I got a new couch, and in order to get it into the house, I had to finish the front porch.
So I owe you at least two full blog posts about that. But I’m having a hard time writing them because there’s something else I need to get off my chest. Prepare for some emotional word vomit that is only tangentially related to home improvement.
A couple of weeks ago, while my husband, my best friend, my dad and I were finishing up the framing for the porch, my next-door-neighbor’s house was targeted in a drive-by shooting.
Luckily (I guess, if anyone in these situations can be considered “lucky”) my mom was inside the house with Rowan. Even luckier, none of us on the porch were hurt. There are bullet holes in my fence, not 8 feet away from where I was working with 3 of the people that I love most in the world.
I don’t know if you realize this about me, but I use humor as a defense mechanism. This “DIY comedy” that I write is my way of processing the constant frustrations that I encounter in renovating a house that we never intended to stay in this long — renovating on a tight budget and without professional assistance, because the only hope of recouping money spent at the height of the housing bubble is to somehow try to add value without spending more money. A hope that dwindles as the neighborhood takes a downturn, because you know the old adage: In real estate, location is everything.
My defense mechanism is failing me. I don’t really think there’s a way to laugh this one off.
Our neighborhood has never been “good.” I hear gunshots a couple of times a month. Drugs and prostitution are commonplace. I learned years ago that when Chris and I go for a walk together, I have to walk on the building-side of the sidewalk. Because around here, if a woman walks on the street-side of the sidewalk with a man, it is a signal that she is being pimped. It only took me two propositions to catch on to that important nugget of information. I’ve chased more than my fair share of hookers away from our front gate, and there was a period of time when we regularly found used condoms in our side yard, which is fenced on all sides and must provide a nice little haven for people willing to exchange money for sexual favors, even if they have to crawl over a pile of gardening equipment and fulfill those favors while crammed between our lawnmower and our compost tumbler.
But about a year and a half ago, things started to get worse. The group of kids that lived next door started selling drugs out of their cars, parked in front of my house (and other houses on the street). They started bringing prostitutes in and out of their house. They started openly carrying guns. Word got around the neighborhood was that these kids — and I do mean “kids,” because not one of them looked like they were over 18 and the youngest looked to be about 12 — were gang members, or, at the very least, wanna-be’s.
And eventually, whatever they were doing attracted the attention of another group of similar disposition, resulting in the drive-by that hit WAY TOO CLOSE to my home and my family.
In the two weeks since the drive-by, the kids next door have been laying low. Not that it matters, because while they are physically the closest problem to my house, they are not the only problem my neighborhood. Last weekend alone, the following unrelated incidents occurred, all within about 30 hours:
- Two blocks east of my house, 3:00am July 22: A pizza delivery driver was shot in the heart during what appears to be an attempted robbery and/or carjacking. Miraculously, he lived, although he’s in critical condition and the shooter has not been caught or even identified.
- 30 feet from my house, 2:00am, July 23: A man stabbed a woman in a “domestic dispute.” She survived. Descriptions indicate a pimp/ho relationship. I didn’t see it happen, but the lights of the emergency vehicles flashing in my windows woke me up in time to watch a fire truck hose down the sidewalk after the police photographer finished doing his thing.
- Three blocks west of my house, 5:30am, July 23: Two rival gangs start shooting at each other from their cars. The noise woke me up, but there were so many shots and they occurred so rapidly that I dismissed it as firecrackers. The “good” news: supposedly neither of the gangs are actually based in this neighborhood — this just happens to be where they crossed paths this time.
What. The. Fuck.
And so, I’ve been asking myself: Why am I doing this?
Why am I putting effort into this house that I never intended to turn into a home?
If someone I love gets hit with a stray bullet, will it matter how nice my house is?
There are so many more pressing problems in most people’s lives than whether or not their ceilings are covered in popcorn texture. When I’m writing a blog post, the very thing that makes these stories funny to me is the ridiculous amount of energy that I put into such unimportant things.
You guys, I don’t have that kind of energy any more.
You all know I haven’t been posting much, and I’m sure you thought it was because I had a kid and got distracted. It wasn’t. About 6 months ago, my motivation for doing house projects switched from “I want to” to “Get this house ready to sell.” And I stopped spending my spare time writing about my house, and started looking for ways to make the world a better place.
Because here’s the idea that’s slowly been forming in my mind, only to be made crystal clear to me in the last two weeks. At least once a day since the drive-by, I find myself worrying about whether or not my daughter will be killed. EVERY SINGLE TIME that thought crosses my mind, it induces a minor panic attack. I am finding it hard to function at work, hard to relax with friends, hard to plan for next weekend, when my WHOLE FAMILY — parents, in-laws, siblings, nieces and nephews, close friends — will be coming to this neighborhood to celebrate Rowan’s first birthday, and I feel powerless to protect them. My fingers are starting to shake again while I type this.
And then I imagine what this kind of crushing fear would do to a person over a prolonged period of time. Because there are people who wake up EVERY DAY to the fear that their children might be killed simply for going about their day. Every day. For their whole lives.
I imagine what that kind of fear would do to a family, to a whole community, if it persisted not just for years, but for generations. And I realize how lucky I am, that I will probably get over this fear. That my family and friends have the strength to carry me. That my neighborhood is starting to take action together, and that we have the support of the police.
I see how lucky I am, that I have the option to look at my bank account and simply say, “Let’s move out.”
But for me, it’s not as easy as that. To have this tiny, miniscule, pinprick of a glimpse into what it’s like to live with this fear, and then just turn my back on those can’t leave, that don’t have the support, and who, in many cases, can’t even trust the police — for me to say, “Not my problem, see ya!” That’s not gonna work for me. I can’t just pretend I didn’t see it.
So next time you find yourself looking for me and my humorous stories about home renovation, and you make your way to my website only to find that I haven’t posted anything new in three weeks, and then it turns out that you’ve got a couple of extra minutes because I haven’t provided you with the expected humorous story, here are some things you can do instead:
- SURJ / SURJ MN
- Campaign Zero
- Neighborhoods Organizing for Change
- Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
- Read this book.
And if you find yourself wanting to get out there and do something, who knows? Maybe I’ll see you there.