City in a Garden
creative nonfiction by Aaron Evans
City in a Garden
Telling someone you grew up on the south side of Chicago is a weird experience. You're greeted with a face of concern while the other person wonders what experiences you've overcome. When I was in middle school shortly after moving to Georgia, a teacher asked me about the gang activity in Chicago. A question, at the time, I truly had zero information to weigh in on.
I spent last thanksgiving at a friend's house. After attending enough of various friends' weddings, churches, and family gatherings, I'm used to being the only black person in a room. While there, a guy my age asks me where I'm from. Wearing my Cubs hat, I proudly say Chicago. He then goes on to tell me about the mission trips he's been on and the time he has spent in "rougher" parts of the city and asks me where specifically I was from. I begrudgingly have to tell him the name of my neighborhood. I see that same look of concern.
What I remember about growing up in my hometown, is playing all day in the sun during the summers, biking to the ends of the block because that's how far we were allowed to go, running through the sprinkler in my backyard, and having my older sister take me downtown on the train to see my mom at work.
I remember snowball fights in the winter, walking past piles of snow that were taller than me, shoveling the driveway for my mom, and waiting for the car to warm before she could drive me to school.
I remember never going to school on my birthday because it happens to fall on the same day as Abraham Lincoln's. I remember the Museum of Science and Industry and falling in love with math.
Of course, this isn't all I remember. But it may very well be all I understood at the time.
I also remember multiple days having to wait for a parent to escort me outside of school because there were older teens outside with weapons. I remember bullet holes in the windows of the rooms of children. I remember when I asked my older cousin about the black box on his ankle and he told me it was a watch. How he would try and sell me random things and my mom would tell me not to give him money. How when he came to my grandma's house, things would go missing and she would cry.
I remember how old my mom's brothers looked in their 40's, and I remember watching my grandma bury almost all of her sons.
I watched a movie once about a young girl who was living out of a motel with her mom. From the outside it was a deep look at what poverty can look like in the US. But the film framed itself around the little girl's perspective. We saw her go on adventures, make new friends, and spend time with her mom during the summer. I'd like to think that when she's older and people ask about her childhood, she'll frame her answer around those beautiful summers.