Closing the book entitled North End, I placed it on the lowest shelf in my mind. I wanted it to grow dusty and old. Hopefully one day it would disintegrate.
What purpose did that place serve in my life? Why were my experiences there so ugly? So painful? Will I ever have happy endings? I thought one day.
It wasn’t hard to make new friends in the Midwest. Before long my days were filled with football games, quarters parties and trips to the mall. Almost as swiftly as the seasons changed, Junior high days turned into High school days and my social life went into high gear. I dated. A lot. It seemed that for several years straight I always had a love interest but no love.
Nobody ever sparked my happy butterfly.
A few times during my high school years, I went back to North End, although I avoided all the old landmarks. I’d heard there had been an exodus and all our old neighbors had moved to the suburbs or the outskirts of town.
Like a cancer, our beloved building 105 was now totally ravished with drugs and crime and had even claimed the life of Mr. Doyle, our landlord. 105 was his pride and joy. We were always taught to be polite and respectful to him and his property. It was not so with the new tenants . He was lured in the basement around the first of the month, robbed, and shot, execution style. I still feel a pang in my heart when I think about it. Most of the former residents will not even go down that street let alone talk about living there.
During one of my visits to North End, I was able to catch up with Debbie. We went out one night and she told me that Derek had been asking about me.
I blinked extra hard as I felt my happy butterfly dance a jig. “Oh?!” I replied trying real hard not to seem too eager as the last words he had spoken to me still stung a decade later.
“Yeah, girl, he said next time you come to town he wants to see you” Deb said nonchalantly. She always said things in a way to let you know there was something else on her mind. She wasn’t impressed after all; he was her first cousin and not a big deal.
To me, it was everything.
I’m not sure how it all happened but it wasn’t long before I was making regular trips back east. Billy had moved back and was living with his new girlfriend Deana. I laugh now about how I would tell Billy I really wanted to visit but it was Derek I wanted to see.
Derek still had his boyish good looks. Even though there was more thug now than Alex Vanderpool, he managed to maintain both images. I loved spending time with him when I visited. We would go to clubs and restaurants, visit friends in North End or stop by to see his family as we tried to make the most of our brief time. We were both happy to finally see what it felt like to actually date as adults. He was living with an older girl who I had met as a child. She lived around the corner from Miss Mabel’s. I never even bothered to probe to find out more about his relationship.
I was too busy enjoying my first love.
During one of my visits, Derek and I had planned to meet up downtown. Not sure why since normally he would pick me up at Billy and Deana’s place. They live in the Sands, a high rise apartment community on the outskirts of downtown. Pacing back in forth as I waited, I noticed two women who were the same height coming up the block. They stood out because they had on too many clothes for such a warm spring day. My eyes focused on one of them. She had caramel even- toned skin and a bloated look that made it seem like if you stuck a pen in her she would deflated draw in like a raisin. She didn’t look like anyone I knew, yet some about her was familar.
“Shara!” I yelled jumping in front of her. Her eyes locked with mine. I saw fear in them.
“You remember me?… It’s Tam!”
“Uh uh.” The old Shara I knew was a quick liar. I was certain this was her. Her clothing made me second guess myself. The Shara I used to know was a sharp dresser, This woman’s clothing was dark and made her look frumpy and old.
“So your name is not Shara?”
“Uh uh” She insisted.
After interrogating her for a few minutes, she continued to deny that she was Shara. Something in her eyes was pleading with me not to ask any more questions.
The other lady walking with her, had moved over to a grassy patch under a lamp post, stayed within earshot. She had dropped her head but would occasionally dart her eyes in my direction. Her body language revealed to me that my assumptions were correct: I had indeed found Shara.
Feeling helpless and unable to come up with any more questions, I had to let her go. Moving aside, I watched as she and the other woman, sluggishly walked down the hill, to the heart of downtown. I would recall this story to Billy many times over the years, wondering if that was really Shara.
He would always intently listen, as if he were waiting for me to reveal some missing part of the story. Mentions of her would soften his face, saddening him.
As a dazzling firecracker, that lights up a summer sky, but swiftly turns to a downward fizzle, so did my relationship with Derek. We were worlds apart. He loved street life more than anything. I could see the rush in his eyes when he talked about the cops chasing him, where he stashed his wares or how he beat some charge.
I wanted a simpler quiet life, to be married one day and perhaps to have more children. I could never imagine living back in North End; he couldn’t imagine life anywhere else.
I remember our last night together. After a night on the town, we went back to Billy and Deana’s and decided to take a stroll around the complex. I don’t know if it was actually said, but we knew we probably wouldn’t see each other for a very long time if ever. With the bright downtown lights as our back drop, we paused by a wooden utility pole. Derek removed a knife from his pocket and carved, Derek and Tam forever in the pole encasing it in a heart.
“I’ll never get married until I hear that you are,” Derek said as we headed to the front door.
I knew he was probably lying but I loved the sound of it. It was a corny line, I know, but there was nothing lame about what we felt.
It was as if Derek was determined to give me a complete first love experience. Something that would warm my heart causing my butterfly to go into a frenzy.
I haven’t seen Derek since that night. I did however receive a call from him a few years later. I was living here in Maryland and he wanted to see if we could give it one last try. He was even willing to meet me half way, by moving to Maryland. Who knows for sure if he was really serious? He may have been sincere or perhaps just wanted to move his “operation” to my region.
I told him that I was engaged to someone else. I wanted so badly to throw caution to the wind and follow my heart, allowing my butterfly to soar like it was meant to.
I chose to stay with the man I was engaged to. Our relationship ended a few months later. I don’t regret either decision.
Through Derek I learned your happy butterfly is eternal.
There’s more, please keep reading with us as we finally learn more about Shara!