I am on my way to the shopping center in Queenstown. I am twelve years old and in no great hurry to get there. The little town where I live is calledBrentwood, inHyattsville County,Maryland. It’s a small community of hard-working middle class people who maintain their homes and live quietly. I live with my aunt – my late mother’s sister – who finally married and now has a two-year old son of her own.
As I’m walking toward the shopping plaza, I seeMt.RainierHigh Schoolon my left and then the Queenstown apartments come into view. These apartments are not that old but there is something about them that I don’t care for. Every time I pass them I get this feeling of unease. But I am a very intuitive child and I know – I just know – that I will move there some time in the future. I have this strong feeling that I will live in those Queenstown apartments and I am not happy about that one little bit.
As I’m getting closer to the apartments, I remember what happened at Halloween the year before when I decided to go trick or treating inside the Queenstown apartment complex. There was something that drew me there and I could not figure it out.
The apartment buildings had four floors to climb and four apartment doors on each level. As I walked inside one of the buildings, the lights suddenly went out and every floor was pitch black. I was by myself and, even though it was eerie, I continued to knock on the doors, shouting “Trick or Treat,” and holding out my candy bag. But something told me enough was enough, so I followed my intuition and only canvassed the first two levels before heading home.
Quite a few years later, when I was married with two young sons – a four-year old and a two-year old, the Queenstown apartments came back into my life.
The boys were twenty-one months apart. My marriage was faltering and I was contemplating leaving my husband. We lived in a house inKentVillagebut at that time, I was working as a data entry operator inBrentwood, which was very near to the Queenstown apartments. One of the logistical problems about leaving my marriage was not having a car of my own. How could I get to work without a car?
My salary was good but not sufficient for what I had to do. I didn’t want to go to a lawyer so I knew my husband was going to have to help me… and I was not so sure that he would. I wanted to go to a counselor but his opinion was if we can’t work it out together no one else could help us. So what I did next was leave.
Would you like to guess where I moved? Yes, the Queenstown apartments because that was what I could afford.
The apartment complex was almost four miles from where I worked and, with no car, I had to walk an hour each way, every day. I would pass my aunt’s home and sometimes I’d stop to talk to my cousins. I couldn’t stay long because my boys would be ready to arrive home and I always had to be there to meet them.
They attended a local nursery school that picked them up in the morning and then bought them home in the evening. After three or four months of this, I finally saved up enough to buy a car. What a relief that was after four mile walks in all weather, rushing to meet the van bringing my sons home.
I stayed in the Queenstown apartments for exactly one year. I didn’t always have time to mingle with my neighbors but, when I did see them, they were always nice. I can say one thing – there was every culture and nationality possible living in that apartment complex.
I knew I didn’t have a problem with where people came from or what culture or color they were, but what my family thought about the matter was altogether different. In retrospect I realized that, at age twelve, when I was passing the Queenstown apartments on my way to shopping, the unease I felt may have been on account of family prejudices that were hammered at me from the age of two. As I grew older, I replaced those values with my own.
It’s not who or what you are that’s important – it’s how you treat me. You could be pink with yellow stripes but, if you treat me with respect, you get that respect back.
I had many good friends over the years of different origins and colors. I think that living in a place I had been taught to fear changed my mind about a lot of things.
The Queenstown apartments are still there after all these years. When I go home and pass those buildings, I say a silent blessing to the Queenstown apartments for sheltering my small family when I was starting to rebuild my life. And for surrounding me with kind people just when I needed them most.
My stay there opened my eyes to different ideas about people than those I had been taught as a child. I guess it was just another lesson in life for me to learn and I can honestly say I consider The Queenstown experience as another milestone in my life. And I am thankful.