Dave loved to be outside as much as possible. Our backyard was significantly shaded by the large old elms trees, so if he wanted some sun, he sat outside the yard, usually across the street in the only space on our street without a tree. Sometimes he closed his eyes and just enjoyed the warmth; most times, he people-watched because there was always a surprising amount to see between the foot and road traffic. He spoke warmly to everyone who came along. People would often stop to chat a moment, strangers, and neighbors alike.
Our neighborhood was designed and built with paved alleyways. No two yards backed-up to another yard, they touched on the sides, but they backed up to an alley. There were a few garages back there, but they were designed more with trash pick-up in mind. The transition to more automated trash trucks with side-arm lifting and dumping each trashcan made the alleys almost derelict. As a kid, the alleys were a cool place to play, and we loved running around mostly unseen by adults in our neighborhood. They were also a great shortcut to several friends’ backyards.
Over the years, the neighborhood grew rougher around the edges. There were always people on foot, and teens walking to or from school, but teens became more hardened looking with time. They tried to carry off a badass attitude, a swagger in their stride. It was clear they were trying to be intimidating. They didn’t bother me too much, probably because I was a woman and not on their radar for any reason.
One evening Dave conveyed a rare unpleasant encounter with a group of older teenage boys that occured earlier that day. They did not stop to chat. He described them making their way south on Arrowhead. They walked in a triangular formation almost in militant step as they crossed 25th street diagonally heading southwest. They were headed for the entrance to the alley directly behind our house.
Dave was across the street from the house, taking in the sun when he was interrupted by the energy of this pack of wild boys crossing his path. He silently watched them as they crossed the street about 15 feet in front of him. He noticed that one of the boys at the front of the group had a gun in his hand. That boy felt Dave’s eyes tracking him and realized he had seen the gun. He stopped, the pack stopped, he turned and pointed the gun held sideways, directly at Dave and asked: “WhatChou lookin’ at?” Dave remained calm, unimpressed with them, maintained eye contact with the kid, and said: “I am not looking at anything.” With that, the kid responded, “That’s right; you ain’t lookin’ at anything.” As he angrily waved the gun around. The irony, of bad grammar and the message Dave was conveying of nothingness, lost on him.
I was holding my breath without realizing it and breathed out when Dave finished scaring the hell out of me and said, “With that, they kept walking on their way down the alley looking for trouble for sure.” Such brave boys, pulling a gun on a paralyzed guy was all I could think as well as playing out the worst scenario. I stopped myself just short of the edge of that cliff.
Dave was not shaken in the least. Irritated yes. He disliked disrespectful people, well, children, in this case, stomping through his neighborhood, acting like they knew what being a badass is about, waving a gun around, “and everyone knows holding a gun sideways is not how you hold a gun,” but he was not shaken. I, however, WAS! I asked, “Weren’t you freaked out?” He scowled like I was being ridiculous and shook his head, brushing the thought off with a tsk-like huff of air, “NO. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? I am already paralyzed, it’s not like anything is going to hurt me. so…NOPE!” As with so many other occasions our conversation ended with laughter. How do you debate with that? Exactly. Laughter.
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