By Rosalie Tirella
Four or so weeks ago, outside my Worcester inner-city three decker, I made a new friend: Beauty, a little Chihuahua-mix from across the street. She was funny-looking cute in the way only mutts can be: long, thin body, a head that was disproportionately big for her shoulders, a kink in the middle of her tail, no taller than a beer can. The great thing about Beauty: she was wearing a sparkly blue collar attached to a sparkly blue leash, which was held by a little girl, about six years old. One of the little kids in my neighborhood, just like you see all over Worcester inner-city neighborhoods: teeny, slips of children, undernourished, dull, pinched complexions, sometimes hair not combed out, running pell mell across busy city streets not much higher than the car tires that whiz by them. These children are so vulnerable looking you are scared for them. At first you see them as sickly and you despair for the city (they’re Worcester’s future). Then you see them as beautiful – the most exquisitely delicate of children, bones made of glass, eyes made of sea shells, hair of silk … They are the glass ornaments with which you’d adorn your Christmas tree, they are the wind catchers you’d hang from your kitchen window, in a special spot, so the morning sunlight can shine through them.
This little girl with the Chihuahua was wearing a dollar store short set; her shoes looked like slippers. But, she was full of spirit! She was running to beat the band to meet me in my parking lot, with Beauty trotting confusedly, but proudly ( little head up!), next to her. I had just got home from working and was unloading my car. The girl was smiling, seemed interested in me and Jett, my husky mix, who always travels with me. She watched me as I organized my bags and put Jett’s lead on him. She began to follow me, walking right uo to the front door of my building with me.
I smiled. I knew the pattern! Lots of inner-city kids growing up without the physical trappings of a middle-class childhood – vacations at the Cape, big backyards filled with swing sets and the latest electronic gadgets and toys – are like this little girl. They have personalities that absolutely sparkle, that seem to burst out of their tiny bodies! They lack the material shit their rich, spoiled and, ultimately, boring counterparts have so they create their own fun. Make their own childhood castles, their unique kiddie worlds. They are curious, aware, intuitive … sharp. They are interested in – sometimes fascinated by! – the people around them. Human toys! They want to engage you! Chat! Listen to your voice and what you have to say! Years ago, growing up in Green Island, I used to be one of those little kids! Not so young, maybe 10 … Saturday mornings I was running down Lafayette Street, making my way to the little old lady who fed 20 cats outside her flat, watching them run wild atop this little hill of garbage in her back yard. Fascinating! Then I’d run down Bigelow Street for my next adventure – to visit the weird old lady whose mouth hung down stiff on one side like it was just waiting for a cigar to be slipped in and who always wore heavy black man’s shoes. One of her legs was shorter than the other, so the soles of one of her heavy monsters was much thicker than the other. Fascinating! This lady always began her friendly chats with me on her back porch with: NOW YOU KIDS LISTEN TO YOU MOTHER … her voice gravelly, husky, gruff from the cigarettes she smoked incessantly. I’d spend a half hour with this chain smoker, looking at her big, black man’s shoes that were always polished and shiny, and her thick ankles – always in tight fitting (you could see the red band the socks’ elastic top made on her white skin) ankle socks. Wanda was always such a know it all! So much fun to listen to her pontificate! Then I’d move one door down and say hello to Wanda’s neighbors, the old couple in the flat next door. They weren’t as chatty as Wanda with the crooked mouth but they were soothing, very domestic, like the little old couple you’d find in a Gingerbread house in the middle of enchanted woods! The wife used to sew beautiful little pillow dolls with plastic cupie doll faces. She’d show me her latest projects – dolls with dresses made of the prettiest cotton fabric, wearing bonnets she made specially for them. Bonnets trimmed with white lace to match the lace at the hem of their dresses! I adored these handmade beauties! Wanted all of them, which she had placed all over her husband’s and her bed and sofa. They had taken over their tenement! She knew I coveted her pillow dolls and would sometimes give me one of her less pretty babies. For Christmas or my birthday or First Holy Communion. Special occasions like that. I’d run straight home to show my mom, cutting through the big field between our buildings, not watching where I ran because I was so excited, coming home with brambles,we called them “pickers,” all over socks andthe bottoms of my slacks!
Ma! I’m home!!! Look what Elsie gave me!!!!!
These days, summer of 2015, this little girl, proud owner of Beauty, reminded me of me! Curious about the people around her, shy but open, wanting to learn what you liked, who you knew … people like me, now a middle aged lady down the street, stoking HER curiosity, HER imagination. I knew and loved the pattern! So I obliged!
Hi! I said to her with enthusiasm. HELLO!
Is that your dog? she asked me, looking fascinated by the entire Rosalie-Jett production/catastrophe!
Yes! I said, His name is Jett. You’ve got such a cute dog! I love his collar! What’s your dog’s name?
I could tell right then and there he didn’t have one! She was about to improvise! Looking at the sidewalk and then looking at me, glancing at my dress, my face, then my legs, she blurted: BEAUTY!!!!!
I wanted to scoop her up and hug her! Kids and their not-so-secret compliments! I wanted to cry!
But instead I said: That’s a great name! I love that name! Smiling, now setting my bags down to seriously chat with my new friend, I said: How old is Beauty? She’s a great friend! I love her blue collar! It matches her leash! I wish Jett had one like that.
Shyly pleased with my compliment and still basking in the glow of her ingenuity, the little girl walked her little dog around me smiling. I opened my car door and got Jett’s doggy treat jar out. I twisted off the cap and took out a little piece of liver snap and offered it to Beauty. She was too nervous to eat it.
I’ll bring you some treats you’ll like tomorrow, I told Beauty. Then said goodbye to my new friends.
