Chuck Anderson lived through this. I should say that up front. He was young, six or seven, and his brother Antwane was twelve or thirteen. Their mother worked at the grocery store across from the projects there on Murfreesboro Road, just past where it changes names from Lafayette. The three of them lived in one of those low brick buildings that look more like barracks than homes and Antwane was charged with watching his brother after school, making sure they got next door to Mrs. Alexander’s for dinner, and that, after dinner, they did their homework before watching TV.
This had worked well, without incident, for years. Not many, though longer than their mother could bear.
“Don’t answer the door for no one,” she said. “Don’t play outside unless Mrs. Alexander is watching. And don’t be hanging out with those boys on the corner.”
They never did. They were good kids.
They were boys, though, and they horsed around. And one day, they were chasing each other across the couch and then leaping from the couch into the chair and then onto the pillows stretched out across the floor, stepping stones across the hot lava. Around and around, at least a half a dozen times, successfully, and then Chuck lost his footing, jumping from the couch to the chair, and he slipped, and hit his head on the arm of the sofa, and fell, limp, to the ground.
Antwane stopped immediately and ran to his brother. He yelled for help. He ran outside. He knocked on Mrs. Alexander’s door. Nothing. He ran back inside. Frantic, he died 911.
Long, long, rings. Finally, an answer. “My brother’s been hurt. Please, send help. My mom’s at work. It’s really bad.”
“What’s your address, son?”
And he gives it. And there is a long, long pause.
“How far in are you?”
Antwane can’t understand what he’s hearing. “I’m in the kitchen. My brother’s in the living room.”
Another long pause.
“Can you carry him?”
“I think so.”
“Okay, you need to lift him up and carry him to Murfreesboro Road. The ambulance will meet you there.”
So, he does. It takes him ten minutes, at the most. So, when the ambulance is not there, he doesn’t think anything of it at first. but it doesn’t come.
And it still doesn’t come.
And Antwane, by now is crying and he’s waving his arms at the passing cars, begging, “stop, please, stop. My brother… Hospital…”
But no one stops.
Finally, one of the boys from the corner comes over, to see what’s going on. He yells at someone to get a car and they load Chuck into the back seat and take him to the emergency room. One of them even goes back and gets Antwane’s mom.
And, like I said, Chuck is fine. He lives up around the corner from me and has some tech job I don’t understand, but lets him afford a big house with a nice yard. His mom lives up in Springfield with her sister.
Antwane died a while back, of cancer, but before that, he was an accountant.
Here’s why Chuck will not drive down Murfreesboro Road. Because sometimes, a young boy, twelve or thirteen, will dart into traffic, waving his hands, begging cars to stop. The look of terror on his face scares most of them, and they roll up their windows and speed up. Once or twice a year, though, a person will stop and the back door will open, and two young children will get into the back seat. But by the time the car gets past Purity Dairy, the driver will find the back seat is empty.
“I know why he’s there,” Chuck tells me, one night, over beers. “He never could let go of it. He’d say, ‘If I had a gun, I could have made someone stop,’ or ‘If I were white…’ no offense… ‘If I were white, someone would have stopped for a couple of white kids, if one of them was hurt.’ Hell, if we were white, we wouldn’t have even been living there. I know why he can’t get past that. It makes sense to me.
“But they always see two kids. What am I doing there?”