Last week there was a tragedy in the family of an acquaintance of mine. I don’t know her or her family well, but it reminded me that the world I live in is very different from the world that other people in my neighborhood or even in my building live in. I jotted down a couple of other moments when that realization has hit me, just so I have something to draw upon when I write something about this part of living in Brooklyn. Comments and suggestions are always welcome.
I used to go to an after-school program where the kids – teenagers – would make dinner and sit down and eat it all together at a table. The lady who ran the program wanted to give the kids the experience of a real “family dinner” because she’d been to houses where there was no table. Dinner was eaten off paper plates in front of the tv.
I made dinner and ate with them a couple of times. I was a grad student in journalism, writing about the program. I was a new mom and new to New York City. I brought my baby wherever I went. Generally, he rode around on my back while I talked to the kids, sautéed collared greens, and spun the wheel in The Game of Life, which we played when there were too many cooks in the kitchen. And I interviewed people who, when they spoke loud enough for me to hear, had a hard time making themselves understood anyway.
One boy wanted to play basketball for the Nets when he grew up. That was kind of a big deal, I was told, since so few of the youth in the area can see a future for themselves at all. But those who can usually see themselves only as hip-hop stars or professional ball players, which isn’t necessarily encouraging.
There was a girl, 14 or 15 years old, who had some questions for me because of my baby. She was pregnant and wanted to know what it was like to give birth. Do I tell her that it’s probably going to hurt a lot? Do I try to reassure her that she’s going to be fine? I don’t remember exactly how I handled it. But I know I wished her well and, silently, hoped she would be able to finish school.
More recently, a friend told me about a couple she works with. Teenagers with a toddler. The mom is always on her phone and lets the little girl watch tv all day. But the dad wants to be involved. He worries his daughter is watching too much tv. He wonders what he can do to help her out. Read to her, my friend says, but he doesn’t know where to get books. So she tells him about libraries, gives him an assignment to take his daughter there to get a card. He didn’t know that was an option.
And last week, an acquaintance’s nephew was shot and killed. He was 35, a couple of years older than my husband. I know nothing about him, and very little about his family, but it reminded me, once again, that there is a different world out there, where I live. One that I rarely notice, but that peeks through the cracks occasionally – like when I see the response at a community meeting to the woman offering to take children to see their dads in prison. And at the news of the death of this man, some of these memories came back to me. The kids sitting down to dinner in the after-school program. The grandmothers trying to save the bus fare to take their grandkids upstate to see their dads a couple of times a year. The teenagers whose only role models are hip-hop stars and ball players. Girls who hardly even know there are options outside of becoming moms.
I walk down the same streets as these people, but we exist in entirely different worlds.