By Charlene Baldridge
Young people with laden backpacks
and tawny dogs walk the streets of Hillcrest.
Why, I do not know.
Perhaps it is almost July.
They camp by Washington Mutual, now called Chase,
across the street from the Crest Café.
Late Saturday night, when the moon was a thumbnail,
and I was feeling unrest as well as hunger,
I came out to find my car surrounded by black
and white and flashing lights.
Leaning against the wall outside the Brass Rail—
nothing like it on a Saturday night in Hillcrest—
I asked a man who leaned there too
what it was all about.
We’ve been tryin’ to figure that out, he said.
His breath was a story unto itself but he said
You be safe, ma’am, as I moved away.
The cops began to leave, and I eased over to my car.
Soon everyone was gone, and as I cut through
the Chase lot towards home, I saw them,
the young men with laden backpacks and tawny dogs,
walking north, along the narrow alley towards University
and perhaps another campground.
Hello then: June 1996 Uptown Newsmagazine
For my own transition to independence in 1992 I moved into a charming Craftsman four-plex in what was then called Golden Hill. It was what I could afford, and I loved the idiosyncratic layout of the apartment, on the second floor, up a long flight of darkly stained stairs. I loved the eclectic, creative, thriving mix of the neighborhood, and made friends with the homeless couple who slept on the church porch down the block.
For a house-warming gift my children gave me a solid-core door and a dead-bolt lock. On the other hand, one of my friends gave me a session with a psychic healer. Which provided the greater protection, I may not know; however I have since learned that there had been a murder in my apartment, and that's why it remained empty for so long a time before I moved in.
I choose to believe that it remained vacant while it waited for me and that somehow my presence dispelled any lingering evil.
"Didn't you know?" my informant asked/
"No," I said. "I sensed that bad things had happened here, but I always felt safe and embraced."
A year ago, when I quit the security of my paying job and announced I intended to write full time, my children really became alarmed. Like my accountant, they fail to understand this leap of faith. They haven't read the line from Adrienne Rich's Transcendental Etude that inspires me daily: "...there comes a time--perhaps this is one of them--when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die..."
There came a time in my life when I had to become my unvarnished self or die. When this time arrives, we must do what pleases us, what brings us joy. It is time for our soul work. We must write and speak the truth without fear. Further, we must no longer be affected by our children's worry or disapproval. We strove to understand them in their transitions, allowed them their cross-dressing, drug experimentation, their dubious friends, their testing of our limits and their unaccountably late hours. Now it is time for them to do the same for us, to seek to understand us and allow us to become more our selves.
How can they possibly understand the urgency of age? The need to do, to taste, to see, to fulfill all that was suppressed so long in caring for them and in setting a good example.
At some level, their tacit and spoken disapproval still hurts: the forgotten birthday, the silent phone. but I wouldn't trade this life on my own for the approval that would have been mine had I stayed in my emotionally sterile marriage, settled into my comfy recliner anesthetized by booze and the television and awaited death.
As a new older woman I own my right to do what my soul dictates, to lead the life it demands of me now as I am finding the courage to become more and more myself. I am learning not to depend on the approval of others. It is I who must approve of and care for me, emotionally and physically.
Quote of the month: "I always take the darker path. Not because it's dark but because there's a secret there that you can share when you get out."--Amanda Plummer, The New York Times, April 29, 1996.