My newspaper opens to a “Questions for the Editor” column in Section C. The first question brought memories that I had tried to put behind me-for many reasons. Unwillingly, they crept back into my mind. They have not left all day.
A writer had asked “what the two little buildings were-one looking like it might have been a church”-in a run down part of town that has seen recent interests in renovation”.Right away, I realized that I knew a lot more about it than the editor. It was a church in the 1970’s and 80’s, the little congregation even had managed to raise the money to build the little cement block social hall next door before the church ran low on members and closed it’s doors for good. Closed, like so many little Evangical Churches did when the neighborhood were in decline or attendance waggered.
My ex’s family went to church there all of their lives. My 1st wedding, 40 years ago was there, my shower in the “new” cement block building. I had seen the church and event hall there, empty maybe fifteen years later, after a short try by another church to lure members in-it failing as well. It was sad, but the reason it failed was much deeper, closer to my heart.
The “projects” were just down the street, and the houses around it were run down and filled with both older, long term residents and young people on the edge of povery and drug use, some still struggling to hold on to family land.
I knew these people, they were my friends. After an abusive marrige ended, I was part of that world for a time as I began my struggle to find a new life.
The small, sad, church was a reminder than in THIS community,at that time, their savior, their woman, their daily life was not God, but “brownstone” (heroin, dilaudids, whatever was handy) or a thin white line between misery and estacy. I realize that “regular people” don’t understand these things. They don’t talk about it, especially now, as the plague has moved to another neighborhood. Not disappeared, as folks want to believe, simply moved.
I am of an age when I look at the obituaries first when I open the newspaper. It is sad to see the parents of friend listed there, just as I have seen my own, but what breaks my heart is seeing the friends, I knew, hung out with, were close to, long ago, listed there too. It has been a shock, not one that was unexpected, but disappointing, often scary when the “beloved” was someone I knew well. It was often hurtful-knowing it could have easily been me. I’ve looked over death certificates in the Court House to see the ’causes of death’ in my friends’ obituaries. It is always a shock, some of them in their mid- fifties, others in their early sixties. Liver or pancreatic cancer, alcohohoc abuse, drug overdose were listed as the cause of death. Some were homeless, many had gotten their lives together, only to watch them fall apart again. As few, like me, had suffered and survived.
In my younger days, the friends I lost to a life of the brownstone blues, herion, dilaudids, cocaine, a long list of substitues for the hard fight life can become -would often be more violent. A friends’ brother was shot on the sidewalk of the projects during a drug deal, another friends’ brother, missing for days, discovered shot dead in the trunk of a car. Maybe I would read that someone close to me had been arrested, or the weekly trips to court listed people I had known. One night, I heard that a childhood girlfriend, had overdosed from cocaine at The age of 23. When I had teens of my own, a friends son, blew his head off after drugs did not cure his depression. The sad story goes on.
I remember, “back in the day”, listening to the hard rock songs I’ve always loved (and still do). They told the true stories of young men (and women) who made it big, only to find the pressure of musical careers and the ease of obtaining drugs ruining their lives. Some made it to tell their story, many did not.
There is a series on “You Tube” called “Behind the Music” that tells many of these tales. In the music world, when a group found success, they often found another world as well. The program allows members of the music groups to tell the story of how life became a series of drugs, highs and lows, ruined lives, wasted talent and too often wasted lives.
I know it didn’t start with Woodstock, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, etc., but it was the first time I was old enough to hear of it. Living on the cusp of these times, then being reminded of them years later, simply made me realize how easy it can be to try to ease a pain that cannot be eased. We were numbing those unspeakable pains with habits so addictive that only the strongest survive-sometimes.
I don’t have an answer, I have lived through my own hell, I live through it every day, but somehow managed to recognize the stop sign when it appeared before me. I had heard too many times, the stories of people falling for someone on drugs or even alcohol, and the cynical laugh of their friends when they said, “Man, herion IS their woman, they “think” with that needle in their arm-or wherever they can find a spot where the veins have not collapsed. You, dear, don’t have a chance.”
The list grows, the sorrows of life increased over time, but for those of us who made it, those who ended up in jail or dead and the lucky ones who managed to stay away from problems so deep that we felt there was no answer.
I’ve heard it called the “brownstone blues”. No one who hadn’t been there would know what it meant if it came up in random conversation. I think of the little church, and todays generation not even knowing that once God lived there, or tried to.
One day, I think I will drive by and force my mind to remember-both the days when church services struggled there, and the times, when the lights were out day and night. I wish to those trying to re-use the structures, the grace to remember what WAS and what CAN BE-not just in that neighborhood, but in YOURS.