It was a Friday night in Charleston, so of course I had a few drinks. It seemed like the entire town had one too many, but then again, when doesn't it? We had made our usual rounds on Upper King Street, ultimately ending the night the same way we end so many, with last call at the Recovery Room, a bulk-beer purchase at Martha's Quick Stop, and a gathering of derelicts, degenerates, and savages at my house just up the street.
This particular Friday had all the makings of a memorable one. I had friends from out of town visiting, and it was the grand finale of their four-night stay. By the end of our bar run, a good group of friends had amassed for a late night of debauchery. However, as we tore open cases of PBR, none of us could have predicted where the night would take us.
Then we heard the firecrackers. At least that's what we thought they were. In fact, it wasn't until a friend came barreling through the front door moments later, his eyes as large as cue balls, that we learned the truth. The three or four pops were gunshots.
After this, it was all screams and collective panic as I rushed out the front door to find a bleeding man lying face up just a few feet away. I ran over to him as someone else was lifting his shirt, revealing a bullet wound in his chest and a mess of blood squirting onto the walkway. As I stood over him, I urged him to stay awake. I could see him struggling to breathe as his empty hand grasped the air.
In actuality, the man was dead within one minute. For me, though, witnessing his transition from life to death is a moment that will stay with me forever.
The cops arrived very shortly thereafter and began gathering witnesses. An ambulance never showed up — which, in retrospect, seems a bit peculiar — and the deceased's body lay uncovered in front of my house. His blood had splattered across the front steps, staining the porch railings.
Confused and terrified, a friend and I had gone back into the house, only to be forced out minutes later by an officer and directed to stand with the other innocent bystanders they had gathered along the sidewalk. As police canvassed the area and carried on with the immediate investigation, our group sat in assigned areas. Quickly, we were questioned by a detective. I told him that I hadn't seen anything in regards to the actual crime being committed, just the brutal aftermath. Even though we had nothing more to tell the police, we were kept there for nearly five hours on a patch of concrete no more than 20 feet from the murder scene. Finally, as the sun came up around 6:30 a.m., I was allowed to walk down the street to a friend's house.
In no way do I wish to take away from what the family of the victim must be going through. However, as I made my way down Carolina Street tired, alone, and still trying to come to terms with what had happened, I felt robbed of the beautiful and magical Charleston I had come to know so well. In the quiet haze of that morning walk, I felt unsafe for the first time since moving to the Holy City.
Days later, I still feel stained by the violent underbelly of Charleston that reared its ghastly head early that night. The melted wax on the brick walkway leftover from a candlelight vigil, the stuffed animals hanging in the tree, and the leftover police tape tied like a haggard Christmas bow around the fence — all serve as haunting reminders that violence knows no boundaries, not even in the "friendliest city in America." Barely more than 24 hours later, bullets flew again at a Waffle House in West Ashley, leaving another man dead and creating more cringe-inflicting headlines in the Holy City.
But since the shooting on King Street, I don't recall seeing any noteworthy increase in police activity in the area. In fact, if it wasn't for the remnants of the makeshift memorial in my front yard, it would seem as though nothing had even happened. For me, this is the most frightening aspect of all.
Despite the momentary terror and natural shock of the situation, I refuse to allow this unfortunate set of circumstances destroy my love for Charleston. Right now, though, the pit of my stomach has that feeling one gets when trying their best to restore a relationship with a partner they know was unfaithful. In a way, I feel like Charleston has cheated on me. I gave all of my love to her, and now I am seeing a side of her that I don't quite like. The honeymoon is over. However, while it is still hard to open my front door each morning and try to forget about what occurred there two weekends ago, I do know the true beauty of this place, and, like all the things I love, I simply cannot let that slip away without a fight.
Ryan Overhiser is a young writer and former City Paper intern who moved here from Philadelphia a year ago. He loves peanut butter and girls with tattoos, but hates haircuts and people that litter.