A middle-age man must come to terms with being a widower and seeing his old neighborhood lost to urban renewal, all while trying to improve his relationship with his estranged son.
"And so the three generations of Finch women met, drawn to the funeral from their disparate rough lives, and over conversations and the quest for antique butter churns and milk jugs for their country kitchens, they were gradually drawn into a common bond of understanding of the heart that lives in the shackles of its own design, a slave at once its own slave master, burdened only by the denial of what it can be, in moments of clarity it tries to avoid, the bold liberty of freedom denied out of duty, the heart too proud to be vulnerable, too injured to risk again, too young to be wise and too worldly to remember the untutored wisdom of youth, the desire to be free - a sensucht for a never-was that was nonetheless the only thing that it was made for, to want more than it could achieve, the rough and tumble of love, and to share that dream because only sharing it brought it closer, with the one you loved, opening a portal through which the impossible might be seen but not touched, if but for a moment almost in reach, when the language of denial has melted in the orange and purple hues of a sky that is neither dawn nor twilight but is the quiet place where someday greater things might be, a light of which the sun and moon are only promises, desire and desire and desire like a light that, finally, will never set. Fly whither, Finch, fly, whither? Fly free!"
Sometimes things about myself strike me as funny that wouldn’t have struck me as funny when I was younger. But now I can be an object to my own self. I think about myself as if I was a history, and I try to put things down in writing. I have taken up smoking even though every scientist on the planet agrees it is unhealthy. It is one of the undisputed sins left. I don’t know why I’ve taken it up. Maybe I want to still be able to sin so I’ll know that salvation still counts for something. It calms my nerve as I think, anyway, when there’s nobody around me to offend.
I think with a clarity I have not had before. This is because I survived what I did not expect to survive.
In the end it’s always about the land. The inner-city Catholic neighborhood I grew up in is now a target of urban renewal via eminent domain. It has gone downhill since I grew up there, and the principal language spoken there is, as it always has been, Spanish. It is a high-crime area, but it also has holdout families, good people, and it has the church and the social services center. But it is now, in this riverside area, that the city wants to develop a business park, along with a sparkling public space called the “Bridge to Tomorrow,” in which a pedestrian bridge spans two riverwalks and joins a corridor of upscale shops to a world-class Convention Center, all in a greenscape environment.
Once it was only a slow green river cutting through dense trees, with collapsing fur trader structures hidden by the overgrowth along the bank. Then the United States wanted the Native Americans’ land and relocated them to this plot. But then this plot gained value and was settled by the land run and a tent city sprang up around the tanktown for the railroads. Then it became a city newsprung in a late gilded-age aesthetic, moneyed by oil. And in the 1970’s came the demolition of historic downtown for a great plan of urban revival – but that plan eventually devolved into parking lots nobody used and a downtown mall nobody visited. The high hopes had come to nothing, but they had motivated great leaders to risk someone else’s livelihood on their design, taken by force of law. In the end it’s always about the land.
The old Negro nexus of culture from the 1930’s has been annexed and turned into a white professionals’ neighborhood, complete with pristine loft apartments and coffee houses and high-end stores. The old warehouse district is now a thriving center for restaurants and pretend biker bars. The location of what was once the grandest hotel in the state was first transformed into a parking lot and then made into a public garden. They let butterflies loose there in spring.
In the end it’s always about the land.
And now they want the poor Catholic neighborhood as a place to make the Bridge to Tomorrow. Where do people go when they’re displaced? If you destroy the low-income housing, where do the poor live? Where do you ship the homeless to make your urban areas sparkle? To Tulsa?
A woman I knew fought the urban renewal. There were so many poor and homeless to take care of. Where could you build a home for the outcasts that would not drive down the value of the nearby property?
Maybe the city will pass a penny sales tax for social services.
The woman and I had known each other when we were much younger. I had thought I had loved her but it was with an early love of the heart, when a desire to be loved in return was all the heart knew.
For the longest time, in my mind’s eye, she was always in her youth, eighteen forever, no matter how many years had actually passed. This illusion was especially true when I was lonely and my mind was throwing strands at things to see what would catch. But now I am a widower and that ideal has long since died, and each of us loves but does not love each other, and that’s the way it should be when people move on.