Friday, August 24, 2012

A heel that won't wound

No one could tell a man was murdered in our neighborhood this week. Not even Tuesday morning, less than a day after the killing.

Monday afternoon came with sound and fury. Now it's like Monday never happened, like the wound sealed closed. But not really. 

Monday afternoon clogged our dog-leg cul-de-sac with sheriff's patrol cars, two special crime investigation wagons, an unmarked but extravagantly strobe-lit law enforcement pickup truck, an ambulance, and at least a dozen sheriff's deputies, who crime-taped the front of the residence where the news reported a man shot in the back, across the street and one duplex down from our house.

More deputies made a gate of crime tape at the entrance of our street, policing traffic and keeping television crews from even getting a shot of the crime scene.

A deputy walked up to me as I stood on our porch looking on. She wanted to know why I hadn't answered her earlier knock, and seemed surprised that I did not hear gunshots or a car speed away. (Our house is blessed and cursed with being very quiet when the windows are shut and the AC buzzes in the heat).

"So … what happened?"

"I don't know," the deputy said.

I missed it all. Our dog spent the day cowering at whatever she heard, but we humans missed it.

During the daylight hours, deputies ran back and forth between their vehicles, some taking boxes of evidence out of the residence, others taking witnesses to their patrol cars, making them sit with the doors closed while they questioned other witnesses, then replacing those witnesses with other witnesses.

More deputies took pictures of witnesses, sprayed witnesses' hands with something. Still more deputies stood together in the street, talking. After a couple of hours, six detectives, identical except for the solid color of their dress shirts, walked into the cul-de-sac. Some went into the residence, others stood with the black-uniformed deputies. Someone had set up a folding table near a patrol car, with a water jug on the table. The ambulance had disappeared without fanfare within the first couple of hours.

A few other residents of the street stood on the sidewalk looking in. Our daughter searched online to get the basics. The shooting opened the 5 o'clock news, but we missed that too; too brief, onto weather and brush fires.

By late evening, the crime tape remained draped around the residence and only the crime scene wagons remained. By morning, all was gone.

The newspaper said the dead man didn't live at the residence. The morning-after story suggested someone had come to the residence inquiring about a Craiglist item or a personal watercraft. The second-day story suggested the dispute was over drugs; that the dead man had a prior felony drug conviction.

The shooter may have sped off in an SUV. Someone else might have been with the shooter. It's all so unclear.

This is all I can think to do about it. Though I couldn't bring myself to bring it up in a conversation with swim buddies at the coffee shop, for example, I write about it in the most public way I know. My motives are unclear.

Standing out in the street didn't seem right. To do what? Gawk in the direction of the house? Exchange "What's this world coming to?" or "Kids these days, I tell ya," with others? Talk about reviving a Neighborhood Watch program? A Neighborhood Watch sign hangs rusted over on a lamppost.

(We had a program in our old neighborhood, where we expected shootings that never came, but the program withered under the hype and hyperventilation of neighbors who envisioned apocalypse and advocated armed vigilance.)

We don't know anybody at the residence across the street and one duplex down. We don't know too many other people on the cul-de-sac, for that matter. Is that typical? I'm afraid it might be.

We know the neighbors on either side; one family fairly well; of the other, we know a few of the people and can identify some of the others who live there; we know the dog's name there.

We know the father of a young family from Russia across the street, and wave hello to his small children when they are in the front yard. We know a man by name at the end of the cul-de-sac who walks its length back and forth each morning. My wife knows a few others from some years back, when she was home getting chemo treatments. That's it. We rarely even drive our cars to the bottom of the cul-de-sac, only four more houses deep.

We are bad neighbors. We have become what I feared: Strangers on a street, impotent in the aftermath of a tragedy.

The newspaper described ours as a quiet street. It is. The worst I could say about it is that one resident drives way too fast, as if he's pulling into a NASCAR pitstop, and his newly minted driver daughter has picked up dad's habits.

We have a lot of cars on our short street, but that's mostly a function of duplexes on one side of the street, which don't provide enough parking. Renters fill the duplexes on one side of the street; a few own the duplex, live in one and rent the other. Most own their homes on the other side of the street.

Teenage drivers turn their stereos off as soon as they park on our street. People hang out in front of their duplexes, but talk quietly.

The newspaper said some residents have lived here for a couple of decades, which may be so; that everyone knows everyone here, which is not true. I think that's one of the truisms news reporters apply to neighborhoods when they don't know any better, the same way they like to call a town a "sleepy little hamlet."

Quiet returns. The Russian father lets his children ride their toy vehicles in the street in front of his duplex while he putters in the garage. People move about at the residence where the murder occurred, driving back and forth on errands.

Here's the thing: Now I notice people moving about at that residence. I let them be before, without cause to behave otherwise. Nothing indicates the crime: No flowers or memorials; the victim didn't live there, may have been a stranger. I don't know. Did someone clean up after the crime? Maybe it happened during the investigation? I don't know.

I can't go over and introduce myself to the people who live there, without delivering the very clear message: I'm watching you. What have you brought upon this neighborhood? I can't even say it's warranted. What would they hear if I just said "hello?"

So I write this instead. And I mow our crunchy yellowing lawn at the height of the heat. Ratty as it is, the lawn always looks a bit better after it's mowed.

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