Gunshots & Carrots

Sage appeared in my doorway, wrapped in her comforter, her big sister right behind her. “Mom, were those gunshots?”

It was 9:30 pm and the girls had been in bed for an hour. I had heard the shots–3 of them with several eerie pauses between–fired in the alley behind my house. I was hoping that the girls were asleep and didn’t hear. But here we are on my bed having a conversation I wasn’t prepared to have tonight. “Mom, why do we live in Sherman Park?”

We’ve lived here ten years now and these conversations are never easy, especially now that my kids are older and more aware. I talked with my girls for awhile that night, which puts me in a strange sisterhood of mothers who have detailed discussions with their children about what to do when we hear nearby gunshots.

I called 911 and they sent a squad car. The officers in the squad called to tell me they were in the area. The girls slept in bed with me for awhile that night, and as they drifted to sleep, I felt the same doubt and fear that my sisterhood likely feels: am I able to protect my children? Is this the best place for us? Should we move?

And then I’m reminded, as I often am, that the ability to ask these questions is a privilege. The ability to move elsewhere is a privilege. I know that there are mothers who don’t have the resources to consider these options. And knowing that humbles me.

The next morning, my alarm went off at 5:10. I had planned to meet some neighbors to go for a run at the Washington High School track. I jogged over to the school, feeling miserable in the cold dark morning because of the night before, but also because I am not particularly fond of running. But running seems to be a logical next step in becoming a good adult person, so I had agreed to meet them.

I arrived at the track the same time as the Walking Ladies, a group of older black women who apparently meet each morning to walk the track together. They are obviously morning people, calling good morning to me and each other in the dark. My neighbors and I begin our run and I realize very quickly that my companions are, like, people who actually run. They are not people like me who like to think that they like to run and with each lap around the track, I begin to grasp this irreconcilable difference. And each time that we run past the Walking Ladies on the track, one of them sings for us, encourages us, or does something else really kind. And then I feel profound joy that I live here, and believe that everyone in Milwaukee should consider Sherman Park as a place to live because a neighborhood just doesn’t get any better than this.

But then I get kinda mad about the whole thing because I wish Sherman Park would just stop dangling the carrot in front of me. I wish this neighborhood would just make up its mind: either be the hood or be Urban Mayberry. Sherman Park could be peaceful and all Mayberry-ish for months on end and the day that my mother comes to town, someone decides to light a car on fire, or smash into someone’s car and drive away. As a result, my mother has a rather skewed opinion of my neighborhood. Sherman Park, could you just keep it together when my mom comes to town? Thanks.

That day, I felt mostly discouraged. I check the news to see if there was any report about the gunshots the night before and found nothing, which is a relief, but it makes me wonder why someone was shooting in the alley. What were they shooting at? I’ll never know.

When I pick up the girls from school that day, I decide to take them to Atwater park in the calm oasis of Shorewood. Yes, shiny clean Shorewood is what I need today. I take Capitol Drive and the traffic is slow-going. As we approach the park, I can see why the traffic has been slow: two cars collided and one of them careened off the road into Atwater Park and came to a halt very near the playground equipment. All the moms had gathered their kids and thankfully, it appeared that no one had been hurt.

There’s so much irony there that I have to laugh. Man, get it together Shorewood. Y’all got some problems.

So these past few weeks, I’ve been feeling like there’s a tight rubber band in my chest. It’s made me feel like life is a legitimate crisis. Bath night for girls? Crisis. Host dinner at my house? Crisis. Pay library fines, write an article, watch a friend’s child, plan for future, put girls to bed, go for a run–crisis. I realize these are non-events but for some reason I’m turning them into a moment to mutely rock in a corner.

This past weekend, we headed up north with friends and it was therapy for my soul. We ate good food together, read books, sat by the fire and laughed, and talked about things that are important to us.

While we were there, I heard this story and in some strange way, it’s helping me in ways I can’t quite articulate. The cabin we were at has been in this family since the early 1900s. As the story goes, one night a group of friends were playing poker around the table. The fireplace ignited a fire that ended up burning the whole cabin to the ground. The friends playing poker were able to make it out and saved the table by throwing it out the window and carrying it to a neighboring cabin. It was the only thing they were able to save from the fire. The house was gone and there was nothing to be done, so when they got to they neighbor’s, they decided to play some poker.

It’s a crazy story and hard to know how much of it has been embellished through the years but I dig it.  They had a legit crisis on their hands and they did the best they could. And they had neighbors they could go to.

The cabin was eventually rebuilt and it proudly houses that old poker table.

I like the story of that table. It’s a relic that someone thought worthy to save. Sherman Park is like that. It’s a community of people who have vision and some grit. And when things get hard, we know we have each other. Not in that fluffy, Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood way, but in the way that has an answer for the reasons we stay.

“Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope—not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna be all right.” But a different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle.And we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see.”
                                -Victoria Safford, from “The Gates of Hope”


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