I've moved back to a part of the city that has some real life to spare, and unlike my old neighborhood, it's lived in plain view. I can watch it through my front window, I can hear it in the alley. The alternation of businesses and apartment buildings doesn't lend itself so easily to perverse pioneerism, self-sufficient suburban isolation. For one thing, you can't section off a piece of land. Every time you go downstairs, the apartments on the second and main floors allow you to pass through their territory on your way for water or company or supplies. If you walk or ride a bike, you know very well that the road does not belong to you either. We're all on a main drag that's only quiet at four in the morning.
Saturday night, 9 pm, I heard shouting and scuffling through my kitchen window. The door downstairs crashed shut and the voices moved inside. I stopped in front of the door to #5, my suite at the top of the stairs. If I opened it and went out on to the landing, my working evening was shot for sure. I asked myself if I wanted to sit down at my desk or experience some real life. It was a serious question.
I opened the door. My neighbor from #3 was on the phone, relaying to the police a woman's description of a man who was trying to break down the outside door by slamming his body against it. The woman gave the information quickly; she seemed practiced. #3 told the police to hurry man, he's coming off two days of booze, he's trying to get in. Two small children lunged up the stairs, past the second floor and up to me. The woman followed. I opened my door for them, shut it behind the four of us, checked the locks, and turned off the lights. The little boy said he was going to throw up. I brought them drinks of tap water. We all heard the escalated yelling and the creme brulee sound as the man outside broke the window and climbed the stairs to the second floor. I told the woman that if he came up and tried to break the door to the back stairs, they had to run down the front stairs and into the street and I would follow. I realized I didn't have anything to barricade the door.
The woman was nonplussed, asking me to plug in her phone. She said He's never done this in front of my kids before. Her little boy was beside himself, lying on my couch in his coat and winter boots. Her little girl wanted me to find my cat. The noise downstairs stopped. Twenty minutes in, the police showed up. Three or four officers and the two guys from downstairs crowded into my livingroom. We filled out police reports. We spelled names and repeated dates of birth.The officers admired my Christmas tree. They took the woman into the bedroom to talk with her. I went to the kitchen and came back with a clove cigarette. Every adult in the room turned to look at me and asked if it would be ok if . . . Yeah of course. I brought an ashtray. My neighbour's ridiculously attractive friend watched me smoking. The woman asked if she could have a normal cigarette. #3 left and returned with a case of beer. The officers returned. That's a good beer. Have you tried the cherry one? I hadn't.
The woman's sister showed up to take the kids. Someone gave her a beer and a cigarette. Through my front window we saw a police car with lights on park in the alley across the street. He's behind the bakery. Did Trevor go after him? A police officer told us we'd done good work. I thought I was just relieved there were guys downstairs to bring her in. Whatever I'd like to tell myself, I wouldn't have gotten involved. Not like they did, taking her duffle bags, running her and the kids across 99th St., bringing them into our building, calling the police and putting space between this drunk man and his woman, who isn't his woman.
When the woman and officers had gone to the station and the kids had left with their aunt, my neighbours who are social workers thought it was of utmost importance that we all debrief. They invited me down for Chinese food and weed and more beer. We talked about trauma and gender, those subjects that are overwrought and overworked in this Tumblr era except when they suddenly do matter. As it came out they did, Saturday night, talking anti-depressants, childhood abuse, transitioning, community, top surgery, disturbing bouts of random spotting with those guys downstairs, whom I realized I didn't know.