Today I spent some time with friends, chatting about where we grew up. I sat mostly silent as they talked, and laughed at the stories they told while I waited for one of their stories to relate to one that I could tell. The moment never truly came. I never felt the urge to share.
I went home and clicked on Facebook, as I usually do, and I came across a news story posted by nearly 10 people I know from high school. The headline read “3 men shot during barbecue at park” and it dawned on me that my stories are just different from theirs’. A rush of memories flooded in and it was too late to tell my stories now. It wasn’t that it had failed me earlier today, though, it was that the stories I could tell ended a little differently.
My family celebrated birthdays in that park, right next to the pool. My softball team practiced there. My friends and I went there after school to have snowball fights when our parents thought we were still at school. These all seem like memories other kids have too, but my stories were nothing like those of my medical school friends. You see, the birthday parties always ended with a 12 year old girl having been felt up by a 40 year old man while in the pool and the snowball fights were always finished by the cops. I remember my heart pounding out of my chest when softball practice once ended in my team captain fighting a girl from down the block who had friends with a kitchen knife ready to jump in should the fight not go in her favor. The cops broke up that fight too–at that point they were covered in their own and each others’ blood.
This is also the park where my 4th grade best friend’s father’s body was found some time in the 6th grade.
It wasn’t just this park. Name a park in the neighborhood I grew up in, and I have similar stories.
The park less than a mile north was one I was told never to visit. The kids from the other high school hung out there and they were “more dangerous” than we were. Trying to be the rebellious teenager I never was, I made friends with two girls that lived in the buildings that surrounded the park. We once spent a few minutes in this park. I had brought my little sister and proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes drowning in anxiety, hyper-vigilant. Turns out these were the right feelings to have. We weren’t sitting at the park for very long when the boys playing basketball on the other side of the fence argued and soon, we saw the glisten of a pocket knife under the sun. I grabbed my sister and left the park as fast as I could, making up an excuse so that my new friends who sat watching to see what would happen next wouldn’t think less of me.
The park right by my family’s first apartment was where all the drugs were dealt and done. Walking through a cloud of weed smoke once a day since age seven makes you grow up a little faster. Having your group of friends be chased through this park by another group of kids and having to fight a fight you hadn’t asked for, simply because they thought you were following them,–while telling your little sister and cousin to run because they were bigger than them–really makes you think about the kind of place you grew up in. But it’s not a story anyone else in medical school can really relate to.
When memories of the park end the way mine do, it is simply not okay to bring them up in what is supposed to be light and frothy conversation.