I am driving on Liberty Road just above Woodmoor Shopping Center Sunday when Perry Rowe, one lane over, his face a scribble of rage, begins signaling me from his car to roll down my window.
"Hey," he shouts.
"Hey," I shout back.
Any dialogue more extended than this is difficult at 45 miles an hour, where you have to turn and watch each other's lips to figure out words above the wind and the noise of traffic. You stare too long and find yourself driving onto sidewalks where people have to dive into bushes.
"Hey," Rowe shouts again, as the two of us try to keep our cars on the road, "when are you gonna write something about these murders?"
About murders, I fear that I already write too much: The murder of human beings, the subsequent decay of communities, the death of hope in this slum of a year we are thankfully putting behind us.
"What murder?" I shout back to Rowe. "I write about a lot of murders."
"Not about my daughter," Rowe cries back. Our eyes lock for an instant. "She got stabbed on the day after Christmas, and now she's dead."
And so we come to the final day of this 1991, this miserable gaping wound of a year, with 22-year-old Andrea Maddox of Woodlawn dead in Edmondson Village from a fight that had nothing at all to do with her.
"The police," Andrea's mother, Earllen Rowe, says yesterday morning, "told us that Andrea was the 300th murder of the year in Baltimore City."
As this is written, the count has reached 302, which is three fewer than last year's total. There are some who trafficked in drugs who are a part of this figure, and the hell with all of them. They deserved whatever they got, because their narcotics choreograph the slow death of human beings and entire neighborhoods.
But there are others, including children shot on the street, including young people with honorable lives still waiting to be lived, including Andrea Maddox who had dreams, and for them the murder rate is not just numbers on a wall in the police homicide unit, but the dark vision of a city self-destructing.
Andrea Maddox was taking law courses at the Community College of Baltimore's Liberty Campus. She'd worked for the Division of Correction and wanted to become a parole and
probation officer. One day, she'd told everybody, she was going to be the youngest prison warden in the state.
Instead, services for the deceased will be held Thursday, and the woman who stabbed her is sitting behind bars with a murder charge against her.
"My daughter," Perry Rowe says now, "was home washing clothes. Her girlfriend Michelle called and asked Andrea if she'd give her a lift over to this fella Buzzy's house."
"That's the way my daughter was," says Earllen Rowe. "If you needed help, she was there. She died thinking she was helping a friend. The last thing she told me was, 'Mom, I'll be gone an hour. I'm just gonna help Michelle, she doesn't have a lift.' "
When they got to this guy Buzzy's apartment, they parked the car a block away. Michelle told Andrea to wait in the car, she'd be right back. Minutes later, Michelle came out of the apartment, followed by the guy Buzzy, followed by another woman.
The other woman was carrying a knife. Buzzy told Andrea to get Michelle into the car. Andrea and the other woman had words. Suddenly Andrea was stabbed once in the arm, and then twice in the chest.
And in Woodlawn, there came a knock on Perry and Earllen Rowe's door.
"I was watching television," Earllen Rowe said yesterday, "and a boy came to the door and said, 'Andrea's at the hospital. She was stabbed.' "
She was dead on arrival at University of Maryland Medical Center. When Earllen Rowe got there, a doctor took her into a little room and said, "She's gone. We put clamps on the arteries, but there was no oxygen getting through to her brain."
And now, yesterday morning, here were the parents of Andrea Maddox, and the father was filled with anger and the mother, struggling to keep her composure, said this was bringing back all of the horror of four years ago.
"My daughter's boyfriend," Earllen Rowe said.
His name was Aaron Johnson, and he'd graduated from Douglass High School on a Sunday, and two days later he was playing basketball outside Carver Vo-Tech when a disgruntled kid fired a gun and the bullet went into Johnson's head.
"Aaron was my godson," Earllen Rowe said now. "He was a great ballplayer, and this other boy didn't like how good he was, so he went home and got a magnum and shot him." She pauses a moment and heaves an audible sigh.
"These young people today," she says. "They don't value what life is. If you die, so what? That's the attitude, isn't it? There's no other reason why 300 people had to die in this city this year, and most of them under 25 years of age. And my daughter dying because of another girl's fight, and my godson dying because he could beat somebody at basketball."
So this is the way the year ends: Two parents mourning the loss of children, in a city where 300 have died violently.
"I just sit in this chair and cry," says the mother. "The night Andrea died, they took me to see her, and I just couldn't. And I still haven't seen her. I know when I do, it'll mean she's not coming back, and I don't want to admit that."
And then, out of nowhere, Earllen Rowe says she has a bit of what she calls good news. She says her daughter will be cremated and her ashes placed in a small urn.
"And I can look at the urn," says the mother, "and know she's there. There won't be any more worry. She'll be home with me."