For creatures so adept at adapting, it’s notable how resistant humans are to change. My husband and I still live in the first house we ever bought. Our “starter house.” It’s close to the center of the city, it’s affordable, and our neighbors are generally decent people living out their lives side-by-side. In the years that have passed, though, our neighborhood has also declined. Many of our favorite neighbors moved away. A bar that was most annoying for its karaoke nights when we first moved in now seems to attract violence. It’s not that we didn’t notice the shift, but it seemed like things would get better every time we felt like we’d had enough, and we’d shift our focus away from finding another place to live. Well, we’re motivated now.
Last Wednesday night I sat watching television with my husband. He had dozed off and I was just thinking of waking him and heading to bed. POP! POP POP POP! POP POP! POP POP POP POP POP! You get the picture. I was ducking low and trying to get him to wake up without sitting up while dialing 911 to report shots fired. There were so many. And it sounded close. Probably because I was sitting next to the window that faces the street.
I’m going to stop here for a second. In the days since I’ve been asking myself when my response to gunfire became methodical. I’m a person who lives quietly. I like to garden. My husband and I enjoy sitting in our patio during nice weather and talking through the evenings, making each other laugh. We have a young child who is joyous and fun. What has filled in around us while we were living quietly is a reality far separate from the one we lead within our walls. And nothing drives that home like being ordered from your house at gunpoint by the police.
To be fair, the police officers who arrived at my call didn’t have the full story, and neither did I. They saw bullets and blood on my doorstep and all they had was my address, which I had provided to the emergency operator. They had to be sure that violence hadn’t gone to hide behind my door. I didn’t know that a man had been shot on the other side of the glass and was being rushed to the hospital by friends.
What I did know was that I stood trembling in a light rain in my pajamas, tiptoeing barefoot through a crime scene under the direction of the well armed officers, and I found myself demanding as they stepped into our home that they not wake our child or let our cats escape through the front door. I could feel the fear and adrenaline on them as I brushed past them. They were ready for everything. My gentle family was inside, prepared in no way to be staring down the scary end of those long guns. My husband was ordered out, also dressed for bed, as if he were dangerous. Our son thankfully did sleep through the whole affair. The cats wisely stuck to the basement.
Once they determined that we weren’t bad guys the officers were very cordial with us and one came in to take my statement. As a follow up question he asked where I had been sitting. I pointed to my seat beside the window, my crocheted blanket laying where it had been thrust aside and my intricate coloring books lit invitingly by my side lamp. He stared at it for a few seconds.
“You’re… really… lucky,” he said.
It’s one of those moments that haunt you. I’d seen some of the bullets during my hands-up tiptoe through the rain. They were squished up. They’d come into contact with things. Our brick house, most likely. Perhaps the man on his way to the hospital – who survived a shot to the chest or abdomen – the news reports haven’t been clear. The “mushrooms,” as the police officers had called them, had been on our steps. On the sidewalk beneath my window.
I’ve had a lot of fun writing stories about parallel universes and playing with the concept of points of departure between them, and this is where having this writer’s mind becomes difficult. Because one thought keeps creeping into my mind. As a point of departure, a moment where an outcome differs between one dimension and the next… I can’t shake the thought of those dimensions where my son is now missing one or both of his parents. I guess it’s my way of processing how close that was. To me, it feels like all of the terrible possible outcomes happened. Their consequences have been unfolding somewhere in the days since.
So then, on to change; the one constant in this life that we can count on, yet it’s in our nature to reject, fear, avoid and generally try to bargain our way out of. We’re now officially on the house hunt. It’s intimidating. We’ve been trying to save up but life keeps throwing curve balls – anyone who pays bills knows what I’m talking about. As much as I want to wait and save up though, I’m also motivated by that officer’s words. “You’re… really… lucky.” We live our lives in a way that doesn’t invite violence but where we’re planted unfortunately does.
And in the end he was right. I am lucky. Blessed. Grateful. In this dimension, my dimension, I lived. My husband lived. Our son didn’t wake up to guns. Our family is safe. We’re hard working, intelligent people who will find a way to get to a better place. We’ll plant roots in nurturing soil and hopefully live there as gently as we wish for as long as we need.
Wish us luck?