The next day I had a bag of goodies ready for Beauty. At the end of my day, just as I had expected, Beauty and her little girk owner rushed across the street, oblivious to traffic, to meet me and Jett. My heart sang! Innocence amid the crack houses, the yellow police tape, the guy men with their pants right off their asses so you saw their underwear.
Here are some snacks for Beauty! I said to the little girl (who never gave me her name, whose name I didn’t ask to know), giving her the dog treats. Looking at the skinny dog, Beauty, noting the ridges of her little back bone and how they protruded through her thin coat, I realized Beauty is the last to be fed in this household I declared for all the universe to hear: I’LL HAVE FOOD FOR YOU TOMORROW! I WILL! FOR YOU!!!!
I went upstairs to my apartment and wanted to collapse on my bed. The city is overwhelming, too stimulating, like electricity going through me! Instead, I immediately began putting together a beautiful puppy package for Beauty: A big blue stuffed dog toy shaped like a bone. It squeaked when you squeezed it. A plastic pup canister with red paw prints on it that I filled with Jett’s dog food. And then – the piece de resistance! – a big water bowl that looked and acted like a water cooler! (pictured above). It was topped off with a huge, clear plastic jug, that once filled would keep the water flowing and, I believed, serve Beauty well – and fascinate her little mistress. Then, lastly, a blue water/food bowl that looked too cute! I put it all on the dining room table for the next day.
The next day my building had graffiti sprayed all over it by gangs. It had been tagged – by gang members and drug kings who have been shooting at and killing each other with impunity all over Worcester this summer. Last week there were bullet casings found on our street. Before that, up a ways, one kid fired his gun at another kid. They were both in their cars, driving their cars.
I, in a panic, called my cool landlord and shouted: THE BUILDING HAS BEEN TAGGED! GET DOWN HERE NOW AND PAINT OVER IT! COVER IT UP. NOW. PLEASE. PLEASE.
He is my friend. So within a half hour he was downstairs calmly painting over the convoluted letters that were like a slap in the face to this end of the street, home to about 10 little kids who ride their bikes all over and … BEAUTY AND HER OWNER.
Ten minutes or so later, my cell phone rang. It was my landlord: COME DOWN HERE, ROSE.
What now?! I cried as I threw on my shoes and ran downstairs. At the bottom of the stairwell I met my landlord and a little black boy, about 11. The boy was shaking, then he got still, like a small animal, or a bird, in physical shock.
I looked at my landlord. He said: Take him upstairs. He was just chased down the street by a guy in a van, with a gun.
What?! I cried. I’ll wait with him in the hallway upstairs. Did you call the police?
Just as my landlord was about to answer my question, a car pulled up in front of our building: the boy’s relatives. They had come for him. He went out to them and got into the car. My landlord called 911. The cops were on the scene in minutes. They talked to the relatives and the little boy. A few hours later the police caught the guy who had been chasing the boy. They found him hiding in the bushes next door. With his gun.
For days I was too stunned to write this…but then the shock wore off and I am so worried about Beauty and her owner!
WHERE WERE THEY?! I DID NOT SEE THEM ANYWHERE!
My heart dropped to the soles of my shoes. I worried about them and all the cute, skinny little kids in my neighborhood and Worcester’s inner city neighborhoods, with their innocent faces and social little personalities. Beauty, that funny looking little dog, no higher than 6 inches at the shoulders, and her little girl owner were in the back of my mind all day, as I ran InCity Times. When I got home, they were not on the sidewalk near my house waiting for me like they used to be. I went upstairs and felt very alone.
So I decided to TAKE ACTION! I began working the phones, calling all the politicians in town. I told them about the little boy my landlord and I gave shelter to – from a storm made of kids with guns and disrespect and no love for anyone, not even themselves. Self-destruction! Confusion! Children being chased by other children with guns! In my neighborhood, in our city! I cried to them. I’ve seen it! Just yesterday! The expression on that little boy’s face! He was quarry.
THIS IS MADNESS. STOP THE MADNESS.
Everyone responded to my fears and pleas in politician triple-speak. Such useless bull shit! Fuck you all! Except for Worcester Mayor Joe Petty, a guy totally underestimated by his opponents, who said to me, like he’s said before: I’M LISTENING, Rose. I’M LISTENING. I COULD HEAR HIM LISTENING, INTENSELY, OVER THE PHONE. Within 24 hours we had Worcester Police Department fiot patrols on my street. The neighborhood has quieted down, calmed down. People are not on edge 24/7 – though we are all watching our backs. Joe Petty is Worcester’s Quiet Man. Like John Wayne in John Ford movies, he doesn’t say much but he’s got integrity, is modest, and will always rise to the occasion. I think he’s heartbroken over all the senseless killing and shooting, too!
And so, today, it’s quiet, though I’m AWARE, like half the city, of the potential for mayhem. Just three days ago a mom and her two year old child were shot while sitting in a car. BOOM. A toddler. Not much smaller that Beauty’s owner, I bet.
BTW: I have decided to name the little girl, BEAUTY. She’s the real deal!
My landlord says: Don’t over think it, Rose. Do your thing. The unofficial Mayor of Green Island, Lorraine Laurie, says the same thing: Just run your life, Rose. It’s a gang thing – take it from your big sis!
I love Lorraine but she’s wrong.
It’s MY THING, TOO.
We all have to take responsibility for the little kids in our struggling neighborhoods, though few do, which is the problem.
Two days ago I saw Beauty, and her owner and a new addition to the troops – her teeny little brother – about three years old. Totally adorable! Like his sister, sweet and friendly in such a heartbreaking, tentative way… . He was walking Beauty! Not his sis! She was beside him, though, overseeing the walk. Very serious. To see such BEAUTY on parade in a hood like mine, in a world like ours, takes my breath away.
Running to them, over-joyed, I GUSHED: HI! I have so many great gifts for BEAUTY!