He walked up Crenshaw and Monroe, his shoes bright and glistening, past the other business suits and young professionals, orderly and motivated, walking with purpose but at peace. Their lot in life was a promised fulfilled and he envied that. The feeling of comfort that came out of believing that you were deservant of all of the good the world had to offer. Early on he tried to mimic that feeling, that confident stride with your head lifted and gaze soft on the horizon. As if you were envisioning that future version of yourself and every step you took you were making noticeable gains towards becoming that person. That happy, successful and fulfilled version of yourself. When he looked out at the horizon he would never arrive on one version of himself, there multiple visions and at times they would blend together, success mixed with illness and loneliness, comfort without purpose, and always a deep shame of what he had given up to get there. His life, all the good in it as far as he could see was built on a series of fortunate events. Fortune that never happened to people like, people that came from where he came from, and so he knew in his heart that at any moment his luck would leave him and he’d have to fall back into that place. That place where his family and friends had stayed, that place where you wouldn’t dare look towards the future because the present weighed so heavily on you, because life demanded all your attention now and you were forever at it’s mercy.
He walked past Low Street and through Main, up past the finance sector with its high rises and parking garages. Sports cars and luxury vehicles neatly tucked away in underground fortresses while the money and prestige that afforded them swirled in and out of computer screens and servers above. Up through the seaport where the people thinned and the streets grew empty. He was always struck by how bright and lonely this part of town was, so much space dedicated to a part time of activity. As if money and people couldn’t co-exist in one space for more than a set number of hours a day, the separation of church and state.
He made it to George street, that line that exists in every city where the new came in contact with the old. Where the character of the city was molded and then left to rust. The line marked by broken bottles and giant graffiti murals splayed along the walls. The smell of urine and old cigarettes filling the air. And then there was the music that filled the air, first coming from the cars whose speakers roared down the street, but when you listened more closely from the people, the sounds of the neighborhood carrying along the long blocs and tall buildings. People sitting on their stoops to escape the heat, telling stories of the day or days past, kids running past one another on the narrow blocs and his body responding to it. His shoulders loosening and his step becoming more fluid, a fluidity to match the unpredictability of the city.
The part of the city he knew best. There was a comfort here that he had a hard time explaining to his friends. Seeing in the people you were around, all the people you grew up with. Not just their faces or their skin color but in the way they carry themself and the customs that they consider essential to everyday life. His worries were different here, there was crime but for whatever reason it all felt less menancing than walking by the armed guards on wall street. His friends had come to visit a few times, always down for a more authentic food experience but it made him uncomfortable to have them nearby. Like disaster was around the corner and he would be held responsible. It wasn’t something he had an easy time explaining to them, the visions he had, always haunting him. The panicked dreams of waking up one day and seeing his mother dragged away like his father had been. Of being alone and at the mercy of child services, of the group home, of the anger of the other abandoned kids.
A black civic screeched by yelling “This is America, don’t catch you slipping up, dont catch you slipping up” and then turning the corner. He always hated Gambino, hated pretension in celebrities, thinking they’re of such a different mold than everyone else. It was his biggest fear to be thrown in that category. To be one of the ones that got out and thought themselves above it now. His mother accused him of living in the old neighborhood out of guilt, to tally some points in the imaginary ledger all people of color are measured against.
She was right that he wanted to be true to his family. To those that cheered him on when he left for college and forced him to show himself when he came back. Dragging him to cookouts and dances, telling exaggerated stories about his new life to his little cousins. Painting him as the model of what life could and would be for them when they were grown up and ready to be on their own. And all the while fighting off the negativity that came with that kind of success. From the neighbors, from the extended family, from those who thought his progress came at their expense. That for him to succeed it would mean solidifying all of their failures. A big reason he made it through college was their support and to leave them now, to do exactly what those neighbors expected of him, use and run, was more than he could bear.