Jeff and I were the best of friends.1 I moved to a new elementary school in the 3rd grade and Jeff and I instantly hit it off. We had sleepovers nearly every Friday night, occasionally at my house, but usually at Jeff’s house. We would mostly watch Viper, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. and WCW and then play video games until the wee hours of the morning. In the morning, we’d wake up and usually bike down to the Waffle House to grab coffee for the adults and sometimes run to the store to pick up ingredients for chocolate chip pancakes. The rest of the day involved some combination of dominoes, board games, nerf guns, rolling Jeff’s hamster down the stairs, making sweet jumps for our bikes around the neighborhood, or super soaker fights with some of the other neighborhood kids.
I didn’t understand any of this until I was an adult, but I think subliminally there was a reason we were friends. We weren’t like the other kids. We lived north of Northridge road, I in a small subdivision across from the post office, and Jeff in a lower-middle income neighborhood of townhomes. Jeff and I didn’t have “normal”, nuclear families. Jeff lived with his younger sister, mom, and their mom’s live in boyfriend while I had a single mother.
Thinking back, I am somewhat amazed that my over-protective mom let me go over there so often. Granted it was a different time where you might let your 10-year-old ride their bikes down to the store, but it was a rough neighborhood with kids often getting in to fights and I clearly remember one night when I was at Jeff’s house where we all hit the deck because there was a drive-by shooting a few houses down (our friend’s older brother was shot, but survived). I guess ignorance is bliss.
Jeff moved away some time in the 5th grade. I had quite a few other friend’s to hang out with at school, but nothing resembled the brotherhood that Jeff and I had. The year after I moved out to California to live in a nuclear family with my dad and stepmom, but I still missed those rides down to the Waffle House and running away from the neighborhood bullies.
When I was 21, I presented a deck as part of an internship interview. I put that my life goal was to become the CFO of Coca-Cola2. I didn’t really know what it meant to be a CFO, but it sounded like the right job for someone who wanted to go in to business and hailed from Atlanta. Beneath that was really a desire to make something of myself and to go back to my hometown and give back.
That area is changing now. The old townhomes where Jeff lived have been blocked by a gate to keep Google Street View out. But I have to imagine it’s still very much the same. A recent look at the stats show that over 40% of the children in the neighborhood still live below the poverty line.
Those 3 years of my life were perhaps the only that I had not lived a normal middle to upper-middle class life. I am not “street”. I am not “hood”. But those were my people. The ones that chucked water balloons at me in the scorching and muggy heat of Atlanta summers. The ones that Jeff and I rode for our lives from after getting rocks thrown at us. The ones that built “sweet jumps” with us. The ones that probably never got out of that neighborhood.
I hope one day I can give back to any community in need; to lift up those that need lifting up out of the systemic poverty that plagues so many neighborhoods in this nation. And I hope that somehow that trickles back to that old neighborhood in Atlanta.
We are dirty birds for life.