Last week I drove to the Tailor Shop ready for another day of construction. My task list included repairing the original storefront window, putting in thresholds at two doorways and putting the final touches on the first-floor apartment.
I parked in front of the building (at the corner of Hamer and Benton St.), looked towards its front door and was struck by the sight of a large trash bag half-emptied, its contents splayed out on the sidewalk like a gruesome crime scene. Shit, I thought. This wasn’t the first time trash was left outside of the building but normally it’s at least tossed near a trash can and somewhat captured by a bag. This heap appeared to have been dropped from the sky.
I went inside, put on some gloves and set out to make quick work of cleaning it all up so that I could move on with my day. Over the years, the list of things I’ve put into trash bags from vacant buildings and sidewalks includes syringes, condom wrappers, framed diplomas, family photos, countless bills, expired food, expended bullet casings, ids…on and on. At some point you sort of gloss over whatever it is that you’re cleaning up and the implied story behind it. There’s no joy in dwelling on it.
This bag contained many items I’ve come to expect: shoes, letters, envelopes, money cards, socks and a blanket.
But as I rifled through its contents, it also contained many things I didn’t expect: a certificate in steel drum proficiency, Pokémon cards, a letter from Nelnet for student loans and then, very nearly thrown out with the rest of it, a diary. Gold-covered with a huge sunflower on it, the diary sat in my hand as I paused in motion and thought for whatever reason that I should open it, read it, investigate it more. I opened the book and immediately the words within brought to life what I could only imagine (or choose not to).
After moments of mechanically going through this pile of trash like I’d done many times in many places, I suddenly had reason to pause: this is somebody’s life. Somebody had applied for these credit cards, worn these shoes, bought these Pokémon cards and written their story in a diary.
Written by a young girl who lived in a nearby building, here is her unedited story:
This Journal Belongs to [redacted]
Started on May, 17, 2006
I love you lady’s so very much
May, 17, 2006
I feel that if you really get to know someone you can find out what there all about. I feel you can find someone to be close to all the time. I’m going to tell a lil more about myself. When I was 13teen it was March, 28, 2005 my daddy began to look sick and pell but I was still young I didn’t know what was going on. I never thought that something like that would happen to me. It was on a Sunday when I had called my daddy and asked him to bring me some money to the bus stop in the morning. I didn’t go to school those three day of the beginning of the week but I went that Friday and I was looking for my daddy to be there but her never showed up. I was wondering why but I was thinking to myself “well I didn’t go to school those others days so he just didn’t come today” I was not realy mad because he would come any other time. I didn’t call my father because I was tired but anyway after Friday had gone by that next morning I called my daddy to see why he havin called and to check up on me. I called his house and his girlfriend answer the phone “I ask hi can I speak to my daddy” she was not talking clear so I asked again and she say [name] is your grandmother there I said “yea” so I gave her the phone my grandma said praise the Lord thats how she answer the phone so anyway ms. pam thats my daddy girl-friend she said Ron is gone my grandma said gone what do you mean gone all ms. pam kept saying is gone so my grandmother said what out, in jail what do you mean gone so ms. pam said DEAD my grandmother said DEAD she drop the phone and started to mone and cry. I’m sitting there and shook as if im think I just talked to my father a couple days ago so when I became off the shook mood I started to cry. It was April 9 2005 my father was pronounced out dead. My father dead three week before my birthday he died Saturday morning at 3:40 or 3:50 am. His girlfriend said that he died in the bathroom getting ready for work three jobs in one part-time I loved my father very much and I still can’t believe to this day that my father is dead. When I found out about it I couldn’t eat or sleep I even thought about killing myself I tried once. Well anyway ms. pam said he died of a heartatack and it just broke my heart thinking about it. I don’t realy have anyone to talk to but my grandmother and mother thats why I feel so close to you ladys I feel safe and I think I can talk to you about anything if you can except me. I’m very glad I was in M.A.A.T this year to meet you ladys. I have a sister but she don’t like to own up to it.
May, 18, 2006
A few months before my birthday this year my mother got real sick she have cancer but she is doing very good but I promised myself if any thing happen to my mother and grandmother I am going to kill myself and that a promise.
I have a lot to handle at a young age 15 years Im not saying that other people does not got throw things but me I’m about to blow thats the end of it.
May, 18, 2006
Today in school I had a nice time. We did are math benchmark test today. I had a good time and got along with my other class mates but thats allways.
May 19, 2006
Today it was ok at the beginning of school. First when when to speicals then we went to first bell that was my math class we did are exstened response and we finished it. I go all of my work done but still have to do some more later but thats about it except we did are practice for grantequsion and we did great.