The Social Experiment of Gentrification

by Cherie Butler

She wakes up every day at 7am. Brushes her teeth, takes a hot steam shower for exactly 12 minutes before it turns ice cold. (The Porter keeps promising to replace the building’s water heater.) She turns on the news to see familiar faces, almost like family to her. Prayed for a snow day, but instead, she walks two and a half blocks downhill to her elementary school. She’s bundled up in all the layers she could find. After all, she is a latch key kid. “22 degrees, winds out of the Southeast.” But she’s tough. Did I mention, a latchkey kid. Burnt toast wrapped in aluminum foil, snack bags and juice boxes tucked away neatly in her backpack next to her math homework. “Please don’t let the papers get wet and sticky, I can’t afford another ‘Incomplete’” she thinks to herself.

On her twenty-minute walk, she hums the songs her chorus teacher had the class memorize the night before. If only she was a soprano, then maybe she would finally have a solo. She waits at a stop sign, closes her eyes, and wishes she had wings. Arms spread wide, feeling the wind whipping beneath her undersized parka. “Enough dreaming, it’s cold!” she says. This walk is grueling for five years straight. Alone. Passing along the same brick stone, high steps, front facing “stand alones”. Observing how the windowpanes have gentle cracks of lead sealed shut. Calling the patina on the rusted bikes in the alleyway “gangrene” because it sounds better. Like the name of a child who grows up to be a dignitary but forgot where she came from. Wishing one day, when she grows up, she could change her name to whatever she wanted. No dogs, no husband, just her and a cream-colored chaise lounge angled perfectly in a corner with a cup of dark roast coffee in her hand. Feeling the sun beam through mauve linen curtains at midday. Because that’s what “grown-ups” do. She’ll be looking out of her bay window one day at other young ones racing to be on time for class.

Until then, she continues her daydreaming, along her walk to her fifth-grade classroom. She’s beyond her years, she’s been told. Too mature to think about life outside of her bubble. But did I mention, she’s a latchkey kid. She patiently waits for the day…when she graduates cum laude from her neighborhood Senior High School. Tassel moved to the left, scholarship in her right hand to a ticket to anywhere. Anywhere?

The day arrives when she chooses…a gap year? Time for a self-discovery. Away from the hustle and bustle of street noise, cursing, gun shots and “Hey baby’s”. Just exploring a world where you are a number stamped on a passport, travelling to a destination unknown. What will she do there? 

Teaching English to locals. She learned early on how much the U.S. dollar stretches like mozzarella in the developing world. Learning how to hand-stitch and weave natural fibers, seeing sunsets and monuments that you can only imagine in your dreams. She’s living hers. Camel riding in deserts, lazy river rides and zip lining in untouched jungles, seeing a full moon at high tide, sipping freshly dew picked tea. She wonders, “Where I come from, this doesn’t happen to people like me.” 

Time goes so fast; she decides to plant roots deep in the place she once called: “Home”. Wondering where will her feet finally hit the ground? She lands in her familiar time zone, sits in the back of a taxi, and falls asleep. This long cab ride is reminiscent of breaking through the International time zone and just sleeping, nestled comfortably in the window seat. Thirty minutes later, she’s abruptly awakened by the sound of bike bells, buses, ride-share horns, joggers, and dog walkers. Dog walkers? The only dogs she remembers was “Pinky”. The little mutt that used to steal scraps of food from the neighbor’s garbage cans the night before trash day. And why are these “walkers” wearing wireless earbuds. Don’t they know you need to be aware of your surroundings in this neighborhood?  “I’m sorry, sir, you must have the wrong street. This is all unfamiliar to me. Here’s the address again,” she says insistently. “And here we are!”  He replies in a matter-of-fact tone. Did she just see a Bistro sign? What happened to Black Coffee? What is “Mixed-Use” property, and why is it “Coming Soon?” Where is Mr. Porter to fix the water heater? Where are the brownstone brick fronts? Who paints brick? No, better yet, where are her memories? These condos are filled with her stolen cream-colored chaises. Where “grown-ups” live. Looking out of their bay window. 

She’s amazed that she’s looking up at strangers while they’re looking down on her. With their light roast coffee, three creams, four sugars and a smirk. Because that’s what “grown-ups” do. “My mind is playing tricks on me!” she exclaims. “This can’t be right. I can’t believe in one whole year, my neighborhood has been turned into someone else’s whitewashed dream,” she whispers…

Then she realizes…This maniacal planning was done years before she chose her gap year.

Cherie Butler has been an avid writer since grade school. Her writing achievements include: “The Athena Review: Breakthrough Issue”, “Shadowed Hourglass” a collection of poetry and prose, and Diversity: There's a beauty in that too: A poetry collection. She resides in Maryland.

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