By Erica Matthews
Instructor’s note: Erica wrote this piece in response to an assignment to write a descriptive essay about “a place that shaped you.”
When you enter Pocomoke, Maryland the smell of dirty salt water enters your nostrils. The main street in Pocomoke, known as Market Street, is what tourists see when they enter the town. Market Street is surrounded by stores run by people of the city, beautiful homes, and churches. The homes and churches on this street have their gardens pruned and lawns mowed so meticulously that it looks as if each building has its own grass carpet as a front yard.
I know the truth; that street is just a mask. Behind the beautiful homes and churches with the perfect gardens and grass, lies the real Pocomoke. After you cross the bridge over the foul smelling black river water, take a right on to Clark Street because that is where the real Pocomoke begins.
Clark Street is the street where you know damn well you took a wrong turn and must leave immediately! To your left and right there are old closed shops with broken windows, and what little grass is left on the ground is uncared for and dying. Further down the street the houses that were once beautiful and cared for, like the homes on Market Street, are now condemned. Then again, there are some homes only occupied by fiends looking for their next high.
A couple of streets make up an area known as “the back burner,” and they are: Clark Street, Laurel street, Cedar Street, 6th Street, and 5th Street. This area is circled by the police, day and night. This area is littered with trash and children’s toys but the children aren’t outside. In a town like Pocomoke there is nothing for the youth, and the only thing a child would find on the streets of Clark, Cedar and Laurel is trouble. They might find the cops questioning someone, they might find my old schoolmate Victor walking, talking aloud and twitching because of the laced ex he took at a party, or they might find a shattered glass bottle on the sidewalk from an alcoholic beverage.
The only thing that you can smell on the back burner is hopelessness and poverty as far as the eye can see it. I fortunately live on the other side of Pocomoke, so I never lived in that environment, but as the years go on it seems like the back burner grows larger. I won’t have to go to the back burner because it is coming to me. My parents kept my brothers and me away from that environment. They taught us to never settle for less, and to get away from the Eastern Shore. The only work here is the at poultry plant, where you work your fingers to the bone for only a meager $8 an hour, or work at the correctional institute. I don’t want to have to struggle day by day in a town like Pocomoke. I want more than this in life, I won’t settle for less. I will not settle for black, foul smelling river water and impoverished conditions. In Pocomoke you have two options: you leave or you stay. I’m leaving.