Some stories we happen upon just by chance – some are told to us and some we stand still on the edge of – watching and waiting until we become part of the story being told. This little story is a sad one. It is the story of a girl, my neighbor – a girl as pretty as she is young and how we both became part of each others’ stories last night.
All the things I’ve written or said about my upstairs neighbors have been bad. They are too; too loud, too inconsiderate, too libidinous (only possible if your neighbors have to be party to it) just…too. The girl always struck me as reserved, maybe even a bit shy but her smile was kind and genuine. The man I’ve never liked. Not a judgment of anything other than his behavior and my own gut.
People argue. Sometimes loudly. Sometimes they even throw things. I am told that this often happens when I am not here. I wish I’d known that before 2:30 a.m. I wish that when she knocked on my door with an urgency that said help before she said help – I’d known that this was not the first time. Her knock became a bang, while we scrambled to find clothes. I open the door to find her crying on the steps right in front of my apartment. She is wearing a pink and turquoise nightgown, she has been crying for some time. I ask the only question I know to ask “What’s wrong?” She opens her mouth but there are tears. Then he is on the stairs, begging her to come back upstairs in a language that is not one of my own. I ask her again to tell me what is going on, he interjects that there has been a death in the family, it is nothing. And she wails weakly, no. I ask if she wants me to call the police and she nods. I don’t even blink, I turn and go. I regret this.
When I come back from breathlessly telling the police what I know, she is holding his hand & walking back up the stairs, sobbing softly. She looks defeated. Enough time has gone by that while she waited for someone to help, he is now wholly apologetic and begging her, maybe he calls her a pet name and strokes her hair – maybe he even asks for forgiveness believing that he means it or that it makes a difference. Because no one is bleeding or carrying an obvious weapon, the police take their time getting here. They send two policeman, a man and woman. Divide and conquer? I wait at my door, hoping that she says the right thing as the officer speaks gently to her. But I know too much time has passed.
I hear her voice, shakily say that yes, they’d been fighting but it was “no big deal.”
The officer has seen this before. She points out the marks on her neck and arms. My heart skips a beat. I realize then how this story that I just became a part of ends and I go inside and quietly shut my apartment door. Soon thereafter, the footsteps come down the stairs and I hear a chirp from a walkie-talkie as the police leave.
Could have, should have, would have. I lie in bed thinking about all the ways I could have changed this. I know it’s futile but I won’t stop doing it. I can’t. People often toss about cliches when they tell stories – I am very guilty of this. How many times has someone said you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped? But, she wanted help. Barefoot at my door, she’d slipped away and didn’t stop banging until she saw my face and I feel, in telling her story, now our story, that I failed. I should have made her come inside, shut him out. I could have made my husband call the police and sat next to her on those stairs, held her hand and waited. I would have told him to fuck off when he come down those stairs. But, that’s not this story.
I hope that soon – today, tomorrow, Monday – I can come back and tell you a different story. One that doesn’t end with her back to me following that coward back up the stairs. Unfortunately, hopefully…that’s a story for another day.