I’ve debated over a month whether I would write this particular blog post. Ultimately, my decision to do so feels selfish, because I want to know I am not alone in how lost I am about how to feel. To protect my family, I am withholding many details and being purposefully vague.
It’s night time, dusk an hour gone. The kids are in bed. I am playing a videogame at my computer. Another quiet evening with the sounds of swords clanging and ambient music in my headphones.
My lady of the house touches my shoulder. She saw something strange outside while smoking a cigarette. Several sounds, which to her sounded like small fireworks, just went off, and then a person sprinted like hell through our apartment complex and disappeared. Weird right? I agree, but then, sometimes people do stupid things.
She asks me to come check it out with her. A short squabble about minding our own business later, I am following her outside into the rain and darkness. She stops, giving me a look that says “please don’t make me go first,” so I take the lead.
The minute we get downstairs, we know something isn’t right. A vehicle is running, lights dimmed, and the passenger door is open. The indoor light isn’t working, but we can see a person is inside. We approach, and hear the person snoring. I ask if he’s okay, but he only responds with a snort.
I turn to my lady, shrug, and start heading back to the house. Sorry, but dealing with you being drunk in public is not in my job description. The lady gives me one of her oh-no-you-don’t looks, and tells me to go check on him.
I didn’t bring my phone. It’s raining and I’m expecting a couple of kids set off some fireworks, not an open car. Worried about touching anything, I bring out my own lighter, reach inside the vehicle, and flick it on.
Now I can see the man is leaning against his window. I’ve seen this before. He’s drunk. Passed out before he can even turn off the ignition. Maybe the lady heard him running into the wall in front of him, albeit slowly. Nothing else looks wrong, and my lighter isn’t going to get any brighter, so I let it die and pull my arm out of the vehicle. We head back to our place.
The Weirdest Police Call
During that walk back, we discuss what we should do. Ultimately, the lady is not convinced that it’s just some drunk guy that hit the wall while trying to stop. The other guy, the runner, wanted to get away fast. So, she makes one of the weirdest calls to police I’ve ever heard, much less been a part of. Weird because she starts the call off with “I don’t know if this is an emergency or not, but something happened…”
She calls the police station, not 911, because we decided that might be bad if it turned out not to be an emergency and was, after all, just a drunk guy snoring. The lady on the other side of the line seems to understand, and indeed sounds interested in the sprinting man, and says my lady made the right decision calling them. They come out and look at the vehicle, but when they get here, the vehicle was closed up and the lights off. There’s nothing they can do.
The Aftermath/Following Morning
The police ended coming back in the early morning. A woman had called 911. Her son hadn’t come home that night. Using a phone tracking app, she found him in the vehicle the lady and I had checked out the night before. He’d been shot, and by the time she got there, he was long since dead. The lady and I had to make statement to a detective, who let us know that he knew about our call the night before, and that honestly, the victim was too far gone even then for us to have saved him- even if we’d called 911 and gotten an ambulance there. I know this was supposed to settle us but…
I am Unsettled
You need to understand one thing: I really believed the man in this vehicle was snoring, sleeping off a night of excessive drinking. Or a drug-high. Whatever. What I absolutely did not think was possible is that I could miss the blood of a man shot twice. That I could mistake a man’s last breaths with snoring. That I could not recognize death less than a foot from my own body. Yet that’s exactly what happened. I don’t blame myself for the boy’s death. I mourn for him, but I don’t think I am in any way responsible for what happened to him.
I do think that I should have been able to see the situation for what it was. I’m worried that I was so scared of the reality, I made up hearing snoring. I’m worried that I didn’t see any blood in the flame of my lighter for the same reason. Fear.
In a world where this violence can happen, I cannot afford to disengage with reality and make up things in my head to better cope with it. I need to see things as they are. And on this particular night, I can’t be sure whether I truly didn’t see the blood, and truly didn’t recognize the sound of sobbing, inhaling last breaths for what they were- or if I made up an alternate reality so I didn’t have to look at it.
And if the latter is true, I do feel unsettled, and guilty, for not being strong enough to face reality.