In the first apartment building that the Palinode and I lived in after we were married, there were many adventures. The building manager was of excellent character, most of the other tenants seemed nice enough, and although the rent was low, the building was gorgeously maintained, but it seemed to be cursed with a series of misfortunes that eventually pushed us to seek our home-making elsewhere.
There was the man who took off everything but his tightie-whities in the building's entrance and tried to molest me in this weirdly romantic way when I set off for work one morning. There was the accidental flooding of our bathroom by an upstairs neighbour which resulted in part of our bathroom ceiling being pulled down, the tub being chipped out of the stone floor, and our inability to bathe at home properly for two weeks. There was the night that I pulled a young woman into our apartment after she'd spent a couple of minutes yelling for her life and banging on doors because the tenant she was visiting had threatened to forcibly restrain and abuse her. Then, there was that rash of fires that had us repeatedly expelled from our apartments in the wee morning hours. The alarms happened so often that we eventually gave up on panic and instead took to deserting the situation altogether and heading out for coffee, where I would inevitably remember that I left our birds to die again and had, instead, saved my favourite sweater.
The one incident that would not leave me, though, happened early on a Sunday morning while I sipped coffee at the kitchen table. It was a cool spring morning, and I liked to look out at the darkness of the wet bark against the greening grass. Two people were chatting outside, one on the lawn and one on the sidewalk, and I had just begun to think that an early morning walk might be nice when I saw that the men were having less of a chat and more of a negotiation, one that was being guided by the point of a large knife in the hand of the man on the sidewalk.
I remember thinking, "Seriously? Now someone's going to get knifed on our front lawn on a Sunday morning? Fuck me."
Then, I opened the window, because I'm a looky-loo who likes to hear what people in potentially deadly situations are talking about. In hindsight, calling the cops might have been a better reaction, but bizarre situations often inspire bizarre responses, and some part of my brain was not willing to accept that this was really happening right in front of me.
"I want the money," came out of Knife Boy's mouth.
"I don't have it. I have a baby on the way," said Lawn Man.
"Go get it," Knife Boy said. "Now." He made a small jabbing motion with the blade.
"I don't do coke anymore. I'm going to be a father," Lawn Man said.
"I don't care. Just get me the money!"
"The mother of my child is sleeping inside. Can't we just forget it?"
"DO I HAVE TO CALL THE COPS?!" I yelled out my window when I saw that pleas for human decency weren't going to have much of an effect on Knife Boy.
Both of their heads swivelled around to figure out which window my voice was came from. I ducked my head away from the screen.
That last piece I contributed to their conversation surprised me as much as it did them, but I guess I felt for the ex-cokehead, baby-daddy-to-be who was trying to go straight even at the end of a pointed knife. Police intervention wouldn't save the kid from getting knifed in the future by the next goon in line, but it sure could land his butt into a tidy jail cell, depending on how things went down, so I gave them the option to break it up. I'm nice like that.
"I'll be back," Knife Boy muttered as he turned and shuffled away down the sidewalk.
With the knife put away, they both turned back into near-children who looked like they should be wearing warmer coats, and it was then that it struck me that I was nearly witness to a stabbing on my front lawn. I went into a mild shock that gathered ice around my bones. I couldn't get warm, and I would never feel safe on my front step again.
I was thinking about this incident this morning after reading Heather's post that mentioned drug dealers in her old neighbourhood, and while I mulled over what made me react the way I did when faced with a potentially life-threatening situation, I realized something about my life: I walk around like there's a guy with a knife on my lawn ALL THE TIME.
The memory of this incident has become an overly detailed metaphor for a fear that I live with every day. There is a wolf at my door, barbarians at my gates, monsters under my bed, and I keep every aspect of myself reigned in like children I'm trying to defend against an angry father. I was bullied in elementary school, I have been bullied at work, there are a couple of incidents in which I was bullied within my own family, and I think I have been unwittingly living under the assumption (yes, that does make an ass out of the ump and tion) that the next stab to my heart is just around every corner. If I do this, go here, feel that, I feel as though I am putting my own well-being into danger, because that's what experience has taught me, or, rather, that is what I have thought my experience was teaching me. I am beginning to think, though, that these lessons from experience have suffered from poor interpretation. I've made the stories too simple. I've distilled out the parts that speak to my own power, strength, and wisdom and allowed the people who caused the hurt to be larger than life. The people who caused me to doubt myself and my abilities and my worthiness are all still standing around on my lawn brandishing knives.
It makes me wonder why I haven't threatened to call the cops yet.
(also published at RealMental.org)