastic chairs and chat.
Gabrielle on my right is quiet. I hardly ever see him but can hear the television on in the evenings, so I know he’s okay. He’s 92 and lives alone. Originally from Italy, he’s lived in this neighborhood for more than 60 years. He still has an accent and when we first moved in, invited my sister and I over for coffee. I’m still waiting to take him up on his offer. Sometimes I see him backing his car out of the detached garage or through the kitchen window looking over the fence at Maya and saying a kind word or two while she wags and wags.
I love the rest of my neighborhood too. I love the brightly painted signs and murals. I love the smell of tacos al pastor and the taste of green chile hot sauce and freshly squeezed lime. I love walking through the park and seeing the high school students practicing their slow dance in the tennis courts for what I imagine is a quinceañera celebration.
I love the older gentleman with a puppy named Canelo sitting on the bench who invited me to share a beer with him on one of the first, perfect days of Spring. I politely declined and said I had to go home to prepare dinner, but how I wanted to stay. I love the father I saw tonight with his daughter, slowly walking with her on a bike with the training wheels still attached, pedaling away while her brown curly hair swept across her face in the wind.
I love the edges here and the beauty and the history. I love the swirl of language and food and culture. It’s authentic in a way that would never need that word to describe it. It goes much deeper than that. It’s real. It breathes and pulses and swirls around me like an invitation: “Come, see, partake.”
The hardness and the heart. The church bells and the sirens. The singing and the bullets.
I don’t want it to be part of the story- this reality of threat and tension occupying the same space as children riding their bicycles with the training wheels still on and puppies howling at ice cream trucks. I don’t want our propensity to point our fingers at each other to become so lethal that bullets fly from our fingers left and right while children play in the street and walk to school with their backpacks on.But I don’t want to ignore it, either. I don’t want to pretend it’s only wind chimes and gospel music. I don’t want to hide the bullet hole in my front door or the reasons that might’ve led to the shattered glass pane that whistles ever so slightly to the open air. I don’t want to shut my windows to the screams of “F*ck you” or deafen my ears to the wailing that’s a symptom of so many things that aren’t right. Not now, not yet.
Because we can still make it right.
I don’t know how. Lord knows, I don’t know how. But we have to see it all and hear it all before we can even begin to try. Not just the cracked open hearts and sidewalks, but the purple violets growing (ever so fragilely) in-between. And the pulse still beating with life (ever so faintly).
There is still life here. In our hearts, in our pain, in our sorrow and confusion and fear.
Can we soften our gaze and lower our voice and still see with clarity and speak with fierceness? Is it possible to strike a different pose and let our fingers intertwine with each other instead of killing our brothers and sisters? Can we love and listen even when we’re scared and feel our very livelihood is threatened?
Because our lives depend on it. Yours, and mine. And there is still life. Still life.Google+