East Side Indy

My head is throbbing.

I am jumpy, skitterish, probably unnecessarily anxious.

Today was a long day – getting Evelyn off to pre-school at 8:30, coming home to catch up on dishes and try to work on an article, then work at Starbucks 12:30, taking Frank to work at 5:30, then getting a babysitter and going to do a film review this evening.  I missed dinner and didn’t have much of a lunch.  I felt almost jovial coming out of the movie, stopped in to Trader Joe’s and headed for the highway home.

At the stoplight just before I69/465, I clicked on the little indicator that says how much gas I have left – oops, only 7 miles until empty.  And I was in the wrong lane to turn around.  So I got on the highway, nervous and scanning the exits for a gas station.  This wouldn’t do – I had to get off at Lawrence.  I wasn’t going to end up stranded at night on the highway with one headlight and no one to rescue me.  I drove down a street that, while well lit, was not where I wanted to be.  I had to pull in to the first gas station – really the only gas station – I could see, and as I did, I noticed there were police cars parked askew in the lot and a couple officers having heated debate with some young girls.  I tried to stay nonchalant, but a voice came over the speaker and told me I’d have to pre-pay inside.  So I locked the car and walked through the police cars and in to the station.  I waited in line, listening to the shouts and curses of people in the store.  I could feel my face flushing, a rushing sound filling my ears and a sort of desperation as I willed the line to move faster.  I paid a polite cashier and quickened my steps back to the car, where I put $20 worth in my tank.  A well-dressed man on the other side of the pump filled his car and shook his head at me, saying, “I’m just dreading this summer, when those crime rates are gonna climb even higher.  A few months from now, I don’t even want to see.  It’s already started.  These young kids, they just don’t care, don’t even care about living.”  I nodded soberly back at him.

I finished pumping my gas, wished the man good night and safe home, and got back in my car, locked the doors and got back on the highway.  But the more I thought about it, the more I began to feel the chills of reality.  He was right, and I knew it.  Everyone around here knows it.  This summer is going to be bad, unless something changes.

I started thinking about how easily a fairly innocent altercation, like the one I’d been forced to walk into, could escalate into something fatally serious.  I imagined what it would have been like if tonight had gone differently.  A balmy spring evening, people on their way home, an argument breaks out, over drugs, women, insults, assumptions.  An accusation is made, or a cop shows up and starts pushing the wrong buttons – and all of a sudden, a hot bullet slices through the cool air, zings and pings and maybe sinks itself with a tiny thud into real, warm flesh.  Maybe a bystander, maybe a cop, maybe the intended target.  Who knows who is carrying a weapon now, but more hands go to more guns, maybe more fire, maybe not.  Maybe it ends with a squeal of tires or the cry of a siren.  Maybe it ends fine.  Maybe it ends in death.

But it’s real.  And it feels surreal to even consider.

And all of a sudden I can’t wait to get home to hold my babies in my arms.  I am no longer the invincible young woman who lived the single life here, picking up hitch hikers and laughing in the face of crime, willingly ignorant.  I can almost taste it now, and it’s foul, metallic, gruesome, and incredibly frightening.  I fear the helplessness of such a situation.  I cry for those who have been scarred by these things so recently (Nathan Trapuzzano, may he rest in peace, is making international news).  I am home now, and still reeling a bit.  I’ve opened a bottle of wine and shakily bring the glass to my lips until I have relaxed a little, enough to sit down and write this.

It’s one thing to watch The Wire as entertainment.  It’s another thing entirely to worry that before long, you will find yourself living in it.

………….

Seven months ago, we moved back to Indianapolis.  For better or for worse, we moved to the East Side – a place with lots of promise and re-growth, an area where friends of ours had moved and even bought homes.  But it remains to be an area, as we knew and feared, that breeds violence and crime.

Indy has had a checkered history of crime.  When I was a kid watching Reggie Miller play at Market Square Arena on TV, the city was known for its violence, even from the far reaches of Montana.  But when I went to Anderson University and later moved down to Indianapolis myself, the rates had dropped.  I lived in the Old Northside part of downtown for almost three years, and call it ignorance or infallibility or youth, but I rarely felt nervous here.  There was crime, yes, sirens and gunshots and headlines in the paper – but it didn’t worry me.  There were drug dealers and prostitutes and a registered child molester in my apartment building, a gay couple across the hall who regularly had loud domestic disputes, and even a teenaged joyrider down the street who caused a police cruiser to crash into the side of my car, which was innocently parked on the street outside.  But I loved my neighborhood, my apartment and all the quirks and charms of living there.  I did not know self-defence and I didn’t carry anything more dangerous than a can of pepper spray.

Now we are back, and we’re living on a quiet street where our neighbors are other young families and a few older folks.  People take care of their yards and drive normal middle class cars.  I love that even though we’re in the city limits, we can have a fire pit in our yard.  And even though we’ve still got an Indianapolis zip code, I see wildlife like squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, possums and many different kinds of birds.  It’s not a bad place to live – we chose it because it had a great big fenced in yard and a reasonable rental rate.  It’s very convenient to the Starbucks where I work and the warehouse that employs Frank.

BUT.  It’s still the East Side.  There have been 94 homicides in Indy since we moved here, most of which were gun-related, most of which were on the East Side.  A few streets this way, a few blocks that, but still way too close to home.  We do not really walk anywhere around here – we get in the car and drive to a park or a store or a coffee shop.  We watch Evelyn like a hawk when she’s in the back yard.  We definitely lock all the doors and windows.  And sometimes, we are more than cautious, more than nervous or anxious even.  We are afraid.

The cops like to come in to Starbucks and tell us the grisly details of the latest rape or shooting.  “My buddy slipped and skidded in someone’s brains today,” one told me recently.  They like to laugh about the low-life individuals they bring in.  Gallows humor, I suppose – I wouldn’t want their jobs, especially when they lost a comrade last autumn.  But I guess in my current stage of life, it’s not funny, or entertaining.  It’s frightening.  I carry these stories home with me and they haunt my waking moments and my sleep.

Friends who have lived here through the bad and the good remind me that there’s little to fear when you live a clean life.  No one is after us for drugs, we don’t have a history of domestic violence, we haven’t ratted anyone out, we’re not operating a brothel.  We mind our business, they mind theirs, in a very primitive, marshall law kind of way.  But that’s not always the case.  Innocent people can be mugged or murdered, children kidnapped, shots fired, for no reason at all.  For some criminal minds, it does not matter if they destroy the life of a tree, an animal, or another human stranger.

So do we stay?  Do we have faith that we’ll stay in everyone’s good graces and go on about our business?  Or do we go elsewhere, out of caution and fear.  There is violence everywhere – even the streets of Drogheda were getting scarier, one of the reasons we left there for here.  We cannot hide from villains.  But how can we be smart?  How can we tuck our children in to bed at night with peaceful hearts?  I do not know.

But I do know I’m not looking forward to being on the East Side this summer.

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