My family and I live in the Vanderbilt apartment complex on Brundage Dr. The apartments are painted an off white color that has turned almost grey, and a deep red. You could see through the broken blinds in some of the windows. The grass here is not very green at all and the trees look ready to give up. The dumpsters are all over flowing with garbage, and the fitness center, whose expenses are included in rent even if you don’t work out, is closed because of vandalism. The nearest convenient stores to where I live are the Family Dollar on Ella that’s usually out of everything, and the small red gas station where all of the gang members hang out. My inner city apartments are also in walking distance of the Kuykendal Transient Center, for the people who need cheap transportation. There isn’t much here in the Vanderbilt, but our lease isn’t up for another five months so it’s where we live for now.
Lounging on our back porch, I watch it all play out like one of those bad reality TV shows. My community is full of different characters. Men, women, and children, all stuck in the lost ways of our ghetto. The men here are similar to my uncle Michael. Michael is thirty eight years old this year. He lives in our living room and has on and off for what seems like all of my life. He picks up a job every now and then, but never anything stable. Since my father is not around, like most dads in my community, I’ve always had Michael to look up to for a proper definition of a man. As I grew, I learned more and more about my uncle and the image of a man that he painted for me was not that of a future husband. Michael taught me what not to look for in the world. A drug addict, alcoholic, woman abuser, gang member, and simply a soul taken over by anger. Michael has two boys that he lost custody of because of his past criminal record. Not to say that he was at all a bad father, but his lifestyle choices were those of a man who could not provide for his family. My community is full of men like this. Men who won’t play their fatherly role only producing more men like themselves.
The women in my community have a different script to read off of, and even appear in a different series than the men. The women here usually have to suffer the consequences on of their men. After their baby’s father has been charged with a murder case, caught dealing illegal drugs, and sometimes just decide that he can’t be a part of the picture, the mother is left carrying the weight. Heaven is my mother. My father decided he couldn’t be a part of the picture when my siblings and I were much younger. Too blind to see that my father chose a life of material over his children, we were left confused. My mother was depressed, her blood pressure was high, her bones weak, and her pockets empty from trying her best to be a mother and now father to her three young children. Putting aside her personal existence, my mother got a second job and worked seventeen long hours a day. At the time we weren’t even of legal age to be left home alone, but sometimes there are no other options. We saw Mommy on her break in between jobs. She would come home and fall straight to her bed after forcing work shoes off of her puffy feet. We knew to give Mom her space when she came home, but sometime the hunger pains grew too strong. Eventually we had to learn to survive without my Mom too at times. We were all left forced to grow up too fast, making all of the mistakes our parents made, producing only the same outcome; more men and women like the residents of our hood. More people stuck reading the wrong script and playing the wrong roles.
Most of the families in my community are like my own, different pieces to the wrong puzzles. It’s as if the people of the Vanderbilt were using the wrong formula to this equation we call life. But there is a correct formula. I learned it from my neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Boyd. Mr. and Mrs. Boyd show me a different version of the Vanderbilt. The Boyd family would be considered the black sheep of our complex. Aside from the financial stability this family has, they also have something else that most residents of my ghetto don’t; family. The Boyd’s are the most family oriented people I’ve ever met. Though they are surrounded by people killing one another, and walk on the same streets of blood puddles as I do, their grass is a lot greener. They have family and a foundation that keeps each of them strong. I can see it on them as I peek through my window, watching them walk into their house. I can tell by their formal wardrobe that they have just come from church, where most of Vanderbilt spends their Sunday morning. This family symbolized power. They’re not like the other residents here. They have an ore that is brighter than the sun around them everywhere they went.
The Boyd’s have taught me that I don’t have to be my surroundings. I don’t have to be a typical Vanderbilt resident even if I live here forever. The formula is family. The material things in this world distract us from what’s important and once you subtract them from the equation you are left with only you and the people you love, and no matter where you are or where you live, that is plenty!
M. T. is a student at Lone Star College.