CHD: Short one towel.

I settle down at the computer to write a Whatsit post when four gun shots ring out from the street directly in front of our house.  This happens within the hour of my typing these words, the night before my post is due, and the helis only stop buzzing the neighborhood in the last five minutes.

It all happens fast, the four shots spaced evenly within about three seconds.  Susan pulls Asa to the floor.  I leap from my seat to turn off the light and look out the front door, which is open to the cool night air.  I see a man on the sidewalk across the street.  It is already dark, but he is wearing a draping white t-shirt, and I can see him clearly.  He takes a couple of steps and then falls to the ground letting up a howl.  I’m under the stucco arch on my porch, pressed into a dark corner with my head peering out to scan the street looking for a shooter, but I see nothing.  No scattering crowd, no runner, and no car peeling away from the curb.  There is just the man, on the ground, crying out in pain.  I shout out to him,

“Are you hit?”

“Yes!  I need help!”

I poke my head back into the house,

“Susan, grab a towel!”

I fumble with my iPhone, trying to dial 911 on a touchscreen, and the interface has never seemed so clumsy.  Susan tosses me a towel and I pocket the phone, assuming that someone else will make the call (I find out later that Susan is the first to get through to 911).  I cross the street deliberately, looking from side to side to make sure there is no detail I might have missed, like someone lurking.  I’m the first person there.  The smell of the gunpowder is still hanging in the air.

“Where are you hit?”

“My leg!”

He is wearing long denim shorts that cover the gore, but there really isn’t much blood.  It is a flesh wound, but a most definite hit.  I help him wrap the wound with the towel and I tell him to put direct pressure on the spot.

“My foot hurts!  Take off my shoe!”

I unlace the sneaker and pull it off, but there is no damage there.

“Your foot looks ok.”

Others approach the scene.  The man’s face is glistening, but he is sitting up on his own.  He keeps forgetting to press the wound, so I tell him again,

“You need to apply direct pressure to wound, or you are going to lose a lot of blood.  Help is on the way.”

“Can you get my girls?”

“What girls?”

“They live down the street in the green apartment, number …”

“Okay, but you have got to put pressure on that bullet.  I’ll be right back.”

I run down the street to a green duplex.

It is a new building, constructed within the last twelve months, and rented out as soon at it was completed.  Two hardened families moved in.  I don’t even know exactly what I mean by that word ‘hardened,’ except to say that it has long been my sense that if anything were going to happen on the street (and nothing has happened in a long while) that it would probably involve the people in this duplex.  The families include a lot of children, all young women, who literally run the street, up and down, so fast and with so much kinetic grace that I am embarrassed and ashamed to confess having once had a Kipling moment, when I looked up and away from my lesson prep to see these girls running past my window, and my mind thought, ‘gazelle!’  There is a wildness in these children, in the way they talk, in the way they carry themselves, and in the way they snarl at me when I smile and wave at them from my yard.  They range in age from nine to nineteen, but there is also a grown woman in the house, and I assume that she is their mother.

So tonight, for the first time, I step into these girls’ yard, and I knock the door.  The curtains are drawn, and the lights inside are out, so I know that I am being watched.  I knock the door and step back, holding my arms out to my sides in plain view.  A voice calls out from behind the closed door,

“Who is it?”

“I’m your neighbor from down the street!”

The door shifts open and I speak into the black crack,

“Your husband or brother or father was shot.  I think he’s going to be okay, but…”

A woman screams and the door flings wide open.  I miss the name, but one of the girls cries,

“… has been shot!”

Four women fly out the door barefoot, running down the sidewalk.  I hear one of them identify the shooter as a family member.  She says he has gone too far, and that she doesn’t care what else happens, but that man has got to go to jail.  The others are sobbing.  I chase after them.

Before the squad cars turn out, there are plain-clothed men in flak jackets asking questions.  I have no idea where they came from, but they are at the scene within minutes of everything.  Then come the squad cars with the men in blue.  Then come the helicopters.  Then come the fire trucks, and last of all there are the ambulances.  The scene is awash in twitchy spotlights and flashing strobes.  Now I’m in the way, so I walk back home, leaving the towel.

We sit down and have a ‘family chat.’  The wounded had confirmed to the police that the shooter was a family member, so it probably won’t be long before the attacker is in custody.  We are calm and trying to re-instill the sense of safety that we (almost) always feel in our home.  We tell ourselves, for Asa’s sake, that things will be fine; we aren’t a target; and yes, we hope to move to a safer neighborhood, some day, hopefully soon.  Asa is shaken up, but our calm assurances seem to set his mind at ease.  By the time I am settled down enough to write, he is watching cartoons, and now it is his resilience that is calming me.

It has been a long time since anything like this has happened, but it has happened before, and it is remarkable just how unremarkable this sort of thing can become.  The street is quiet again, Asa and Susan have gone to bed, and once more I’m left wondering what it means for me to turn any of this into something akin to art.

6 responses to “CHD: Short one towel.”

  1. “Some people take in anxiety and give out art” – Robyn Hitchcock.

    do what u gotta do, sorry to read this, god that’s awful, seriously, park slope used to be a dump and it’s not now, i know if if lived 10 blocks in another direction this could be me.

    sorry, really, just awful.

  2. Marleyfan says:

    Wow! Crazy! Scary! Holy Shit! (these were the thoughts which came to mind while reading your post. In fact, the other thought was- is he making this up? My wife worries when twelve year old son (also named Asa) comes home with bruised arms from football practice; her worries are uncomparable.

    Glad you are safe. That was a heroic move to go help the man, and inform his family.

  3. g.a. says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post all day.

    The last line seems to be an abiding concern in your post. I say, look — you preserved the experience in a meaningful way. 20 years from now you and Asa and Susan will all be glad you did.

    #1: Is that really Lane? Or is it the Modesto Kid? What is it with quoting Robyn Hitchcock around here?

  4. Whoa, man. Just, whoa. And I feel like a drugged-up hippy dude with long hair and round glasses who dips his head sideways as I say that. Trippy, man. Just tripped out.

    See? I don’t need drugs. I have The Great Whatsit.

  5. Yes, it was incredibly surreal. I’ve struggled with how to write about some of the violence we have seen. There have been about five or six experiences (including this one) that really stand out. I’ve got a bunch of starts, but they never seem right. This was easier because it was so immediate. I just wrote what happened within minutes of it happening, and that is way easier than reflection and process.

    3. Yep, I’m sure it will continue to be an abiding concern. It just weighs on me. I get it that there is value in getting something down, to have a concrete toe hold in one’s personal experience that time won’t fade, and that is part of what compels me, but there is still the weight of doing right by other people’s experience. Has anyone else ever heard or seen, through the grapevine, some personal experience writ large into another person’s morality tale or tear jerking emotional touchstone? I want to write about these experiences, but I so don’t want to be trading in that kind of stuff.

    1.2.4. It wasn’t as awful or scary as it sounds. There is always the initial shock of hearing gun shots immediately outside your home, but once I could see that the situation was no longer dangerous and that I might be able to help, it was not so bad. It was a huge relief to discover that the victim was not bleeding badly.

  6. swells says:

    I think the real measure is whether you are turning it into art for the right reasons or not (if that’s arbitable). You are not exploiting or judging or marketing. You are processing, and also provoking contemplation in others. You are also preserving parts of your own experience for your own self. I think these are all honorable reasons. I think that about all your posts, by the way. Thanks so much for this.