This happened to me about 3 years ago.
It was a 2 AM, Saturday, and I was walking back to a crummy row home in the north philly slums. Coming back from a deadbeat party drained of both life and booze, I soberly and slowly shuffled without so much of a fragment of a thought.
It was dark as shit, but scattered light posts offered temporary spaces of relief. I'd been living out here for two years now, but I don't think any amount of time could grant someone peace of mind at this hour, in this area. It's not that I was constantly worried; in fact, I assimilated faster than everyone I lived with.
Going back to move-in day, the local neighbors - I say local
to differentiate from temporary, like myself, who were just students - came out to 'stoop it'. Yep, you literally sit on a stoop...usually with the companion of a brown bag or tightly wrapped paper. And then you just talk about any combination of girls, life problems, and girls...kind of like every country song ever. While moving in I dropped a small "container" of sorts, and an hour later I was stooping it. They didn't care about college or have any grand aspirations. One was 17 and had a baby. The other was 26 and as far as I know, was the guardian of the stoop. They said I was the first white kid to give them the light of day. They loved to smoke, play basketball, and catcall. It was also the summer, so I'd often make it a point to 'hit the stoop' a few times a week after work or go to the local courts - which were beelines of cracked pavement as if a child drew a picture on the ground with lightning.
After a pretty solid and laid back summer, students trickled back in for the semester. Parties sprung up in clusters sometimes four or five times a week. Nights were filled with waves of kids stumbling from one row home to another; yelling, cursing, spilling, banging, and puking their way up and down streets. Having learned the hard way about how much alcohol one can handle, most nights for me would be relatively clear minded, which meant I was thinking more. I thought about the locals who grew up here and the students, like myself, who moved in and out as temporaries. I thought about the complete lack of education the school gave - and as far as I know, still fails to give - to students moving into new environments because they can't offer enough on-campus living. I talked to my neighbors about it - 'old heads' and 'young bucks' alike - often differentiating myself from other students. My friends were always either too skeptical or afraid to join me. I did this purposely; spending more time with locals. It wasn't out of guilt or pressure or anything. I just did it because no one else was doing it and that's all there was to it. The inevitable conclusion at every discussion was a bleak gulp; acknowledging each other for the shared ground (or stoop) we spoke on, but trying to swallow the grim future I did not share. They were gradually being forced further back into the slums. Vultures, also known as slumlords, were buying up homes with their greedy fat fingers. The locals simply didn't have the community or support to fight back against the vultures, whose crappy offers would be just as crappy as their next home.
So we inhaled and made crooked smiles in sweet smelling haze.
Fast forward to that one night. It was 2 AM, Saturday, and I was walking back to a crummy row home in the north philly slums.
I wasn't thinking that night. I hadn't touched alcohol or anything else in months, but I still couldn't form a single coherent thought. All I could do was walk. I think most of this drudging nature was a result of striking out with a girl. Yep, I had definitely blown it and was walking the walk of shame.
I looked up and was only a block away from home. Nearing the corner of my street I saw two figures arguing. One was clearly a student; white, polo shirt, fancy jeans. The other was covered in baggy clothes, the wall behind him casting a shadow that perfectly shrouded his identity. They were only a foot apart from each other and the student was drunkenly blabbering about 'getting his money back for a shitty bag'. It was none of my business so I turned the corner and kept walking, numbly, to my home.
Then I heard a SMACK. Not the kind of smack a hand makes swiping someones face, but the kind of smack that has a metallic tone. It's the kind of smack that jutted me out of the daze - only briefly - to turn around. No one was there.
I started making my way back to the corner, pausing only briefly to reflect on just what the hell I was doing. When I got to the corner I froze.
A few yards down the shadowy figure stood over the student, laying a mirage of blows to his head which slammed against the curb, raising a few inches in a bloody mess only to be beaten back into the curb. It was like watching a paddle ball, except every time the ball hit the paddle blood came out.
The numbness was back and none of this seemed real. Inching towards the scene the shadowy figure looked up at me. Instead of laying another blow into the kids' crimson face, he turns to me and reaches for something in his back pocket.
A moment passes and we're just staring each other down. I'm emotionless and he's frenzied. I realize both of my hands are raising to make the universal "don't shoot" motion. Then I hear myself say something along the lines of "he's had enough, cops will be here soon." The bloodlust in his eyes noticeably weakens and he reaches into the kids' pocket, pulling out his wallet and phone. He looks around with a sharp gaze that cuts right through me as if I was nothing more than air. A few seconds later and he's darting the opposite way down the street. A few more seconds and he's gone.
Still numb, I call the cops, telling them in the simplest way "this kid just got jumped, I'm gonna take him in, here's my address". Somehow he was still coherent as I lifted him up. Slung over my shoulder with blood splattered everywhere we made it inside, got him washed up and in the hands of more capable people.
The next day I was still numb. I told the whole story to my friends on the stoop. "Shit" was their only response, and as if the smoke was some kind of life-cleanser, the events washed away. Except I wasn't smoking and it didn't wash away.
As temporaries, we had to find a new place in the slums to live for the following year. It was the same story. New faces, same stoops. I kept thinking about that numbness and it kept manifesting. When you know what to look for you see it more often. I saw the numbness on the subways, in class, in eyes, at work, and in myself. I thought it was something that needed to end; being stationary, being numb. Then I thought about fate and how it's linked to numbness and activity.
If you're numb, is fate natural? If you're active, are you changing fate?
Is the fate of being numb "better" than causing change? Would fate have been "better" if I snapped out of numbness and fought? Is there no middle ground in "flee or fight?"
I still don't know the answer, but I decided learning how to control numbness and activity quickly is important. It just is. And it will surprise you. In public most people are numb. You can say hi and make conversation with strangers, help random people struggling to carry something or parallel park. And it will surprise them - maybe even snap them out of the monotony of their motions. I don't do it all the time, but I do it often enough just for the sake of doing it. When that numbness creeps back that's when I do it. It's okay to be numb, I think it's natural. But I like to think we should have a balance between the passenger and driver seats of our lives.
Oh fuck, this was supposed to be about games. read