The first time I loved someone, we walked around my hometown. The air was so crisp I felt like I was breathing for the first time. String lights were threaded through the overhangs like our fingers. There was the smell of black coffee bleached with oat milk, wilting flowers, somebody’s spilled glass of wine. I thought, how simple it is to live here, among local art galleries and fair trade cafés.

I read this morning that the bridge I held her hand on hides an old mattress atop jagged rocks – a bed by the river for a man left unhoused by the town’s newest luxuries. Guess he wasn’t a hot enough commodity.

The first summer I came home from college, I discovered they’d opened a Whole Foods. The parking lot reeked of schoolgirl uniforms with the pleats pressed, post-church brunch, homemade raisin bread. I remember perusing for the first time and contemplating the irony of “cage-free,” how you gentrify Japanese ice cream. White folks love to market things that were never theirs.

I live in the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania where we funnel money into delicious distractions. Our police station is next to a taco bar. Our county jail is next to a patisserie. But if you try their bread, it’ll be tough as rock. If you bite down hard, you’ll draw blood. That’s the thing about white-washed suburbs. You can hide behind squeaky clean strip malls and diner fries, but you can’t romanticize red lines. 

The line between the financed and the forgotten is marked by a yoga bar nobody asked for. Its white women will preach to the underprivileged, the peaceless, of a need to connect with nature. What they won’t realize is that we swelled out of this land, seeds sown in mass graves across acres of this earth, taking refuge in America’s underbelly. We are nature, the natives with mud in our teeth, with weeds tickling our feet. We are here, God; we are homegrown. Born despite ourselves and doomed to be uprooted before we’re ripe.

I drove on the backroads this morning and noticed a waterlogged mattress for sale. It was $15 even and had stuffing rising out of its center like the final beats of a broken heart.

I don’t walk by that bridge anymore.

Dom Ocampo