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
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.