It was the end of the summer and I was living in the city. The air was heavy and wet. It smelled like old garbage in thick plastic bags. It was dusk but the neighborhood was still waiting for sanitation workers to drive by and toss their discarded evidence into the crushing mechanisms of poorly maintained, screeching trucks. I could see layers of apathy in the dark paint flaking off the lampposts as I walked up the street from the bus stop on my way home from work.
I had a job downtown and a place in bed next to my girlfriend in Spanish Harlem. She was about 10 years older than I and couldn’t be trusted, not even with telling me her real age. Alcoholism destroyed any chance we had of lasting as a married couple, although we did try a few years later in Tucson.
An urgent crowd running toward me amplified the thick, constant noise of urban life. I knew enough to not engage unless completely necessary, so I kept my head down after recognizing the possible threat approaching. I had about three blocks to walk before I could secure myself in the semi-protective environment of the brownstone I was living in. But that wasn’t going to help me if that group of citizens decided to pick up the pace.
Suddenly, two dense cracks sounded and I sensed the familiar scent of burnt gunpowder dissolving in the breeze. I knew that aroma from my activities years ago firing a .22 caliber rifle from the prone position during my experience at sleep-away camp. I was aiming at beige targets with black concentric circles printed on them. We rated our accuracy based on the number of rounds fired and their proximity to the center. This was different; there was no backboard to capture the distorted lead projectiles.
I heard the slugs hit and slide along the curb a few feet from my left side and my heart rate doubled. Two blocks to relative safety as I stepped my pace. I could feel the mob closing the gap as the hairs on the back of my neck stood up to watch. Then, just as quickly as they assembled, the people behind me dispersed and went their separate ways home.
I arrived intact at the aged wood barrier to my living quarters, key in hand, and efficiently let myself in. Having just passed unscathed through a moment in my life that had the potential to be disastrous, I reflected on my situation and chose to relocate. We moved to Brooklyn within a month. Then, after a year of enjoying life in a first floor railroad apartment with a garden in Kings County, we boarded a plane to Arizona.
I seldom look back with regret and often find myself deeply involved with expressing my gratitude.