So this happened a week ago Sunday night, at around 10 pm as we were watching a movie at home: a pop-pop-pop that might have been gunshots or firecrackers. Fifteen minutes later I looked out a kitchen window and saw police cars, lights flashing, crime-scene tape, cops with flashlights behind our long backyard, in the street and in a parking lot that belongs to a business at the back edge of our property. Definitely, it had been shots.
The story emerged over the next few days. Traychon Taylor, 19, had been wounded and died a day later in the hospital a block away from us. Four people have been charged with his murder in a drug deal/robbery, the details of which, as this article outlines, are rather confusing.
This incident—not all that unusual in our neighborhood, unfortunately—has been sitting in the back of my mind for the last ten days but I’ve been busy with other things. It hasn’t stirred fear (at my age I, perhaps foolishly, don’t fear much for life and limb) but rather, some inchoate urge that I hadn’t been able to name until I had a conversation about it yesterday with three friends. Ever since we moved to the Pink Lady two years ago I have been looking for my personal path into and through the big, intractable issues like racism and violence that go with the communal and commercial advantages of living in a city in the Twenty-First Century. Now here was something in our backyard.
Literally. I looked out the kitchen window Saturday, six days after the incident, and saw that a tree at the edge of that fatal parking lot had been adorned with balloons and posters, surrounded with candles and plastic flowers—what they call in the Southwest a Descanso, a memorial at the site of a death. “You were a good son.” “You were a good father.” “RIP Tray, we’ll see you soon.” Vic said he’d heard singing during our dinner party the previous evening. I was sorry that I hadn’t been aware of it at the time. Well, we had guests. But otherwise I would have gone out and joined the friends and family, offered my condolences.
The appearance of the memorial sharpened my sense of some opportunity, some call to “do something,” but not what that should be. So I talked about it with these friends who convene monthly to discern “Third Force” invitations in our daily lives, riding the impulses that shift things to a new level. How did all this tie in with my original motivation in moving here—the quest for community as well as the willingness to be exposed to the dangers that can accompany it? Nina suggested that whatever actions I take might be fueled by prayer.
After our conversation I thought of googling Traychon’s obituary, which I hadn’t seen in the paper. It had appeared on Saturday. I followed the link to funeral arrangements, and lo and behold the visitation and funeral had taken place that morning, as I was talking about all this with my friends. I felt I had missed another opportunity for face-to-face contact with the bereaved.
I decided to start a prayer vigil last night in my backyard, across from the Descanso, around 10 pm, the time he had been shot. Maybe the dark was more dangerous but I preferred not to be easily seen. But The Voice, which I expected to watch at 8, wasn’t on till 9, so I decided to go out at dusk with a folding chair, my dancing-flame lamp, and my blue shawl. I would sit on my side of the fence just across from the Descanso. I would pray with my eyes open. I would watch and pray, you might say. I would be visible to passers-by. I admit that this took some courage. Vic was out so I would do this alone.
As I sat down and lit my lamp, two police cars were on the street. One cop had stopped a car just a few yards down from the memorial. Another car had its lights flashing about a block away. A boy on a bike waved to me as he rode past on the sidewalk—yes, although I was sheltered by trees and shrubs, I could be seen. After the nearby police car left an SUV pulled into a parking lot across the street and tooted its horn. A pickup that had been waiting in the parking lot on my side of the street, where Traychon had been shot, crossed the street and stopped alongside the SUV for a few minutes then left. A drug deal?
So much action just next to my quiet house, but on the west side, where there are few windows. Our street views focus north and east into the lovely historic district. Kitchen and bathroom windows, however, look south into our long, still scruffy backyard and the establishments, parking lots, and intersection beyond, where the troubles tend to occur. We have only begun to claim this backyard, planting trees and shrubs that will eventually screen out much of the street view. Further landscaping will be put in place this spring and fall, turning the area into a wildish garden.
The chainlink fence that separates the funeral home parking lot from our property is ugly, but it affords a view of what’s happening beyond. And so I watched as a battered red car pulled into the lot, loud music thudding, and stopped next to the memorial tree. Two young men got out, went over to the tree. Their distress was visible. They hugged each other, wept, circled the tree. Eventually another man and a girl got out of the car as well. They turned off the music in the car. If they saw me, they didn’t pay attention; they were absorbed in their grief.
After about 20 minutes, I stood up and went over to the fence. When one of the mourners started walking in my direction I said, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” He came over, shook my hand, thanked me, and began pouring out a story. His name was Malcolm. He was 21 and Traychon was his “little cousin.” They had played together, grown up together, until 2011, when the grandmother who was the pillar of the family had died. Then the family scattered, some to South Bend, others, like Malcolm, staying in the Chicago area. Malcolm had lost touch with Traychon, who, he said, got in with the wrong crowd. (Three of the four young men who have been charged with his murder were in the car that brought Traychon to the drug deal/robbery.) Traychon, Malcolm said, was a week away from getting his high school diploma. He was the father of a 3-month-old son, Tyson.
I told Malcolm that I was praying for the family. He thanked me again. I couldn’t hug him over the fence but I clasped his hands. He went back to the little gathering around the tree and I went into the house.
Afterwards I thought of things I could have said or asked but the moment had taken my breath away. It was something. Maybe I’ll keep doing this vigil.