In every town, there is a sector known as the “wrong-side-of-the-tracks,” the area that all the local kids are warned to never go into, lest a fate worse than death befall them. In our small Southern community, the “Southside” is this area, and I was warned my entire childhood to avoid it like the plague. If not, I was assured by my social circle that I would most certainly be robbed, maimed, gang-raped, and shot. Then my body would be dumped unceremoniously into one of the local swamps to be eaten by alligators. So it is with more than just a chuckle that I find myself now, and for the past three years, remarried, and raising my two girls in this notorious territory, the “Southside.”
Rewind: I met my husband in the summer of 2010 and during one of our early phone conversations, he mentioned to me that he lived on the Southside of our humble town. Assuming, like me, that he had been raised to fear this area, I laughed and flippantly replied, “Oh I bet you hear a lot of gunshots at night, ha ha!” Instead, he sounded genuinely surprised by my comment and in a non-joking manner said that he had been living there for four years, had never heard a single gunshot, nor had any knowledge of illegal activity in his neighborhood. I immediately felt like a true neighborhood snob, guilty for joking about it, and agreed to come over to his house for dinner.
So, the following week I got in my car and “crossed the tracks” for the first time to have our third date. As I pulled up alongside his house, I was struck by the quaint mixture of homes surrounding his: older wooden clapboard and rusted tin-roofs side-by-side with modern brick and mortar. I got out of the car and listened; not a single gunshot. No creepy characters lurking in the bushes; so far, so good. I went to his door and knocked.
Hours later, after a home-cooked dinner, we decided to go out and enjoy the crisp night air, when we heard a commotion and a cluster of male voices burst out yelling in the woods across the street. A rapid and explosive rapport of “BAP! BAP! BAP!” followed, and a young man in a white wife beater undershirt and jeans bolted out of the woods a few yards in front of us, clutching his right shoulder. He dashed at lightening speed toward us on the dimly-lit street.
I had flashbacks from being the victim of a mugging more than a decade before and my instincts instantly took over. Thinking of my ten year-old daughter and how she needed her mother alive, I quickly dropped to the ground. In the same swift motion, I grabbed my future husband by the shirt, hissed “get down,” and yanked him silently onto the wet grass with me. Simultaneously, the young man, whom appeared to be bleeding, raced past us and onto the neighbor’s lawn, where he collapsed onto his belly. Immediately my husband began dialing 9-1-1, as we rushed towards his house to avoid any possible gunfire. Angry voices called out from the trees. Then we heard tires squeal and a car peeling off into the night.
Within three minutes, the ambulance and police had arrived, whisked the young man off to the hospital and finished interviewing us. Later in the week, we heard a news report that, tragically, the young man passed away and that the incident was believed to be a drug deal that turned violent. My husband told me this was the first time he had ever heard gun shots in his neighborhood.
This terrible tragedy was no deterrent for true love, however, and by the end of the year my first-born daughter and I had moved in with my husband and were full-fledged residents of the Southside. My daughter loved the playground and baseball field within walking distance, and within a couple of months after we’d settled into the house, the City sent notices out that they were building a bike trail extension across the street. The woods of the crime scene were cut down and a paved walking/bicycle trail was installed.
Spring arrived and in the evenings we could hear the crack of baseball bats from the little league games across the road, held at the very same park where the shooting took place months before. Delighted cries of children playing on the playground and encouraging yells from parents and coaches filled the night air. Residents walked their dogs on the new bike path across the street. Our notorious neighborhood was transformed into an idyllic 1950’s village of family fun and neighborly love.
Fast forward to three years after the shooting incident, and we are still living on the “wrong side of the tracks.” We love seeing the hawks swoop down along the bike trail on our daily walks, swinging our hearts out on the playground, and watching the little league baseball games in the park. From our house we enjoy hearing the sounds of our thriving and diverse neighborhood: the local high school’s marching band music from Friday night football games, the loud “BOOM BOOM” bass of a car stereo cruising by, the vivid array of expletives from a neighbor’s girlfriend arguing with him on their front lawn, and the happy cries of children racing their bikes on the trail after school. Occasionally our daytime entertainment consists of leaning against our chain link fence and watching the local sheriff evict the newest renters from the property across the street – again. On the weekends, we like to walk to our locally-owned neighborhood gas station to shoot the breeze with the owners, buy a cup of coffee and pick up some candy for our teen girl. And don’t let me forget to mention “singing man,” who walks through the neighborhood all hours of the night with his headphones on, belting out rap and hip-hop at the top of his lungs; or “Miss Mary” who stopped to talk with me on the bike trail about the blessings of life and the love of Jesus Christ, our Savior, and invited me to walk with her. Our notorious neighborhood is filled with heart, spirit, and love, a place where people still look out for one another and the selfish isolation of the suburbs has yet to infiltrate. I am proud to be a resident on the “wrong” side of town. Yes, we are officially real residents of the Southside and loving every minute of it!