I enjoyed my last post just as I enjoy my city. I wrote both tongue in cheek and from my heart, if those two things can be done at once, but as with any good story, there are two sides.
Just blocks away from the expensive cafés and swanky spots, are the homes of everyone else. Most of us who read these sorts of things don’t know these other people. Most of us who read these things do not drive on these streets. Despite this, these places and people do exist.
A staple of these places is the street side memorial. I drive past them all the time. They are piles of things left outside to memorialize a person who has passed. The bulk of these memorials are built from stuffed animals; childhood toys that speak to the age of those who have died. I have seen tables of candles, wreaths of flowers, and murals on walls. They are shrines built by those who remember, in an effort to prevent others from forgetting. To me they have always been part of the landscape.
These memorials are usually just an extension of the evening news. They are points on the map that give just a bit of added context to the stories of murder and violence. They are a dark contrast to the bright lights of my Friday Date-Nights. They bring a touch of reality to why our friends might not want to venture in. Some fears are legitimate.
One morning while reading the paper, I recognized a name. The headline read,
“Teen dies after fistfight at North Philly playground.”
Usually when I read such stories I just skim through looking for a street address; hoping to know a little better what exactly happens where. Good stuff to know. As I skimmed this time, my eye caught at the name, Eric Dixon.
I had known Eric for a couple years. He started coming to my church with his mom and little brother, a small, tight little family. They made the church their home. They were unremarkable in many ways; they fit in with all the rest of us. Good people.
Eric’s mom later lost interest and stopped attending. She allowed her oldest son to continue coming, but a fourteen year old can only do so much. When we stopped seeing him on Sundays, myself and a friend would stop in from time to time and check in. My friend would occasionally leave church meetings to just go chat with Eric. Eric was one of those good kids; worth investing some time and interest in. He seemed to be one that if given some support and instruction would make everyone around him proud some day.
Eric had been at the park with his best friend. The two of them had an argument and the friend punched him. He only punched him once. Eric fell, hitting his head on a bench in the process. An ambulance was called, a pronouncement was made, and the best friend is facing murder charges. The kid didn’t run away, he stayed at the scene and waited for the cops. I never heard a verdict.
A little time later I went to visit Eric’s mom. She was having a rough time. To people who don’t have much, relationships and people mean more. She was offered many shoulders and hugs but became more steely and hard. It would be hard to do otherwise. While leaving her stoop and walking to the corner I saw Eric’s name painted on a wall.
Those memorials mean a little more to me now. No longer do they represent crime and fear. They represent people.
People with stories that are worth knowing. People worth remembering.