I was six years old when we moved to Great Brook Valley in Worcester, Massachusetts. That was the name of the projects we lived in, Great Brook Valley. We called it the Valley for short. There were rows and rows of three-story brick apartment buildings with six apartments in each section. We lived at 15B, building 15, apartment B. It was a two-bedroom apartment. Our front yard consisted of cement landings and pavement. Each building had a cement stoop with just a few steps leading up to a cement landing at the entrance. There wasn’t enough room for a chair or a potted plant, just enough to get yourself up into the building. A large, green-metal door with a broken lock was propped open with a heavy cement brick to allow easy access. Outside of our building, just about ten feet from our front doorway was a large fenced-in area with clotheslines running throughout. It was large enough for five buildings to share. Just beyond the clotheslines, you came to a parking area and two dumpsters. In the same direction, across the main street that ran the length of the projects, was the city bus stop. The bus was the only mode of transportation other than our legs during my six years in the projects. The set-up was very practical. The projects’ management made sure that we had everything and anything we would ever need.
I would dream of a grass-covered yard to run through with my bare feet. What I would have given to roll down a grassy hill so fast that it would make me want to throw up. Worcester is not the place to roll down hills, even if they are covered in grass. There was broken glass and garbage spread everywhere you looked. Some of the blocks further down the road had wooden landings with a couple of shrubs and a few sprigs of grass. We had only pavement, but we learned how to make the most of everything. Pavement was great for hopscotch, jump rope, and skateboarding; three of my favorite things to do growing up. Behind the block of buildings was a playground area. The roadway running between our buildings and another set behind us had been turned into basketball courts, swing sets, and slides. They were simple and to the point but, nonetheless, they were for kids, at least during the daytime. We knew not to hang out there past eight at night. Too many bad things could happen to you after eight. It was no secret the streets were overrun with drugs and violence. Newsworthy shootings and beatings happened every few months. We might have owned the Valley during the day but we feared it during the night.
At first there were five of us in the two-bedroom apartment: my mother, Lori; her boyfriend, Dave; my older sister, Marie; and my baby brother, Andrew. I had a younger sister, Jessie, but her arrival was about a year after the move. Altogether, my mother had four children. Two sets by two different men. She met my father when she was 18 or 19. She met Dave when she was around 22 years old. There have been many men in her life but these two men were the only two that ever really mattered.
The walls were paper-thin. We were on the bottom floor and with that came nonstop entertainment from our neighbors. Doors slamming, yelling and fighting, dancing and, of course, I can’t fail to mention Lori's lovemaking. I learned early in life what that sounded like and even looked like. When you have so many people living in a small apartment you tend to walk in on things no child should ever have to witness. I knew enough not to ask questions and to walk right back out of the room. Some things you just never talked about and that was most definitely one of them.
My childhood molded me. My experiences taught me so many important lessons. We all learn how to fly but how well we fly depends on how well we learn. Fortunately I knew when to pay attention. I also refused to give up. I promised myself that I would make a real life for myself and I did.