Saturday, June 23, 2007

Des Moines, an introduction

I killed my mother the day I was born. For approximately forty-five seconds, she was dead. Not long, I know, but how many of us can say that? That we experienced death for a short time. I'm starting with this story, because it's important you know how I came into the world. And while my personal experience with the cold black is limited, my birth town is all to familiar with it.

First a cast of characters...


Dad, Dell Robinson

Joseph, brother

Grandpa Robinson

Grandma Robinson

Curtis Clyce, best friend

April Kibbe, first girlfriend

Butch, Mom's first boyfriend

Erskin, or One-Thirty, Mom's second boyfriend

E.J., Erskin's cousin and drug dealer

Nathan, E.J.'s son

Rico, gang leader

Lefty, Rico's right hand man

The Arab, rich drug dealer looking for young girls in the ghetto

Aunt Pudding, occasional savior

Aunt Necie, occasional savior

And other various family members and friends, who are too numerous to name, but the ones listed above are of note. Which you will discover how in other posts. There is no way to tell this story in one massive volume, so I'm breaking it up. I'll write about Des Moines when I'm feeling nostalgic or when I encounter a situation that reminds of a lesson I learned in the real town without pity. I should note right now that my memory fades about some experiences, while other are crystal clear. I don't know why that is, but it is the truth.

Des Moines has been described as a country town. Not big enough to be a city, but large enough not to be called a village. I always thought of it as a city, but I was a child and didn't know what an actual city was. Now I know what it is. It's a beast that chews people between its teeth before it swallows you whole. Body and soul. And once it has, you're tainted. It stays with you for the rest of your life, living in your blood as a cancer that will eventually make you unrecognizeable to those lucky enough to have never lived in Des Moines.

It's a violent town. I remember so clearly going to bed every night with the sound of gunfire in the night, echoing throughout the neighborhoods. Falling asleep before you heard the sirens because the shots were never enough to worry or startle you. Hell, it became so common place that by the time I moved to Missouri, I had a hard time falling asleep without it. It was unnervering to realize that much later. Joe and I would turn in our beds and rest our heads on our pillows and go to dreamland, not realizing the significance of what was happening outside. That would come later, and sooner than I would have liked.

The first place I remember living was Roach Ridge. This wasn't its actual name, but it had so many roaches that that was what everyone called it. Even to this day. To Mom and Dad's credit nothing bad happened to us there. Unless, you count Dad's infidelity and me pushing my brother's bassinet down the stairs. Yes, he was in it at the time and I've been told that it was an accident (Joe has never believed this and uses it as an excuse for the trouble he has caused). It wasn't until we moved to 1819 21st street, that the real story began.

The beatings, killings, drugs, fighting matches masquerading as family reunions, the street's you couldn't cross because of rival gangs and their shoot-outs in broad daylight (we lived on 21st and E.J. lived on 23rd), and let's not forget the home made psychological scars. The town had it all.

The next time I write about Des Moines, I'll tell you more of my first house, the neighborhood we lived in, the people I met and ran from, and perhaps, even a good memory or two.



P.S. It only gets worse from here.


Carl V. said...

Wish I would've read this last night before going to bed, it would have comforted me and put me right to sleep. LOL!

Great stuff...if that can be said about something dark. Love the 'cast of characters' angle, very nicely done.

We used to travel from Norfolk, Nebraska (hometown) to Des Moines every few years to go to Adventureland as kids. I remember dad getting very lost once and being in a really, really bad part of town. We probably passed you on the street! ;) I remember his stopping for directions and the gas station attendent warning him to get back in the car and leave the neighborhood. Ah, the memories!

Carl V. said...

'Great stuff', of course, being a description of your writing skills, not a commentary on your childhood. ;)

Jeff S. said...

I don't know if we have discussed this or not but my Dad grew up in some rough neighborhoods in Des Moines when he was a kid. He's 62 years old now. He went to high school downtown at Tech. I was also born in Des Moines but luckily for me my parents moved my sister and I down to KC when I was six years old. I still have a grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins in Des Moines and from some stories they've told me over the years I'm very thankful we moved when we did. My dad is from a family of 8 and he has one brother who got hooked on drugs in Des Moines years ago and he still can't shake them and he's well into his late 40's atleast if not older. I also have a cousin who became a stripper up there who I suspect also went down the drug path the last time I saw her.

Stephanie said...

Wow. I can see right now this is going to be an interesting blog to read! I tripped over here from Carl's!

I live in Illinois. Think I'm going to have to stay away from Des Moines!

Stephanie said...

By the way....I received a copy of Warren Ellis's novel from Harper Collins for review. Strange one, that's for sure. Since it was sent to me by the publisher, I'm going to give it away. If you are interested, stop on by my blog and leave me a comment. I will add your name to the drawing!

Jean Pierre said...

i thought this was a story at first! very interesting indeed...

i look forward to the next installment.

have you considered (or are you considering) making this into an auto-biographical story? 'cause you have quite a flair for storytelling.

Jean Pierre said...

by the way, i don't have a blogspot account, so had to use my google email address (i think thats what i've done.) is there a way you can make it that i can comment and then leave my wordpress blog details - i'm assuming you don't want anonymous posts.

goodmancam said...

I'm new to this game, J-P (can I call you JP?) and sometimes my cigarette-addled brain cannot make heads or tails of your devil machinery. However, I will try. Thanks for stopping by.

Jean Pierre said...

haha! nice turn of phrase.

and yeah, jp is fine - jean pierre is way too long to type!