It was very difficult to see, feel, and understand at the time. It was also downright frightening to tell you the truth. And I am all about truth. So here is: over the course of a week or so, within a month after moving to Chicago, there were three robberies, a rape (viciously brutal, out-loud and public), and a savage beat-down of a guy in my new 100-sqare yard neighborhood.
A grocery store was hit twice, a delivery guy coming out of an apartment building was next; the rape occurred in front of a house across the street from where we lived, and the poor guy who got beat to hell was found on the sidewalk less than a quarter-block away. That was not the kind of welcome I would have wished for anybody. I know none of these things were what I wanted to see and hear.
Time has dimmed the exactness of the day it happened, but soon after these horrific and barbaric crimes occurred, I had a visitor while I sat on my family’s front porch. (For a long time, that porch was the extent of my exploration when we first arrived in the Windy City.) It was a one-way conversation spoken in a low, guttural tone. Slow and carefully I was told that, “I had seen nothing, heard nothing, and didn’t know nothing.” He then eased down the steps, gangsta-walked to the corner, turned right and that was that. Out of sight, but definitely not out of mind.
Imagine someone speaking to you like that; cold, hard, deadly – and get this; we lived next door to a casket company (only a narrow alley separated us), and that’s the god-honest truth. The irony was not lost on me. And maybe it wasn’t meant to be. Anyway, I later came to the conclusion that this guy figured I had seen or heard some parts of those low-down dirty despicable things I just described. In short, the warning was; “open my mouth and I was dead meat!” Obviously, I am still here – thank goodness. But to this day, I don’t know why I escaped “pushing up daisies” instead of just being threatened. The thing that I am most grateful for is that he and his criminal-dog buddies were caught and jailed soon after his ominous visit.
I can’t lie to you: I did not “drop a dime” on him. (Being young, new to the city; I had no idea how to report a crime – and there was my long-standing distrust of police still in my head from Ferguson.) More importantly, though, my family gave me the fearful eye (I had to tell them what happened on the porch), and they let me know loud and clear that we would be targeted if I “ran off at the mouth.” They needn’t have worried. Abject fear paralyzed my bones – especially my spine, and my mouth stayed glued shut. The fact of the matter is that I never clearly saw the faces of those guys. I couldn’t have identified them with a magnifying glass as big as a building.
It was late spring when that shadowy figure had scared the crap out of me. Things were just heating up – literally and figuratively. A fateful birthday rolled around and from that day forward I was not going to fare well in my new hometown when all was said and done. Two year after this “welcome,” combined with all the dire events in between (I need to think about whether of not to share those experiences; we’re talking some pretty raw, down and dirty stuff), I would find myself flying west to the beauty of California and a stint in the US Navy. As life so often plays out, that January Pan Am flight from a minus 30-degree below zero night in Chicago, into an 80-degree sunny “Bay Watch” morning in LA, was a game changer.
My “welcome” to the military, though not as dramatic as my arrival in the Windy City, was nonetheless – difficult, and I hadn’t even left the airport terminal when it happened. That unwelcomed encounter caused me to end up sleeping on the concrete floor in the brig for a few nights. It was “touch and go” after that. So after a short time serving Uncle Sam; honorably, I might add – the welcome mat was withdrawn and it was back to “Sweet Home Chicago” for me.
As you probably guessed already, it was an unwelcome homecoming.
Copyright (c) 2015. Roads, Paths, & Trails. Excerpt from “Glimpses of a Memoir.” All rights reserved.