This is the way it starts.
I’m writing a new book and like my last book (and probably the next book) it is set in the neighborhoods where I grew up.
This is how it begins. The reminiscing. The going back in the day, the urge to visit where I came from, the obsession to get it right.
This time my childhood friend, Tamika, is with me. I pick her up and the plan is to just hang out, but like all good hanging out we soon find ourselves laughing over the “old” days, the “way” it used to be. Over fried chicken liver and Texas Pete hot sauce at Pollard’s Chicken, we go over the people we knew. The people who lived in the same neighborhoods as us.
“He’s dead. He is too. He just got outta jail, and she – oh she works at the Wal-Mart over there.”
We leave the restaurant known for its gizzards and buttery puffs and without Tamika knowing it I take her on the drive that I usually make alone. The same drive my character Dominique takes in my novel Holler at the Moon.
“Mika, is The Scotsman still there?” I ask fully planning to stop and purchase something from the store housed with slightly irregular clothing. Back in the day, I got many-a-ill-fitting-outfit there. I planned to buy something in tribute.
“Nah, but they have one in Janaf.” I nod my head. Another Scotsman won’t do. I grew up with the one in the Southern Shopping center.
At Northside Park we share memories of walking the mile from our homes in Ocean Air Apartments to stand in a line that at times wrapped around the pool building. Once inside, we’d swim thirty allotted-minutes before the whistle blew signaling our time was up and it was a new batch of kids turn to frolic.
We drive some more and share more memories that others would find depressing and dark. To us, they’re merely our childhood.
“When they put these gates up in Hallmark?”
“Its not Hallmark its Hallmart, I used to live here. Have no idea why they called it Hallmart though.”
“That was the apartments’ name.”
“Well damn, why didn’t they put up a sign?”
“They did. They tore it down.”
“Who tore it down?”
“Mike, Shawn and ‘em.”
As for the gates, I tell her they went up around ’91. The cops got tired of the drug boys, also known as the guys we grew up with, running through them and escaping. So they sealed off all escape routes. I remember. I remember Jamal got shot and killed when those cats from that other neighborhood were chasing him. Those gates stopped him from escaping them too.
And I remember Ocean Air, now the face-lifted Mariners Watch. We point out the courts we used to live in. Me in the front, her towards the back. We point out the old candy store we used to frequent. In my novel I named it Sunny’s. Tamika reminds me its name was Crows.
“Girl, why didn’t you call me? I could’ve helped you with the details.”
I look at her and for a second I am amazed. I met this woman somewhere between the fifth and the sixth grade while trudging through the swampy land of “the creek” We were looking for an escape from our Ocean Air lives. We excelled at playing adventure. This woman who has witnessed it all up close and personal from back alley drug transactions where everything was traded but cash, to crap game stick-ups where shots were blasted before the robber realized the “kids” were playing with imagination and not money. She witnessed it all, from drug busts to murders to Russian-Roulette suicides (RIP Linwood).
Knowing what I know about our lives, I am amazed because Tamika should be hard. She should be damaged and mean and broken but she’s not. Instead, she sits beside me laughing and offering me her help. She has a sharp mind filled with the details of the neighborhoods I write about. This woman, my friend, Tamika has light in her voice and shine in her eyes and she reminds me why I am astounded by girls like us who grew up in neighborhoods like ours and still manage to come out hopeful.
Tinesha Davis is the author of All Black Girls Ain’t Got Rhythm, a collection of poetry and a debut novel Holler at the Moon. You can visit Tinesha at www.TineshaDavis.com