Last night, my upstairs neighbor was shot and killed behind our house.

I’ll give you a minute to think about that.

I’ve attempted to write about my living situation before but I just haven’t been able to find the words to quite describe the sketch factor of my apartment building.  I think the breaking story on the newscasts today is doing a pretty good job of summing it up.

My neighborhood is full of nice homes with yard boys and my street feels warm and safe like one you might find in any small town.  We’re within walking distance to boutiques and eclectic restaurants and the people are vibrant and unique.  I love my neighborhood and the thought of leaving makes me shudder with regret.

My house, however, can easily be described as rundown.  You could even go so far as to mention the word “slum”.  My landlord is negligent, to say the best, and when my roommate and I moved in, I think we were both wary of the situation.  But the price was right and we were hopeful that with some small improvements and better tenant screening, the house would come to fit in a little better with the rest of the street. 

I was specifically worried about the upstairs tenants and his parade of thugs trudging up and down the stairs at all hours of the night.  My neighbor was polite and friendly but the constant flow of momentary visitors was a clear signal that something was, oh, I don’t know, rotten in Denmark.

Living there, I knew there was the potential that something could happen.  The possibility of theivery or squat teams or, worst of all, gunshots, hung in the air and threatened to disrupt our lives in bad, bad ways.   But, honestly, I always thought that things like this would forever remain just a possibility.  I never wanted to believe that possibilities could evolve into something more, something very real.

Our landlord promised they would be leaving.  He promised he was taking care of the situation. 

“Just hang in there, Mandy,” he told me once after a particularly bothersome night.  “I’m going to take care of the situation.

Obviously, he never did. 

I was not at home when the actual shooting happened.  My boyfriend and I were en route to the house at the time and never thought to expect what we saw when we did arrive about 20 minutes after the fact.

We had been watching a movie at his house and when he took me home our conversation was about shady people doing shady things.  Ironic, given the horror scene we were only minutes from encountering.

When we pulled off the interstate and started down the main street that weaves through my neighborhood, I noticed a cop car parked at an intersection and the officer standing alongside his vehicle just watching cars pass.  Odd, I thought. 

A few blocks later, there was another cop and as we turned off the main road to head towards my street, there was a third officer standing on the corner.  When I saw this cop, and in particular the large, high-powered rifle he was toting, I began to get nervous. 

When we turned down my street, what I saw made my head explode and my stomach take a nose dive into my feet.  Police lights and ambulance rigs filled the road ahead and they all seemed to cluster at my house.  Our car didn’t get halfway down the block before we were stopped by a police line.  Once parked, I jumped out and fought the urge to burst through the tape and sprint towards the house. 

Fire, I thought at first, but the absence of smoke or an engine unit put that thought to rest quickly. 

Maybe it’s just a heart attack, I hoped, wishing desperately for anything other than what I already knew was the truth. 

By this point, a few other people approached the scene and boldly lifted the police line.  They began walking with purpose towards the house and I followed closely, taking advantage of their disregard for the yellow tape barrier.  We were stopped a few houses later and forced to turn back.  As we did, the ambulance motored past us, lights flashing but silent.  Looking back as it passed, I saw an EMT pumping hard on the chest of a faceless victim and that is when I lost it.

Since we were getting nowhere on that end of the street, we circled the block and approached from the intersection closer to the house.  Again, we were stopped by officers and told to turn back.  I pleaded with one of them, “That’s my house.  That’s my house.  What is going on?  Please, that’s my house.”

He seemed confused.  “Which house is yours,” he asked.

I pointed towards the mass of cop cars and officers and said, “The one you all are at.  That one.”

He asked me a few other questions, looking for answers only a resident would know – How many units in the building? What’s your name? What’s your address?  When I had answered successfully, he pulled another cop over and whispered something in his ear. 

The second officer looked at me and said, “I can’t really tell you anything except a man was shot behind the house.”

I stared at him, disbelieving and in shock. 

He asked me a few questions about visitors and cars and had I ever seen a baby blue Regal?  I shook my head, and told him I didn’t know.  There were so many cars coming and going everyday it was impossible to keep track of makes or models or colors.  With that, I had lost my usefulness and he started to move away.

“Wait, what about tonight,” I asked him.  “Can I get my car?  My stuff?”

“You need to find a bed for tonight, ma’am.  We can’t let you in here until the morning.”

And that was it.  Ebin put his arm around me and guided me back to the car.  I would stay at his house and together we would try again in the morning.  I was inconsolable and felt like I was walking through quicksand.  My gut twisted and turned.  This was the worst moment of my life.

Neighbors were calling like crazy, checking in and performing some kind of cell phone headcount.  Unit 1, check, Unit 2, check, next door, check check, across the street, check.

Somewhere in the midst of this streewide roll call, I finally heard what had happened just an hour before from a neighbor who had seen everything from his window.

There was a dispute over drugs or money and then two gunshots and suddenly, my notorious neighbor was on the ground, lifeless, still.  Someone screamed and the police surrounded within minutes but the assailants had already fled into the night.  Despite thier hasty reponse, the officers and emergency workers were unable to save my neighbor and he died at the hospital. 

This morning, there were no more answers and crime scene units were still covering the yard and street.  My neighbors and I huddled in a nearby driveway, taking in the heart stopping scene and playing Monday-morning detective.  Eventually, we had nothing left to say and we all went about our business, trying to restore normalcy to our disrupted lives. 

Unfortunately, though, my house is now crawling with local media and I’ve been haunted all day with photos and videos, featuring scenes of my house (with my car sitting right out front, by the way) last night in the middle of the mayhem, and then this morning all wrapped up in yellow tape.  On site reporters point indifferently towards the “crime scene” and tell viewers our address as casually as reciting a grocery list. 

It all just seems so impersonal.  Except to me.  For me, it is very, very personal.  I want to scream and tell them that people live here and someone very real to us died here.  What happened that night will affect me forever.  This is so much more than your news story.  This is my life.


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Filed under My life as a movie, Too Much, When the going gets tough

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