University School - Hunting Valley
Instructor: Jack Somers
The Other Side
The Other Side
The other side of the tracks. A taboo, of sorts, that wasn't to be said out loud, as that would make it real. The other side of the tracks, the last symbol of "old" America. It used to be just in the minds of the locals. Now it's everywhere because of him. Because of the two of them. There were now protests, riots, nationwide, except at the tracks, where we stood shoulder to shoulder. Silently. Don't give them our voice, our actions will speak louder. Here, we stood on the right side.
I didn't know Andre well. He sat in the back row of math class, AirPods in ears, in his own little world. I didn't like that. He should have been listening, learning, not wasting the days. Besides that, I was indifferent to him. We continued our days respectively. Respectfully. Once, he asked for a pencil. I should've given it to him, but I didn't. I should've given it to him, but I wouldn't. I still don't know why.
It happened in autumn. October 25th to be sure. A vibrant autumn day. I remember it was colder that day. Or maybe it was like any other autumn day. I didn't see it happen. I heard Angela talking about it down the hall. She's told lies before, but this time was different. Her tone was different. As I neared, listening to her retell the event, I realized I'd already heard the story. We all had. Andre lost the key to his house at school. He went home late at night and, upon realizing his key wasn't on him, tried forcing the handle open.
A neighbor saw.
A cop came.
He started to explain.
The cop didn't come to listen.
I wasn't shocked in the beginning. My immediate reaction was a state of confusion; I'd been told the ending to a book I've read before. I just didn't know that book was in my neighborhood. I nervously walked away, but nobody paid attention. They were busy asking questions nobody had answers to. Trying to clarify the unclarifiable. School was called off later that day so everyone could catch their breath. The walk home was longer than usual. The world was a bit more desaturated than usual. I went to my room and looked at the wall for a while. My mind felt derailed. I was a drifter, lost in my own thoughts, attempting to make sense of nonsense.
There was a protest scheduled for Wednesday. Kids handed out pins in the hallway, but I didn't take one. I knew better. I saw what protests looked like on TV. Protests turn to riots. Riots turned into death. Classes continued as the day trudged on. It seemed more and more kids were wearing pins. How did they get those so fast? I thought.. Then I realized. This wasn't the first time. They were pre-made, waiting to be worn at a school somewhere, in some city, in some United State.
I got home at a normal hour on Tuesday, four, I believe, but I'm uncertain of the exact time. As I entered my bedroom, I looked at my phone, Instagram to be exact, to be greeted by a feed of continuous black squares. Solidarity, I thought to myself. But how did a black square help? This was the first time I questioned it. The first time I questioned myself. My town. My world. Thousands of thoughts seemed to cloud my ability to think. Or maybe it was my first moment of clarity: Why? Why am I still here, and he isn't? Who gets to choose who lives or dies? Why is it so unfair? I felt like my classmates earlier - struggling to find the answer to an impossible problem. Hoping for a light to guide me out of the tunnel.
The next day couldn't have gone slower. Were classes always this long? I found my eyes constantly drifting to the clock. Everyone's eyes were. My parents had told me not to go. They were worried for my safety. They didn't understand. The backwards world needed me to fix it. I needed to go. I looked over at Angela; she wore a pin but wasn't going to the protest. She could see my thoughts in my face and nervously walked away. Nobody paid attention. I could respect her decision. Some aren't ready to act.
We lined up along the tracks. The wrong side had turned right to us. The city was looking as if some heavenly power decided to tone down the colors of our entire town. Looking at it from afar, one could say the city turned black and white. Black vs. white. Our lines stood in formation, waiting for what we'd seen on TV. We looked ahead to the "other" side of the tracks. Riot gear, rubber bullets, dogs. We were scared. But we stood together, awaiting the future. Ready for the future.