Sunday, November 20, 2011

Our lives in town: March 21, 2004

Spoiler alert: We did eventually end up in the 'burbs. But for 10 pretty wonderful years, we lived in town, close to work and close to the river and close to all the things we now have to drive to get to. Moving was bittersweet, but I turn out to really like life in the 'burbs.

Never saw that coming.

Despite the drawbacks,living in town still suits us

    It’s almost never good news when someone knocks unexpectedly on the front door at 8:30 a.m.

    I was still in my pajamas, and had just finished putting breakfast in front of my 3-year-old son. He looked up from his pancake when he heard the knock. "Who’s coming over?" he asked.

    I opened the door to find a man standing on my front porch cradling a large, dead cat.

    "Do you recognize him?" the man asked me. "I was driving by and I saw him in the road in front of your house. I couldn’t leave him there. I thought maybe he was just hurt, but ..."

    I reached out to touch the cat’s thick, soft fur. He had a collar, but no tags. A thin line of bright blood from his mouth was the only sign of injury.

    "Oh, poor cat," I said, blinking back tears. "I’m sorry, but I don’t recognize him." My own cats pushed at the backs of my legs, trying to squeeze their way out the front door.

    "I don’t know what to do," the man said, looking down at the cat in his arms. "I’m on my way to work."

    I stepped out to the porch swing, grabbed the old blanket I keep there and folded it in quarters. The man gently lowered the dead cat to the blanket and left for work. I went back inside and considered what to do.

    This is the bitter you take with the sweet, I guess.

    I live in the city. My son and I walk to the park, we walk to his preschool, we walk to visit friends in the neighborhood. My husband has a 1-mile commute to work.

    When Coolidge Park is jammed with cars trying to get through its single entrance, we just load up the stroller and wander down the street, spared the difficulties of driving and parking. On the last night of Riverbend, my husband and I clamber onto the roof of our house to watch the fireworks.

    We sit close together on the rough asphalt shingles and marvel at the view.

    But I also know, with depressing clarity, the unmistakable thud and yelp of a dog hit by a speeding car. My cats never, ever go outside. And when my son and I cross our street to get to his school, we look both ways five or six times. Then we run.

    "Hurry, hurry, hurry," he chants, his little legs working furiously, his hand gripping mine.

    The speed limit on our street is 25 mph. There are two schools and three churches in the span of less than 1 mile.

    Last summer a police officer showed up to shoot radar on one of the curves in the road. "I’m catching people going 50 miles an hour through here," he said to me.

    Don’t I know it.

    When my husband and I talk about moving, it’s always to the theoretical "quiet street." We never used to talk about moving at all, and even now we only talk of it idly. We have lived in our house seven years, and we’ve renovated and added on. The commitment is deep. The projects are endless.

    That’s one reason I couldn’t give a proper burial to the cat who spent his last moments under the wheels of a speeding commuter in front of my house. Backhoes are forever tearing up our yard. It wouldn’t make a good final resting place.

    I called the city’s 311 line and was instructed to put the cat in a plastic bag for pickup. "Just leave it on the curb," the operator told me. "We’ll come get it."

    Later that week, as I walked my son to school, a friend pulled up beside us. She and her family lived a few streets away from us until two years ago, when they sold their house and moved to the suburbs.

    "What are you doing in this part of the world?" I asked her.     

    "House hunting," she said. "We really miss this neighborhood."

    I can understand that. I still love it here. I suppose I’ve learned to take the bitter with the sweet.

    "We’d like it if you came back," I told her. "It would be fun to be neighbors again."

    After she pulled away, my son and I stood on the curb, watching for cars.

    "Are you ready?" I asked him. When the road was clear we stepped from the relative safety of the sidewalk onto the wide ribbon of asphalt.

    "Hurry, hurry, hurry," he chanted, holding tight to my hand. 

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