I called 911 for the first time in my life tonight. My hands were shaking and I was worried I was too late, but the responder, a calm, female voice sounding just like the ones you hear on the news, quickly answered, asked me repeatedly for my location and, between my ramblings, handed me over to someone else. The phone call lasted less than a minute but by the time I hung up, my legs now shaking, my phone cold in my hands, despite what I tried to do, it really was too late.
Is that cheesy to write? I’m sorry. I’m only typing this out because I want to remember it.
The first week we moved into our house, we learned that our street was busy and loud once a day. Without fail, between 7 and 8 in the morning, cars would stream down our street, carefully screech to a halt for the stop sign in front of our house, then speed off down to their office, the two elementary schools near by, or wherever they needed to go in East LA. I learned to wake up to this constant rush and momentum of car engines chugging, the inevitable hum or squeal as they approached the stop sign, and the indignant roar as they drove away, making their outrage clear at having to come to a useless stop along their commute. At exactly 8:15 AM, this vehicular sea would completely fade away and our street would resume its quiet, residential status, allowing me to pull out of our garage with ease.
At night, our street is the polar opposite of its morning state. I fall asleep to the blessed silence of an empty block. Occasionally, I’d hear a car speed by–because who could resist the dark, empty streets–slightly pause at the stop sign (because coming to a complete stop would be ridiculous, right?)–then continue on down. We always joked that we’d make millions if one of us became a traffic cop stationed outside of our house. We’d get to eat dinner and ticket the delinquent “I swear I came to a stop” drivers, all at the same time. But wait, this isn’t exactly about the stop sign.
Tonight, I fell asleep as usual, my ears accustomed to the random cars that would speed by, my window stubbornly open because even if the cars were loud, I still wanted my fresh air, dammit. Instead, what I got was a loud conversation, a woman yelling, a man yelling back, their words indecipherable but very, very present. My first groggy thought was that a neighbor was having a friend over. They were leaving, they were walking back to their car, they were having a very stimulating conversation about something.
Then I fully woke up, because it was getting ridiculous. Where was this noise coming from? I peered out the open window, which faced sideways from the street, and saw nothing. I stumbled to the front door, yanked it open and looked around, seeing nothing. The woman cried out something, and something banged. Were they drunk? “Get the fuck out of my car! Get the fuck out of my car!” Could these people please shut up?
Barefoot and in my dumb terrycloth nightgown, I walked down our little entryway, down the brick steps and realized that the sound was coming from a black sedan parked at the stop sign across from our house. And this sound wasn’t a party or a stimulating debate; this was the sound of a man beating a girl in the front seat of his car. The woman was crying out, the guy grew louder and meanwhile, I noticed that the neighbor across the way was also outside his house, staring.
“HEY, LAY OFF,” a man from the house on our left yelled from his door. I was already dialing 911 on my phone because isn’t that what a sane person would do?
It was too late. The driver, probably having heard my neighbor, sped off. Somehow, amidst beating a woman, he managed to turn his left signal on before turning left onto Franklin. How polite. I was on the phone with the responder, trying to describe the car, trying to describe what I saw and where the car went, trying to tell them that it was too late, I was sorry I couldn’t get the license plate, I don’t know what to do.
“Can you describe what they looked like? Were they white? Black?” she asked.
“Definitely not black,” I said, because honestly, after reading so many news reports and stories about racial profiling, I refused want to be a part of it. What a ridiculous and meaningless thing to say, right?
They reassured me that they would send the police out but that was all I could do, so I hung up.
I couldn’t believe how much I was shaking. (Honestly, the last time my arms and legs shook was when I got to meet Brad Pitt in his trailer back in 7th grade. Totally different scenario.) But this was insane. This was disgusting. This was ugly. This was something that I’ve always read about, seen on television, learned to defend myself against. And right there, in front of our house, a woman was experiencing the worst.
The best part? The neighbor across the street was still standing there. I told him I called 911 and if he had any info, he should tell the police. He said he’d gotten the license plate number (!!!) and I pleaded with him to hand the information over. Because I couldn’t. He agreed and then got on the phone but then it looked like he was checking his voicemail, I swear. He went inside.
So I went inside, too. I woke up B and told him what happened. He hugged me. A car came down the street and I jumped to the window, hoping it was somehow the same car, that I’d be able to track it down. It wasn’t. I’ll probably never see that car again.
Why didn’t that other guy do something more? Why didn’t the other neighbor come out to the street like me? Why am I the only one who called 911? With three people, we could have done something, anything, like pulled the man out of his car, let the other woman escape. Is there anything more we could have done?
I’m so, so, so, so sorry. To the woman, whoever you are, wherever you are, I’m sorry I didn’t wake up faster. I’m sorry I assumed you were being loud for fun. I’m sorry I didn’t rush out of the house and stop him from laying his hands on you. I’m sorry you felt like you were completely alone on an empty street.
You weren’t. I was there. My neighbors were there. I tried. I know that’s a lame thing to say, but I really did. And I’m not satisfied with what I did. It all happened so fast and I wish, I really wish that I was bigger, faster, had massive fists to just break down that door and tell that guy to GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM YOU.
I have no idea who you are but I hope you know that whatever the man was doing to you, you did not and never will deserve it.
I’m not writing this down because I’m demanding change or awareness about abuse. There’s plenty of that out there. I’m writing this down because I want to remember what happened and because the night is still rolling over and over in my head. Because I’m angry.
I’m pissed off that men do this, that people can inflict such cruelty around them, that regardless of economic and racial privileges, being a woman is hard. We’re paid less. We’re treated with less respect. We have centuries of stereotypes and restrictions to battle. We’re called bitchy if we demand our way and we’re passed over if we sit and work hard. We’re blamed when we’re raped and called slutty if we pursue our sexual freedom. We’re validated by sexy clothes and we’re punished if we cry in public. We marry for money and divorce because we’re bitter. We’re penalized for having and raising children. I’ve seen how hard women work every day and yes, they’re happy, but they’re pushing extra hard because we live in a culture that systematically works against us.
Yeah, this isn’t news. We know this. I learned all about this in college. But hey, you guys, things are still pretty shitty. What? You’re defending men’s rights? Fuck off. You truly believe you treat women with respect? Proof, please. And no, don’t give her a bouquet of flowers to make her feel better. Maybe give her more respect with what she’s dealing with. Maybe don’t talk about how hot she is. Maybe pay her just as much as you pay your male employees. Maybe understand just a little that we’ve been taught to stand in the street and do nothing while another man punches her in the face.
Maybe I’m not giving my neighbors enough credit. I’ll try but I don’t care.
Tonight, I’ll be coming up with alternate realities in my head, ones where I woke up a little sooner, where the woman did get the fuck out of the car, where she came into my house, where the cops came and where I was able to get a look at the asshole’s face.
Maybe that’s all I want right now. A good, hard look at all the messed up shit we deal with.
[Photo courtesy of rob castro.]