I found a dead body once…
When I was around 4 years old, I was jumping on a bed when my mother caught me in mid jump, sat me down on the edge of the bed and begin to put shoes on my feet. She told me we were going to see my grandfather, my father’s father, and as I remember, I was fairly excited.
My existence started at that moment. Which is to say, it is the earliest memory I have had for as long as I can remember. Fours years of age, jumping up and down on my mother’s bed in our little government assisted housing unit in the projects, my sentient mind came into being. I have no recollection of life before that particular point in time.
After that first event, my memory is more of a medley of random happenings that I sometimes get confused with really good episodes of my favorite television shows. And then, there are the other things. The unmistakable things that kind of happen to you, around you and within you, all at once. Things that serve as a type of memory buoy system to help you maintain a chronological sense of direction in ocean like mass that is your living memory. Memory markers I’d call them. They are not always tragic or even sad really, they simply are.
For me one such event occurred around the age of 7 or 8. As I recall I was at my aunt’s house. She lived in Preston Taylor, a public housing development on the west side of Nashville. My aunt’s house was only a few buildings from where my mother and I lived a few years earlier. A stone’s throw from the scene of the oldest memory my consciousness could access. It was a warm summer night, and for some reason beyond my knowledge there was a blackout in the neighborhood and everyone in the house was now out on the front porch. Of course, me being an eight year old boy, I picked the perfect time to have to use the bathroom. And of course, me being an eight year old boy the simple solution was for me to go around to the back of the building. Now peeing on the side of a building posed no problem for me, as a matter of fact, I feel no boy can truly become a man until he has taken a whiz in the open air. It’s a rite of passage, common practice in those days for boys my age. I stepped off the porch and walked around to the back, alone and in the dark.
The corpse was lying there, on the ground some 15 feet from the back of the building. There was no blood, no gore, just a human body, limp and lifeless lying still in the grass behind my aunt’s project building. It was a man, black and young, probably 19 or 20 years old. His head was shaved bald and he wore a hooded black sweatshirt. He was on his back, with both his mouth and eyes open wide. His expression even now, is still vivid in my mind, it was like that of a human machine that someone had switched into “off” mode. He stared up past a starless night sky, his face void and emotionless. His eyes bulged, but only slightly, not in a manner that was grotesque or graphic, but simply, in a way that was unnatural and uncommon. His mouth lay open just as wide as his eyes. He looked as if he were choking, but there was no desperate struggle for breath, no panicked gasps for air and oxygen, only silence and stillness. It was dark out and the artificial light from the street lamps and apartment windows was absent, but the moon shone down and illuminated the body with an eerie perfection that allowed me to take in every necessary detail.
My first instinct was not that he was dead. I tried to talk to him, the entire time keeping my distance, speaking in low whisper, then eventually graduating to “Hey!” in a voice much deeper then my own in an attempt to disguise my age and fear, all in an effort to elicit some type of response, but to no avail. Yet, regardless of the morbid situation, I had to ‘go’, and with a corpse a few feet away, I did. I turned my back to the body so that I was facing the building as I relieved myself. The entire time peering back over my shoulder at the deceased, praying that he didn’t jump up and grab my leg. I only had to pee, but if someone had even said “Boo” I would have instantly shit my pants. I was terrified, but not for the reasons you would expect. It wasn’t the body that scared me. It was not the lingering presence of fresh death that made me uneasy but rather, it was the anticipation of being frightened by some unimagined surprise element while in the midst of emptying my bladder, that made me nervous. I finished my business as quick as I could and rushed back around to the front of the building.
Back on the front porch I sat down and proceeded not to utter a single word about what I had just seen. Not only did I not mention seeing a dead body I had some how become completely oblivious to the fact that I had just come from an undiscovered crime scene. As a matter of fact, I came back and resumed whatever conversation I was having before I had to excuse myself. There was no shock, no one in my family thought I was acting strange, I did not look like I had just seen a ghost, which is odd because I should have. I should have peed my pants, instead, I just peed and then went own about my night as if nothing extremely out of the ordinary had just taken place.
Now to be honest with you I am not sure why I didn’t say anything. I just know once I got back around the building I was fine. I was seemingly and completely unaffected by what I had witnessed. In my 8-year-old priorities of concern, stumbling across dead bodies was simply, not a big deal. I can only assume that my mind was too young to truly grasp what I had seen and that I was somehow shielded by both my ignorance and my innocence.