I've never thought of myself as a timid person, especially in terms of my living environment. I once lived a block from the U.S. Penitentiary at the end of Boulevard. The neighborhood was host to a stellar cast of characters, including drug dealers (natch), a chop shop, and an oft-pregnant midget hooker (I know, but "little person prostitute" doesn't sound as good) who cruised the corner store parking lot.
Needless to say, I loved it there. Cheap rent, never a dull moment, and a solid lesson in "everyone is just trying to get by, so be nice to folks and you probably won't get fucked with" that my suburban-bred, 22-year-old white ass was grateful to learn.
That was just one stop on my journey bouncing around Atlanta's eastside; everywhere from Grant Park to Poncey-Highland was home at one point, not to mention having been a sex-related guest resident of East Lake, Kirkwood, East Atlanta, and Cabbagetown. You get the point.
So when I announced that I intended to move to Southwest Atlanta's Capitol View, my friends scoffed hard. And when I turned around six months later and moved back to Old Fourth Ward, their smug faces were there waiting to welcome me home.
They were only half right. True, my affair with southwest Atlanta was short-lived, but we didn't break up for the most obvious reasons.
By "obvious reasons," I mean that it's real as shit over there. I assumed, having lived in criminally active areas before, that Capitol View would be the same kind of environment, which I knew how to navigate and see the best in.
But this was different. This was gunshots. A lot of them. On my street. And not just shooting into the air for funsies, but like, into people, for murder. This was seeing children living in crack houses that would later be broken up by police raids. This was spending sleepless nights with my body wrapped around my fat little infant because there were no bars on my windows. This wasn't just feeling appropriately on guard like any reasonable city-dweller; this was feeling shockingly, acutely vulnerable in my own home. This was total bullshit.
It's not like Capitol View's crime issues have been kept secret. Sure, I've been east of the Downtown Connector since forever, but I made it a point to learn as much as I could about Capitol View before moving there.
I have a special reserve of fiery loathing for people who roll into a neighborhood of which they possess no knowledge, pull out their white-hot indignity at the first sign of anything uncomfortable or unfamiliar to them, and proceed to bitch endlessly about it.
These are the same people who "support a community in need" by burning that shit down and replacing it altogether. These are the people who see struggling communities as a chance to colonize, who have little interest in tolerating the history and diversity therein, let alone celebrating and preserving it.
I hate these people, and never want to be one. I wanted to know Capitol View, and respectfully attempt to make a home there. I grew increasingly upset with myself for seemingly being unable to do so. Why was my fear stomping out my appreciation of the good? It wasn't like me.
Then I started to get it. The key to healing the raw, sore spots in any community is the devotion of people who love the hell out of it. Fortunately, Capitol View has that in spades. I went there with a mind to be an active part of that powerful band of do-gooders who work zealously to make it better. But it was like complaining about your new boyfriend's bad taste in music even though you know he's awesome. You don't get why you're nitpicking on meaningless annoyances ... until you realize you're still in love with your ex. It's not the new guy's fault.
If I had moved to Capitol View when I was 19 and spent years layering the surrounding landscape with memories so thick that it looked and smelled like me, I would've stayed. But Capitol View was a stranger to me. The process of piecing together routines somewhere new is always exhausting. Add in an ever-present string of crime, and it's enough to deflate even the most enthusiastic intentions to become endeared to a place.
Being there didn't make me realize how awful it is. It's an incredibly livable place, and by all accounts, getting better all the time. The experience illuminated how invested I was in my old 'hood. I feel more affection for the skyline view from the top of the Mattress Factory, or the sunset from Edgewood Avenue and Boulevard, or the sound of the MARTA train after having a drunken one-night stand in Cabbagetown, than I do for some of the actual people in my life. I live to see the old ladies in their church clothes in Old Fourth Ward on Sunday mornings, and Hulk out on all the out-of-county license plates that clog up my route to Aurora Coffee on a Saturday morning.
I love Atlanta's eastside so completely that I feel sentimental about traffic, is what I'm saying.
And if leaving for six months made that clear, then I have that reason to feel warmly thankful to Capitol View. There's a mighty goodness there, and I wish it the best.