Maybe you can remember back. It was the year 2000. The End of the World hadn't come. Russell was finishing up his undergraduate degree at Maryville and I was finishing up my graduate degree at UT. We were engaged to be married at West Knoxville Friends (well they didn't call it marriage at that time, but a celebration of commitment). We were living with Marian in her single wide in West Knoxville. I had always said I'd not leave Marian, but after the school recruiting fair at UT, I realized that the chances of me finding a French teacher position at a good school in Knoxville were slim. That, and Russell wanted to go somewhere that had a strong theatre community.
The offers came in: Fulton County, Atlanta Public, San Antonio, Baltimore City and Knox County. What to choose? Where go go? I had really hoped that a position at Farragut High would open up, but unfortunately it was not in the cards. The only school was one on the east side. Then I saw Knox county's pay scale and thought "How do I pay off 50k in debt with that salary?" I also wanted Russell to have health care (including dental) so that he could focus on his art and not have to find a job that had benefits. Well there went almost every place in the South. When Baltimore City offered me a job teaching at City College, I jumped on it. Russell said "ok" after checking out the arts scene here and we moved in July.
We loathed Baltimore from the moment we arrived. The people were brash and loud. The city was filthy, people were cold, the Quaker meetings here weren't like what we were used to. We planned on being here only long enough for Russell to figure out where he wanted to go to grad school. Oh, and when i arrived City Schools said "oh, you won't be at City you'll be at Walbrook." From the best school in the city to the worst. Bam.
I was a jerk and Russell met another man in 2001 and we separated. We still lived together for the first quarter of the year while he traveled to New York to see him. I couldn't handle it. Then Russell decided it was all too much for him, he needed clarity, and he moved back to TN. My parents gave him a car to use, he stayed with his friend Vicki for a while and worked down there. 9/11 happened and Russell wrote my mom a letter explaining that he would be moving back to be with me. I still have the letter. I never saw it until after Russell had died.
He arrived with one statement after a hug. "I have no expectations of you, Kevin." It hit me hard. But in his absence I had given up a destructive lifestyle and would not return to while he was alive. We were happy. We did not fight (occasionally we'd argue). He made friends in the theatre community, and we became closer friends with a crew of people (Brian, Javier, Little Brian, Eric, to name a few). I became closer to some of his theatre friends too, one of whom was Quaker like us. We went through a year long clearness process to make sure we were still clear to be married. We grew the Young Adult Friends community at Homewood. We bought a home in 2002 (well I bought it). In 2003 we got married. 300 people there including his brother, sister-in-law and baby nephew.
One day, I remember it being after the wedding, Russell and I were walking in Mt Vernon which was still kinda ... it had a run-down feeling. We saw an older couple holding hands and realized that would be us one day. Somewhere else, though; not here.
Russell decided after we got married that he wanted to either go to Iowa, Austin or New York for grad school and so we set the move date for 2007. However, in 2004, Russell died. Those morons at Mercy Hospital let the gall bladder drain get infected and they had taken him off of his prophylactic anti-biotic. We transfered him to Hopkins, but he went into cardiac arrest 3 times that night. He lasted another day or so. The doctors at Hopkins asked me if I was in medicine because I knew every procedure and dosage from the time he entered Sinai, till he was released to Mercy for rehab, till he was admitted to Hopkins. Finally they convinced me to sign a DNR.
I was ready to leave Baltimore the day Russell died. I wanted to go home. I wanted to be near my family. I wanted to be by his grave. Mom counseled me not to make any big decisions the first year. What big decision? We wanted to move anyway! I still have a resentment for not moving when it would have been easiest to do so. Something to process on step 4 I suppose. I have so many great friends up here now, I don't know if my life would have been any better down there; or worse.
The city really grew and changed from 2004 till now. So much so that friends from DC have come up here to Harbor East and their jaws drop: "This is Baltimore?!" They ask. Yes, people. it's a tale of two cities. The nice parts are getting nicer, but the parts that aren't, well...
And that's the thing. There are sections of this city that are getting nicer by the day. Others that are improving by the year. Still others that probably won't see any improvement in my lifetime. While I live in a nice area, I spend a bit of time in parts where houses are gone or boarded up. After teaching in the city for three years, and hanging out with people who live on Baltimore's west side for about 6 or 7 years, something has shifted in me. While I hate seeing all the litter and syringes and crack / heroine vials all over the place, when I see a group of kids on the corner, or old guys sitting on a stoop, I don't have those same feelings of "ugh, I wish Baltimore would fix itself." I do wish people weren't in poverty, I do wish people would take better care of where they lived regardless of their wealth (as my grandmother said "poor doesn't equal dirty"). I realize I'm not from these streets, that I don't know first hand what people who live in some of these neighborhoods are going through. But spending much of my leisure time in Penn North, Madison Park and Upton (and running around Sandtown-Winchester and Harlem Park) I've come to know a different side of Baltimore than where I lived, worked and went to Quaker meeting). The people who helped that change the most were my students at City and my friends who live there.
So when I hear Tate Kobang 's Bank Rolls which came out after the Uprising, and I can name a lot of those places he mentions and I identify. When Lor Scoota sings, I'm like "yup" he could be talking about me (I won't tell you which character in his songs; however). When Peso da mafia succeeds, I'm proud. No, lots of their songs have nothing to do with me, but that's ok. I'm not trying to be who I'm not. But I can tell you stories shared with me by students and friends that his song mirrors. I don't identify personally, but there's a connection that's made, and it's just as much emotional as anything else. Plus the sound is damn good.
I go to Quaker Meeting at Homewood Friends, in Charles Village. I live in Ridgley's Delight (rent a room there). I own a house in Seton Hill. I work out downtown. I go out to eat and shop in Reisterstown Station, Remington and Mount Vernon, Canton, Federal Hill, Pigtown, Midtown, Mount Vernon .. you get the point. Two Baltimores. These places are up-and-coming and full people with lots of cheese. That's ok too. Means I have to go to the county even less often for what I need and the value of my home may actually increase!
I guess the reason I'm here at this point is because after a series of unfortunate events and twists and turns, I've come out on the other end with a darn good job that pays quite well (could pay more) with lots of cool friends. I didn't think I'd still be here in Baltimore, but I am. And whereas at one point I couldn't stand one Baltimore and found the other inadequate, I've come to appreciate these two very different types of city. They're both my Baltimore.