Friday, May 04, 2007

Neighborhood Part 11

Laura's belongings are piled up on the sidewalk. A model ship, clothing in tiny sizes, laminated posters and other detritus sit abandoned under the Chinaberry tree collecting rain and becoming bedding for the feral cats who make Southside their home. Piles like hers are all over Southside. I used to think they represented irresponsible neighbors who just dumped their junk in the street as they moved, but it finally dawned on me that they're the scars of hasty evictions. The piles look like junk because all of the tenant's valuable possessions have long since been traded for drugs or found their way to one of Birmingham's pawn shops. Each pile represents a person. Laura's pile is the collected flotsam and jetsam of her life. Her clothing. Things she treasured and couldn't trade. Marks of her identity under the rain, under the wind, under feet, under cars as if her life were a mark on a chalkboard that could be removed with one swoop of the landlord's eraser. I don't know if it's wrong, but I'm glad she's gone. And I don't blame the landlord for evicting her. She didn't leave him with a choice. It's just that I feel compelled to eulogize her murdered future somehow. Here lived Laura. She is a wrecked shell of a human being, but she is still a human being. She murdered her dreams, but she still had them. Once upon a better time, here in this house, under these Chinaberry trees.

I've learned a little more about Laura's dreams over the past weeks. In an unsurprising twist of fate (unsurprising only because nothing is very surprising anymore), I discovered I have a friend who worked with Laura before she relapsed back in January. My friend actually found Laura a little intimidating. I found her intimidating, too, when I used to see her leave her apartment in a suit and heels off to her marketing job. She was a graduate student. Intelligent, reserved, serious. As I sat on the porch barefoot in my husband's shirt and ratty jeans, I felt less than her somehow. She had a purpose and a plan. I had a lawnmower and a monkey's job. Laura was my friend, my friend remembers. Never in a million years would I have believed she would come to this. One of my neighbors remembers Laura refusing an offered beer. I used to have a rough life, she said, and I don't drink anymore. She used to tell the neighbors that there were a lot of bad people in our neighborhood and we laughed, thinking "well, you're the bad people, Laura." But now I see what she meant. She was afraid she couldn't stand up under the pressure of available heroin and available clientele.

So, in the end, she didn't make it. She's alive if you can call it that, somewhere in south Florida serving a four-year sentence for prostitution and possession, but she didn't make it out of Southside back into life. Heroin addicts refer to the time when your drugs are gone and you're junk-sick as "nighttime." So, it's nighttime for Laura, and maybe hope comes in the morning. Somehow, I think I've been fascinated by her life all these weeks because it's a metaphor for what's going on all around me. But unlike Laura, I feel delivered. I feel that somehow God looked at my little family and said That's enough for Team Smith. And I know I don't deserve it. I'm not better than the people facing the wrecking ball, but that knowledge doesn't stem my gratitude for being spared. I'm tempted to think that God spared us because David deserved it, but that isn't true either. I think he spared us because he's good. He'll lead us into difficulty many more times as we walk this earth, but he won't let us be destroyed. Ever. He promised and I believed him.

I had a dream that David and I were standing on the edge of a cliff. He took my hand and said "Just don't let go," and together we leaped off our security into the Wild Blue Yonder. And God said it was good.

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