Walking the streets of this city on a Saturday, mid-morning, when there is hardly anyone about, it stirs my soul. And I hardly ever just walk anymore, with no particular destination in mind, just to wander aimlessly down one street, and then the next. It’s refreshing, even when the scenes are not.
This city is dying, bit by bit, piece by piece, and the decay is accelerating faster by the day. I can see it in the crumbling facades, and I can feel it in the worn down people going from one grim door to the next. I can smell it in the scent of rotting food that has attracted rats like moths to a flame.
This could be anywhere, from the detritus in Detroit, to the west side of Los Angeles, to the ghettos of Atlanta, to North Philadelphia. And it could be any time, from long ago to the here and now. But I am seeing it now, on these walks, sharing these streets with people heading somewhere, or heading nowhere. They speak Spanish in sections, and they look at me like a woman checks out a bauble at a garage sale. Homeless men sit in doorways and on grates, trying to warm their aching bones. Trying to survive.
I pass close to them, close enough to feel the waves of caged animosity, to breathe in the fumes of pain and loss, and to capture them in the lens of my mind’s eye. They size me up, this large black man walking their streets, and they sense that I belong, or they’re wary of me, with this camera hanging around my neck. With this guilt hanging on my soul.
You see, I used to live here, in the broken down city, and I called it home. It could have been anywhere because everywhere is the same, and it could have been anyone, but it was me. And maybe that homeless man knows that I am pretending to have moved on, even years later, that I am still a troubled man who needs that connection with his roots, even for just an hour on a Saturday mid-morning on the streets of a city that does sleep, but fitfully.
And it will be a dog’s age until I return, until I once more walk where I used to walk, in those faded footsteps, but it will be the same. It will still call my name between now and forever, in this special place in my heart that aches with familiarity and with loss. For what I cannot live with but also cannot live without. For the city that breathed life into me even while it was dying, and being reborn from its ashes.
3 thoughts on “I Used to Live Here”
I know the feeling. “Haunting” is pretty close.
This was beautiful, Sam. And sad. And describes oh so many places… Daryl is right. Haunting seems the perfect fit.
Thank you, Jess. I must have walked for about an hour on those streets and it was very sad. I’m just glad I was able to capture what I was feeling.