Once, when I was young enough to hold my mom’s hand, we stopped to talk to a man on the street. They reminisced on old times and laughed about childhood shenanigans. Sometime into the conversation, my mom checked her wrist for the time. Her watch wasn’t there.
“Sorry to ask, but do you have the time?”
As it turns out, it was midnight. At first my mom seemed appalled but then she commented on how safe it was to be walking around in the middle of the night. The man agreed with her that the town was safe and in the times that we visited before my 17th birthday, it seemed steadily the same.
My cousins and I would run off during the day. I’m surprised our parents hardly noticed. They always assumed we’d be at someone’s house when in fact we were not. Sure, there was a time we got surrounded by vagabonds and another in which we got chased by a man at the carnival, but in general, we felt safe.
During a wedding in 2010, my cousins and I asked our parents if we could go downtown instead. At first they agreed but when one said no, the rest were quick to change their minds. “It’s too dark therefore its dangerous,” they’d concluded. We tried to leave anyways but stayed put when security appeared. Instead, the group huddled and spoke about the rumors in hushed tones. Some were skeptical. Adults can sometimes be known to exaggerate.
A couple days later, my cousins and I walked across town around 2am. The streets were not as dark and isolated as one can imagine. There were two big parties in town that night and others were constantly walking to and from the festivities. We even played ding-dong-ditch at one point. It was the last time we enjoyed that careless freedom. The next time we walked home late at night, we may or may not have witnessed a kidnapping.
In the years that followed, I went from going downtown by myself to being accompanied everywhere, even to friend’s houses down the street. If the children dared play outside, they were often seen running home in fright. There was a shooting at an elementary school, a man was killed inside his home a couple blocks down and others went missing. Even in the light of day, the streets were empty. The bliss was gone and everyone was left afraid.
It’s been a couple years since I saw the streets clear in the presence of danger. Now everyone just walks around minding their own business. Is it that the violence has gone down or has the community been desensitized? It’s the difference between the eye of the storm and the sky clearing after the rain.