For four years in my late 20’s to early 30’s, I rented a lower flat on Willy St. At the time, those years felt like a long time. A friend who I met back in those days recently mentioned and has mentioned before that since she’s moved away from Madison, it just hasn’t been as easy to make friends.
Friday night when I was waiting for the bus, a man waiting for the bus mentioned that I looked familiar but he couldn’t place me. In fact, I thought he looked familiar too. He told me his name and I then I said that yes, I’d lived four doors down from him and his wife back in the Willy St. days. He’d recently run into our former city council person and said she still remembers the neighborhood cleanup that we’d organized nearly thirteen years ago. The neighborhood had a lot of foot traffic, a great hardware store, some pretty good restaurants, video rental back when that mattered, a couple of coffee shops and of course it was close to the Coop too.
I asked where they had moved and mentioned that I’d moved a couple of times and that I’d gotten married a few years ago. Like me, they’ve moved to a quieter neighborhood. Although I’ve now been here longer, I don’t know as many people here. I walk and ride my bike around here and even though the population here is more stable, I really don’t think I know as many people. Maybe if we had a dog to walk or if we had kids, but the neighborhood is different too. It isn’t quite as densely populated and this is a place where there are more back decks than front porches and certainly no shared driveways like we had there. Here, you cannot possibly hear a conversation from the house next door because the windows are open and the houses are closer together than current building codes allow. During the four years that I lived there, there were two fatal shootings less than a block away. The first of these was a shock and though I didn’t hear the shots, I couldn’t miss the crime scene tape all the way around the front of the house when I passed it the following morning on my way to work. Several friends lived in a three flat a couple doors away from the site of the shooting. Another couple lived in a house in the center of the block, essentially diagonally behind the crime scene. It really shook up the neighborhood, in part because there was so much misinformation about whether or not it was a drive-by shooting and whether or not it was drug-related and because the local media trashed the neighborhood. Besides the obvious fact that this young man’s death was sad for his family, a lot of good came from a meeting closed to the media that took place between neighborhood residents and the police department. That meeting started community building between neighbors who weren’t already friends. It facilitated better communication and encouraged the type of organization that filled many trash bags and recycle bags on a Saturday that April.
For part of the time that I lived there, I also worked on the same street, only seven blocks away and I walked that length of the street twice a day and there were weeks that I never left the street. In a way, I miss my apartment there and I certainly miss the community. Some of the friends that I made during that time will be my friends all my life. Others have faded away. Life has happened to the people who we knew back then. Some friends have gotten married, some divorced, some have children and almost everyone has moved at least across town if not across the country. I’m probably happier now than I was then, but I did like my life and at the time and I know I wouldn’t have imagined that I would want the kind of life I have now.
We can’t go back, but we can remember that we lived in a special community at an important time in our lives and that helped shape who we all are today.