I saw him the other day. And him. And him too.
We had stopped in a parking lot on our way back from visiting family for the Fourth of July, a holiday, I suspect, my students had parties for, but don’t care to understand. Anyway, we took a different road home and we had to double check our turn because the roads don’t make sense down here, each one bearing at least three different names a piece. Sometimes the map calls it one name and signs call it two others, and I am oft-reminded of our trouble with the road signs, when there were any, in Dublin. While my husband fiddled with the GPS and paper map, I looked around because we knew a place for sale nearby that had our attention, but everything about the town screamed, “No!”
Off to the right of the strip mall where we sat, across a short sloping field, three black, teenage boys lounged in the shade of cheap apartment buildings and idly watched the mall. A flecked, dark gray Impala with new tags in the window pulled up in front of the Laundromat and three young Mexicans piled out. Almost without speaking, but working in harmony, two strutted slowly into the convenience store while one peeled into the Laundromat. I watched as he moved slowly, but purposefully toward the back door propped open, like the front, for ventilation. He appeared to be looking for someone, finally stepping out back and surveying the scene from back there. He reconvened with his buddies back by the car. That’s when I realized what about them caught my eye.
Their dress, which I had at first written off to the one’s entering the Laundromat (maybe their decent clothing was being washed), and their mannerisms were keenly familiar. The penny loafers paired with long shorts that didn’t quite go with the shirt made me look closer. It reminded me of the few times I saw the offenders dressed casually in the pods, shower shoes, sweat pants chopped near the knee for shorts, and the baggiest under shirt they could find. The second one to reemerge from the store sagged and bagged his shorts in yet another familiar way. Although these young men wore different colors and fabrics than I had become accustomed to, they looked like they had sauntered straight out of my facility, so new to the free world, they hadn’t yet straightened up their wardrobe or walks. I almost felt like if I saw their faces clearly, I’d recognize them. I knew better, though. Because of their age, I wondered if they had served time yet. Because of their bearing and demeanor I thought maybe one of the three had. At any rate, their time had to be coming.
I wanted to take them all by the scruff of their neck and hope for some magical words to shower them with when I remembered my children in the back and looked away. Catching sight of the teenagers in the shade watching more closely than me, I mumbled something about never wanting to live in this town. Wasn’t this what we had moved away from? For weeks now we had enjoyed endless hospitality and almost more kindness than we could bear. People warned us away from certain parts of town, but even there it didn’t feel as bad as where we’d been. Not thirty minutes away from us, however, was a different story. I was glad to know. And sad, unutterably sad. We had just spent a relaxing two days with family, so I tried to put the picture of these three out of mind, tried not to wonder who had made it to Phase II this month with everything going on, and wonder if anyone managed to kill his number without siring another child or going back to jail or both, and how—o how—Heather was going to make it next month with her newborn. I turned my thoughts to the meal I was going to teach our neighbor’s daughter to make: Classic Italian Two Lemons and Chicken, served with parmesan risotto and a large salad. Too young to enjoy Pavarotti with red wine like my dad taught me to cook, I thought maybe some long U2 songs and bread dipped in true olive oil might work instead. That ought to be worth a couple hours of babysitting.