Keisha-Gaye Anderson

the door


July 21, 2013

He didn’t have to kill him.

But I was to soon learn that choices that like those were the privilege of certain individuals in this place. Men like our neighbor *Mr. Soldati, a burly Italian ex-cop, who religiously swept the sidewalk in front of his house in dress slacks and a v-neck t-shirt, with a stogie jammed into the side of his face.

He took great pride in maintaining that little white frame house, with its overgrown oak trees flanking the narrow driveway, and a lawn that was always threatening to grow when the sun was able to pierce through the foliage. It was his tangible American dream, and he wasn’t about to move further east from Queens to Nassau County, just because he was now the minority in the neighborhood.

His son had other ideas, though. Not the friendly son who wore crisp button down shirts and always said hello when he would see my dad cleaning his Chevy in front of the house next door to his father’s, where the six of us lived in the two-bedroom, upstairs apartment. It was his twin, the one with the handle bar mustache, who wore all black and rode a deafening Harley, and stared at us so hard that we were sure he would eventually utter a greeting, but he never did.

I used to play with the nice twin’s daughter, *Marie, when she came over on weekends. I was thrilled to have another eleven year-old girl to talk to, as I was an only child up to that point.

One Saturday, the two of us were jumping up and down on an old mattress that Mr. Soldati had put out on the curb, trying out our best gymnastic moves. Marie told me I that may not see her anymore, if her dad could convince her grandfather to move.

“Why does he want him to move?”

“Because the neighborhood is getting too black,” she said casually, as she tried to touch her toes in mid jump. “That’s what my dad says.”

“Oh.” I shrugged as I tried to bounce higher than her. “Hey, there’s the ice cream truck!”

“Let’s go!”

We sat on the curb, lips and tongues red from Italian ices, and talked about which member of the Bangles we’d want to be. I didn’t fully understand what ‘too black’ meant, I just knew that people either thought I was adorable or felt awkward about my presence, especially in my very Irish and Italian Catholic school. My enrollment in that school was the result of the sheer stubbornness of my parents--Jamaican Anglicans, who sat through all of the catechism classes necessary for conversion, and entry to the school.

But Mr. Soldati was always very kind to me. He only ever asked me how I was doing in school and would follow up with, “that’s good” or "keep it up." I knew he thought my mom was sexy because he would give her a wink and a smile whenever he offered to drive her to the bus stop, which was just two blocks away. She never took the ride.

He chose to stay where he was comfortable. And he wasn’t easily rattled by the presence of his new neighbors.

He wasn’t rattled either the morning *Anton decided to break into his garage. I was in the living room, sitting at my favorite window at the front of the house, counting the minutes until I could go outside and play. I could smell the red herring, boiled green bananas and fried dumplings my mom was preparing for breakfast. Dad went downstairs to make a run to the store. We needed milk.

And then I heard it.

Pop! Pop! Pop!

I saw Anton jump the fence that separated our yard from Mr. Soldati’s and collapse at my father’s feet. His body was twitching, as if electrocuted, and his legs were still trying to run. Then, he moved slower and slower, until he didn’t move any more.

Mr. Soldati went into his house and returned moments later. He walked into our yard, placed a knife in Anton’s hand, and pressed the dead boy’s fingers all over the knife. He looked up at my father, placed a finger over his lips. “Shhh…”

Mr. Soldati died of old age.

Anton ran away from the yard that day, but Mr. Soldati called him back. He was an unarmed, petty thief, who should have done jail time. He didn’t have to die before 25, but that was Mr. Soldati’s choice. My father could have never made such a choice, and I knew it keenly that day. Only men like Mr. Soldati could have made a choice like that one in New York City, in 1985. And still, today.

*Names have been changed.