For Christopher

"Soon as he touched you, he was dead.”

We were watching the pilot episode of "The Wire," an HBO show (that I should have already seen) set in the projects of Baltimore circa 2002.

The series has an interesting drug-hustling, detective-hunting kind of plot, with more corruption than a Dan Brown novel. I'd watched quite a few episodes for a class project—but for some unknown reason, I’d never jumped back into it post-college.

"You going on point, picking us business in the pit.”
"Why you giving me the low-rises when I had a tower since summer!”

The towers they're referring to are the tall, city projects with a plethora of drug traffic in the stairwells and elevators—a crack dealer’s dream. The disgruntle character (dubbed D’Angelo) had just been demoted to “the pit,” or the smaller buildings near the courtyard—less business, more visibility.

The scene ended as he jumped in a car and headed down the street.
Another scene began…

"Miss Britney, you know you sound like Hannah Montana?!" one of the girls ran over to me.  She wore glasses and had braids separated into pigtails. Her pink puffy coat was too big in the sleeves.

“You’re only saying that ‘cuz I’m from the South,” I said with a grin.

“Nooo,” she said with exaggeration. “Say somethin’ else like Hannah Montana!” I appeased her as we crunched through the snow blanketing Hyatt Court, hand in hand. The projects were quiet tonight. Even the Crips, who usually huddle in the corners waiting for God-knows-what, had moved indoors.

It was the end of March, but spring doesn’t always mean new life and growth. Sometimes things stay frozen, and it’s out of our control.
Newark, New Jersey taught me that lesson.

Baltimore looked run down as the camera focused back in on “the pit.” A drug deal had just gone terribly wrong, and there was blood to pay. My stomach dropped as an angry crew descended on an addict who’d tried to score some crack with fake 10-dollar bills. Kicking, punching, and yelps of pain ensued…

There was a squeal of laughter.
It was Christopher.
He was one of my favorites.

I know you’re not supposed to have favorites when teaching children.
But I did—and he probably knew it.

The first year I’d worked in Newark, we were on a college spring break trip. I’d hated it. The cold was unbearable, the children were utterly insane, and we’d slept in a dirty church with no heat. Weren’t 18-year-old freshman supposed to go to Mexico?

But there were a few great kids who, I’m now realizing, will forever haunt me. Christopher was shy when I met him, but you could tell he was something different. With 2 younger sisters, the 12-year-old was slightly softer than the razor-sharp, soon-to-be Crip kids of Hyatt Court.

 "You show that kind of weakness, you lose everything that comes after.” My wandering brain switched back to the television. One of the drug ringleaders on “The Wire” was reprimanding D’Angelo, disgusted by his mercy. He was too soft.

Soft like Christopher, the gangly kid who’d made me a cross out of popsicle sticks that said “I love you” in 2007.
The kid who still hadn’t totally lost his squeaky voice in 2008.
The kid I had to remind to give me a hug in 2009.
The kid who wasn’t so soft in 2010.
The kid I’d lost track of in 2012…

(I was beginning to remember why I hadn’t finished this show.)

“One or two in the back of the head. No witnesses. No suspects. You got a .380 casing on the ground there.” The pilot episode was wrapping up with a murder and a moral dilemma.

Then the credits began to roll. I felt awkward as I asked my boyfriend what he’d thought of the show. The entertainment. He’d liked it, fine. I’d like it, fine. We’d probably watch it again soon?

After he stood to grab a drink, I was left with my own thoughts. So I sat on the couch hoping (praying) Christopher’s story hadn’t ended the same way.

It seemed my conscience was still infected with whatever holy poison Newark had injected into my heart. If I couldn’t watch “The Wire” without thinking of Chris, or walk down Avenue D without a small twist in my gut…

I assume that I’m not doing something I should be.
Because even though we don’t have power over what’s frozen, we who have been shown warmth can cut the cold’s bite

Newark, 2009

Newark, 2009

The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.
— Albert Einstein