Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My Own Private Theater

In Philadelphia one year we lived next to a couple with domestic issues. That’s what the cops called it. There’d be weeks at a time where they were quiet and peaceful, and then 1 or 2 nights in a row where they got really domestic. When it started, I’d turn off all the lights, get down on the floor and peer over the window-sill. They scared me. Always in the back of my mind, I’d hear one of them say, “Look, she’s up there!” then the other one would grab a rifle, lock and load, and try to blast my head off. I honestly thought that this was a possibility and yet it didn’t stop me from watching.

Usually it was the guy that started the yelling but once he got going there was no stopping the girlfriend. She screamed. He yelled. She screamed louder. Glass broke.  They both screamed together. A dog barked. That was the pattern. That was the music of it.

One night he was yelling from the street: “You fucking whore. I’ll rip your cunt out”. When I got to my post, I could see that she was leaning out of the window. She had locked him out and was in pretty good spirits about it. She laughed and screamed back at him. He took a run and slammed against the front door so hard it made my back teeth shake from 50 feet away. The door was solid though. She disappeared and came back with an anvil and dropped it on his head. It knocked him over but he kept yelling at her. As it turned out, he could scream pretty well lying on the ground with blood pouring out of his head.

In a minute she came flying out of the front door pulling on her coat and smoking. She screamed right back at him while getting into a white van. Of course the engine wouldn’t turn over. Click. By now the guy was starting to stir. Click. He got to his knees. Click. He stood up, swaying a little, and the engine finally caught. Just as she pulled away he hurled himself at the back of the van, hitting the back windows with both open hands, and then landing on all fours in the street. He lifted his head and howled like a wounded animal.

He was still in the same position when the paddy-wagon and the back up car pulled around the corner, lights swirling. It took four Philly cops to throw him in the back and when they closed the doors all the way, the whole van rocked and bucked like a wild mustang was in there.

Right on cue, the white van came back and the girl jumped out without parking. She left the door open and while she screamed herself hoarse, and the paddy wagon rocked, and the cops tried to restrain her, I could hear the gentle ding, ding, ding from the inside of the van. It went on for twenty minutes or two hours. There was no end to it. The cops cuffed her and went to have a huddle about the situation.

I could have watched this all night. My own relationship was falling apart at the time although I didn’t know it. You’d think that the fact that my boyfriend wasn’t home at night, or that we had stopped having sex, or that we were always picking on each other, would have given a clue. I’ve since learned that an intense fascination with someone else’s sick business is a pretty good sign that you need to take a good long look at yourself. But then it was like watching my own private theater. My own life was far superior because at least I wasn't trying to kill someone with an anvil.

Finally the bucking van settled down and the Philly cops opened up the back door and let the guy out. He stepped into the street and walked quietly into the house like they were all limo drivers and he was going to a club. Then the cops un-handcuffed the girl, had a chat, and left her standing on the street with a Bweep Boop of the siren.

The next morning I noticed the van parked in front of my car. It was like seeing an actor in a movie I had watched the night before: out of place and not quite recognizable. Still, there on the back, beneath the window, were two dried brown bloody handprints. And there was still glass on the sidewalk.

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