You never know who lived in your house before you moved in.
Isn’t that strange? I mean, yeah, you might know the people who sold it to you, or the family who left just after you signed a new lease, but not the ones before them. Or the ones before them. Depending on how old your house is, people might have been walking around it in poodle skirts or zoot suits, lives that have already been started and ended before you were even born. Those people existed wherever you take a step in that house — they loved and lost and lived right where you set up your Playstation 4.
It may be strange, thinking of all the souls who lived there before, but it’s better than knowing.
Believe me. It’s better.
I should’ve been suspicious when I read the Zillow listing. “NOT a foreclosure, but PRICED like one!” Doesn’t that just scream bad news? Not to me. I needed a place to live, you can’t go on living without one, and this house was close enough to the university. “Updated nearly everything!” the listing said. Doesn’t that make you wonder?
I don’t have to.
The boy who used to live in my house, his name was Travis. His mom sent him to the Midwest from their place in Newark because he “needed straightening out.”
His friends called him New Jersey. It was a tough-guy name, something that made him feel cool. He fell in with the wrong crowd because, well, Newark isn’t the only place where kids can get into trouble.
There was a fight at school. He jumped in because, you know, it was his crew. He had a duty.
The fight was about a Walkman. Someone had stolen someone else’s. Names were called, slurs were dropped, and then they had fought.
The rest of the guys, they got taken away to jail because they were of legal age, considered adults. Travis, though, he wasn’t old enough. His 17th birthday was still on the horizon. The cops just sent him home early.
Word went around fast. New Jersey was a snitch. That’s why he got to go home. He fought the rumors as best he could, but his former friend, the one who started the fight, this guy who thought himself something of a kingpin, well… he had it out for him.
Do you remember high school? Everything seems like the end of the world.
This guy, he told people he was gonna get Travis. He was gonna get him or he was gonna get someone else to do it for him.
Travis went to school. He came home from school. He did homework. He watched as all his friends sort of fell away.
One night, someone drove by the house. They shot through the living room window. The bullet went into the kitchen wall but you can’t even see it now. Believe me, I’ve looked.
Travis’s five-year-old brother had a birthday party. There were a ton of people there. You see, even though this place is just big enough for me, Travis had a lot of family. Too much for this little house. The adults were always going into the basement. I think it was for some pretty shady reasons. I don’t go down there, the place is dark and damp and it feels like someone’s watching you.
At the birthday party, someone knocked on the door. Travis’s uncle answered it, and the kid there said hey, is Travis home? I want to talk to Travis.
Travis’s uncle closed the door. He got Travis from his bedroom. The front door, the door to my house, it had these three little windows you could look right out and see who’s on the porch. So they looked through the windows.
I don’t know that guy, Travis told him. But he went outside anyway.
Travis’s uncle kept looking through the window in the door. The kids talked. He waited a few minutes. Didn’t look like anything bad, just two kids talking, so he turned back to the kitchen to get some cake.
Then Travis’s uncle heard someone yell no! And pop, pop, pop. Real loud.
Before he could even turn back to the door Travis was falling through it, face-first onto the filthy brown carpet, a blossom of bright red blood blooming on his white t-shirt.
Little kids were screaming. His grandma was screaming. The guy on the porch was gone.
The fight was about a Walkman.
A stupid Walkman.
Like the listing said, nearly everything has been updated. You can’t see the bullet holes. The brown carpet that turned a darker brown when Travis bled out, it was ripped up and replaced with an unassuming beige Berber. The front door, well, it doesn’t have any windows.
These changes, these updates, they don’t really change anything. They don’t change what I know now about the place where I live, the place I’m supposed to feel safe. They don’t change the fact that Travis died in the same spot I have to cross every day to get the mail.
I wish I would’ve known sooner, before I bought the place. Or that I didn’t know at all. But I do. I do know.
Because every night, when I lay down to go to sleep, just when my eyes are shut and I think maybe that night could be different, Travis tells me the story all over again.