The Past of Rapport

A man outside an apartment complex smokes a cigarette. I approach and ask to take his photo, and he informs me he’s visiting his adopted grandfather Rick who resides on the 7th floor. He has always wanted to document him, so he suggests we pay a visit. I follow him into the building and an elderly lady questions our presence. He explains his name is David and we are visiting Rick. We wait for the elevator, and he tells me he studied cinema here at the University. He suggests I get my camera ready as Rick may be standing inside the elevator when it reaches us. The doors slide open and to my surprise, a man I know as Hirum stands before me. I had taken his photograph by the downtown fountain about a year ago. He knows me too. “You took my picture, I was just people watching when you came up and asked if you could take my photo. My kids love that photo.” We enter the elevator to head up to his apartment. A goatee now conceals his face. David mentions how small a world this truly is. I can’t help but think the same - serendipity or maybe photography, had brought me right back. The elevator falls silent as we climb the floors, contradictory to the conversations to come. We walk down the hall and enter into his apartment. “Set your things down wherever,” Rick says as he takes a seat, David filling in next to him. “Smoking isn’t allowed in,” smiles Rick, as they both light a cigarette.

“We were both standing by the emerald monument in the Ped mall where Dubuque meets Washington. I was leaning on one side and Rick was leaning against the other,” David explains, “I can’t remember how we began talking. After that we kept running into each other as we both often spent time in the area.” They both stare straight forward, out the window as they recount their past. “David wasn’t in a good place. His mother loves her boys, loves them to death. But she was overbearing. She wasn’t letting him live his life.” Rick fills in. David adds nothing, listening without interjection. The smell of smoke has filled the room. “My father named me after himself. Hirum is my first name. That was his father’s name too. I didn’t do that to my children. We figure life out on our own. ” The bond between the two can be felt in the room if you choose to notice. “Let me take your guy’s photo,” offers David.

“When I lived in the state we would see each other a few times a month, sometimes a few times a week,” David says, “recently, since I moved out of the state, I haven’t seen him for almost a year. But every time I come back, it’s like we’ve never skipped a beat and our friendship persists as if I’d never been gone,” Rick shakes his head in agreement. “I need to head to Costco. It will give you guys some time to talk,” David says, knowing that Rick has a lifetime worth of stories. They connect in a warm embrace before David heads towards the door. “I’ll be back later.” Unsure if Rick has become restless of my presence, I offer my departure. “No, not yet. I was just playing my before this.” An Atari remains paused on his television.

A photo of Rosa Parks mug shot resides over Rick’s shoulder. A number of other photos scatter the walls. Some of family and others are art pieces. “I remember growing up in Ohio, this was during the Jim Crow times. We were better off than most. We had a television and indoor plumbing. We had arched door ways that my grandpa made. All the doors back then were built like that to allow for furniture to move through. He built the furniture too.” Rick’s eyes remained locked towards the window, only breaking focus to catch mine for a few seconds. “Whenever black soldiers would come through they would have to come to my neighborhood to find housing for the night. Hotels wouldn’t let them stay there. Our house was known as the place to stay. They would always sleep in my room and I would ask my mom to sleep in there. She wouldn’t let me. So I had to sleep on the couch.” The stories of his past flowed out of him with an elegance, each connecting some way or another with the last. “I remember encountering death for the first time. It was in my backyard. Someone had been murdered in the night and fallen in our yard. My mother took the murder weapon that laid next to the body. It was us against the police, and you also didn’t want to be known as a snitch, that was just as dangerous.”

The light that once filled the room has neared its end. A knock on the door pauses the stories, breaking the trance that has taken over the room the last two hours. An older lady stands at the door. Her and Rick converse for a moment. As he returns, he points to two pieces of art hanging on his wall. “She is an artist. She doesn’t even know she is. She gave me those for free. I promised her that I would help set up some of her pieces for a gallery across the street, so that’s where I have to go now. You can come.” Looking at the time I realize I am late to an engagement and reluctantly decline. I begin to pack up my things. We move towards the door. My mind begins to internalize the events that have taken place as we step onto the elevator and make our way down from the 7th floor. Rick breaks the silence as we pass the 4th floor, “Some people are still afraid to talk to me.” He finishes his sentence, as the elevator doors slide open. Soon after we are welcomed by a light drizzle. Reflections from the street lights glisten off the street. We exchange goodbyes and turn to go our own ways. “Come back soon,” he shouts as he strides across the street.