The blue lights are on when I park. That’s how I know it’s bad this time.
I yank up the break and turn off the ignition. I’m squinting through the windshield, trying to see how flustered the women in the Aztec print sweater looks as she holds her elbow and chews her nails and tells the police what happened.
That’s never a good sign – when you come home to blue cop car lights & a young man standing on the steps with a nervous shake in his walk. He’s waiting for his turn to share a story.
I take my time checking the mailbox, turning the key, quietly tearing open my electric bill. I’m guilty of that – listening when I shouldn’t, waiting a beat longer to walk on my toes down the steps and to my own front door. I want to know it all, see it all, hear it all, because I am a writer. Because I want to document humanity as it unravels next to me. Because I have been waiting for weeks for something to open itself up and unleash itself.
Our apartment sits in the back of the hallway, hidden by stairs that go up, level off, and then back down again. So I can stand there for a while, grab my breath, and wait for a few key phrases to spit out of this man’s nervous mouth.
He says something about child protective services, and I confirm my fears: that children will be subjected to so many things, and in my head I’ll downplay them over and over — even the cursing, the F word, at three in the afternoon on a sunny Saturday in autumn. I know in my head I’ll ignore the slammed doors. I’ll ignore the screams and threats. I’ll pause when I’m straining pasta at the kitchen sink and feel the tension escalate on the other side of my front door, but I won’t say anything.
This spring, I’ll move. This spring, I’ll move far away. That’s all I say.
But those kids, those kids don’t get to step outside their own lives. The slurs spit at them will always, always stir them. Watching their parents slam each other into doors and break glass and crack skulls? That image won’t fade. They’ll always hear threats that sound like ellipses entering gunfights. They’ll always wake up with a heart beating too fast and chilled bed and tense air.
I want more for them. I want them to stop sitting inside an apartment with blue lights outside, with uniformed strangers ready to take them away. I want them to find a home that feels good inside, treats them right.
These days, the kids stand outside my apartment and ask inappropriate questions about intimate acts. I never see their parents. I only hear their screams.
And that trend, or path, or moment, that beginning of a nasty forever, has got to stop.