Via English teacher Ms. P, in Washington DC:
One of the first assignments of the year was to write a story about our neighborhoods. The assignment was to use descriptive language (adjectives and imagery) to help our readers picture the world we live in. These stories are similar to the stories which Esperanza tells about her neighborhood in The House on Mango Street, which we are reading in class. Here are some of our stories.
I chose three to share. You can see all 9 here.
Every night, I try to sleep. I have a hot room and so I keep my window open at night and during the day. At night, I come home and take a shower, eat, and go to bed. About five minutes into me getting ready for bed, I hear screaming, yelling, and laughing. At night I toss, I turn, and I cover my ears. Soon enough, it stops and I sleep peacefully.
After school, I come home and walk up the old, dirty, trashy hall. All I smell is weed. It’s not that good for my lungs. The trashy hall is filled with cans, beer bottles, candy wrappers, and old, used buds. I go to the 4th floor where my apartment is and see a big block of wood covering up the door next to my apartment because people are always breaking in there every other day. As I open my brown, graffitied door, I step in and take off my bookbag, go into my room, and lay on my pink and orange covers. I turn the TV to MTV and then to BET for music. Then again the yelling, screaming, and laughing starts. This time they are throwing bottles, too.
My own walk home from 9th grade, back in 1984, took 15 minutes. I’d jaywalk across Van Reed Road. Then across a nicely mowed open field that belonged to the Catholic Church. Then down Peachwood Drive. Past the Romanowskis, the Kiefers, the Ragowskis. A quiet street.
For a while my brother and I had beer can collections in the garage — we searched for discarded empties. But not from litter — we’d forage on trash day.
Here is another from Ms. P’s class:
The Real D.C.
I live in the beautiful place that goes by the name of Washington, D.C. This place is what some people may find to be a tourist site to come visit. The pretty home of our nation’s president, Barack Obama. This place, to me, has some exciting and gorgeous views. But it’s unlucky that I don’t live in those places.
Where I live, I think of as the dumps. Bad people. Bad neighborhood. Just a bad environment to raise a child with a future. Public transportation is dirty. Sunflower seeds being spat out on the big Metro buses, people peeing on the long Metro trains. This place I live – some people love. They wouldn’t trade this piece of s*** District for a trip to Paris. But not me.
Keep up your studies, D. You’ll make it to Paris.
By the way, Paris has its own bad neighborhoods. And has for a long time. Check out this essay from 1907.
Sulphur-colored hints of daylight in the sky; I leave the cab at the fortifications; this is the cite Jeanne d’ Arc, an inclosure formed by low huts and sheds. The home of Père la Chiffe. Piles of rags, of bones, old tins, corks, bottles, broken china, papers, all the refuse of the great city.
Round these piles men, women, children crowd, digging with iron crooks into the multiple filth. One old man gives a little
cry. It is like the squeak of a rabbit. He has fished a mutton bone out of the mass. The wandering street dogs had not gnawed
it clean. Grunting he sits down and with an old knife begins to scrape the bone. A few pieces of flesh he gets and bits of marrow, and eats them with an idiotic smile.
…The cabins are of wood; the roofs are broken; the beds are such rags as those the half-naked children sort; yet in them live as honest a folk as any in the slums.
Here is the next student essay:
The Days Gone By One Block Away
Around the corner has a story all to itself. Apartments that have been there since the 1970s are ancient. The sidewalk that holds the apartments breaks under pressure. Cracks travel up and down the sidewalk. Lanes were even produced to keep the traffic of cracks flowing through. The windows are painted shut by once-white paint. The buildings that were once blood red turned to a grimy black and brown. Fences once strong and silver are now rusted brown and green. The holes and bikes rammed into fences make it seem that the fences are a twisted piece of art. The grass once green is nothing but a desert with bones of chickens, cats, rats, and any other animal, probably human too, that once stood in that yard. Walking two inches inside the dilapidated fence swirls a dust tornado.
The back has ivy and moss growing everywhere. Junk hangs in the back. Heads of dolls, wheels, chains, headphones, paper, teeth, and cans of beer hang out in the back. The stairs are too dangerous for even a cat to walk down. The wood is splintered and termites feast on the stairs. It is the only jungle we have ever been close to seeing. Weeds, out of control, grown into the trees. Moss and ivy invade the buildings.
Evocative writing, Ivy. Keep working hard.