Monday, February 25, 2008

Living Above Her

Right off the bat, I knew something was not quite right about this guy. he was gorgeous-tall, dark, muscular, but something…something was off. he was nice enough to help us move our very heavy, very hard to maneuver, yet oh so comfortable old brown couch up the twisting staircase when we moved in, and he didn’t ask for any favours in return. Cool enough guy, I thought at the time, but something wasn’t right.

I suppose I didn’t learn exactly what that something was until months later, but there were definite indicators. he had a ridiculously short fuse, he swore constantly, yelled and screamed if things didn’t go his way. Once, he left me a nasty note for parking my car too close to his old, rusting truck (I wasn’t that close). he yelled at my friend for flicking a pole that was in his pseudo vegetable garden. A pole that was attached to nothing. he picked fights with skinny 17 year olds on the street, and threatened to “mess them up!” he frightened the shit out of bewildered door to door salespeople. This is a 40 year old man.

It seemed like he played every instrument on the planet and sometimes it sounded like he had a five piece band rehearsing in his apartment. he would sing at the top of his lungs while wailing on the banjo. He was a huge smooth talker, had an infectious laugh, and was bordering on genius. If I didn’t live right above him, I would have thought he was the most charming guy who ever lived. That’s probably what his girlfriend thought when she first met him too.

I think this was one of those situations a person often ponders, and thinks “what would I do if...” It’s not a position you want to be put it, it’s not something you want to witness, but there you are, sitting on your couch, listening to what sounds like your downstairs neighbour beat the crap out of his girlfriend.

The amount of fear I felt the first time it happened kind of had me paralyzed. There I was, sitting on the couch, frozen, couldn’t move. I willed myself- get up, call the police on his ass. But there I sat, frozen with fear, fear for Her, fear for myself-what if he happened to hear my footsteps running above his head, indicating my presence? The fear of knowing that if I called the cops, he would know exactly who it was. That scared the shit out of me. So I sat there, straining to hear Her voice. Is She okay, is She conscious, is She alive? And there it was, Her voice, screaming, “don’t touch me!” Doors slamming, things breaking. I don’t think I have ever been quite that scared, so I can’t even imagine how She felt.

Once everything had quieted down, and I could hear them both revert to their “normal” routine, I got up off the couch. I am the biggest pussy in the world, I accused myself. But, I argued internally, what was my obligation in this situation? Why, I thought, justifying my actions, should I put myself in danger, when it is Her decision to stay with him. he had done this before. But still, She stays. But, I told myself, in the name of sistahood, I owed her that solidarity. She deserved not to be invisible.

I avoided mr. shithead like the plaque after that. Any attempt at conversation he made was met by a steely glare, and a get the hell away from me vibe emanating from every possible fiber of my being. he knew that I knew, and you think that would have scared him or at least triggered a, “people can hear me” ping in his brain, but nope, his refusal to acknowledge that things were anything but normal, showed me that he could care less. What are YOU going to do about it, he was thinking, glaring at me from behind the curtains in his living room window, I’m watching you.

And so time went on like this. Weeks passed. She came up to borrow eggs, borrow sugar. You are baking for him? I thought. How can you still be with this guy, bake cookies for him, have sex with him, when I, who such rage was not directed upon, despised him? Couldn’t even stand to look at him? But, I thought, okay sista, here are your eggs, here is your sugar, be safe, and god, I hope you wise up soon, because you deserve a whole lot better.

I could not, and never will, truly get it. Why allow that to happen to yourself? Why become that girl, that girl who keeps going back to the guy, because this time, he’ll change? Maybe it is one of those things that you never really get until all of a sudden you find yourself in that situation. She obviously had no intention of ever being in that position, yet there She was.

The guy didn’t change though. I sat through the screaming fights, the smashing of furniture and doors, and the cries of “get away from me” from my previously mentioned spot on the couch. I’m ashamed to say, that each time it happened, I felt increasing rage towards her. You’re setting us back sista. You are not this stupid. You know this guy can’t love you, if this is what he does to you. I sat, and I raged at her for putting me in this position. Yup, that’s me, selfish bitch, party of one! I know, I know. But still, that’s how I felt. I hated him, and I really was starting to dislike her. It wasn’t helped by the fact that she too continued to act as if everything was normal. “Oh, hey, how’s it going’? she would chirp, if we ran into each other on the staircase. “I’m fine. How are YOU?” always wanting to add, “what the hell are you doing, what are you thinking?”

Fairly late one evening, while I was sitting on the couch (I honestly didn’t spend my life sitting on the couch, but the apartment was small, and had limited seating opportunities), the doorbell rang. In my experience living downtown, it is never good if the doorbell is ringing late at night. Sometimes it is a friend, but more often than not, it is either 1) a crazy person, 2) a crazy drunk person, 3) the cops. Option number three awaited me at the door this time.

“Errrmmm,” I greeted the cops as I opened the door. Sinking feeling in stomach.

“Hi, do you mind if we ask you a couple of questions about him and Her. Specifically Her”.

“Nope, go ahead”

“When was the last time you saw Her?”

“Couple days ago probably”

“What about him…”

“Everyday of my life” Goddammit. “Is there a problem?” Clearly there is.

“She has been reported missing, and we are asking some routine questions.”

Oh fuck. This is what happens when you just sit on the couch. Thoughts raced through my mind-he killed her, he killed her and dragged her out of the apartment in the dead of night, he killed her, dragged her out of the apartment in the dead of the night and threw her in the lake. Oh my god, what have I done? Evict me from the sistahood.

“Hem hem”. “Is there a back door to their apartment?” “yes”, “Do they fight a lot” “umm, yes”, “is he an angry guy, can you remember the exact date you saw him or Her last, did she have lots of friends, where did she work, how long have you lived here, what about this guys friends, do they come over a lot, what about her friends, where do you her parents live, does she visit her parents a lot…..”

Silence. “I, I, umm don’t really know. I honestly try to avoid these people.” Wow. What a horrible neighbour I was.

“Okay, thanks for you time”. Door shuts.

I inched my way back up the stairs to the apartment.

“I think HE killed Her”, I hissed to my roommate, as she stared at me with wide, what the hell is happening eyes.

The next couple days were spent hiding from him and praying for Her. We made up elaborate tales of what possibly could have happened in the apartment below us. The whole situation took on a fairy tale like quality that made it all seem a little less real. The cops never came back, and neither did she. He was hunkered away in his apartment, playing his banjo and drinking beer.

Then one day, there she was-with a moving van. She was alive, she was fine (at least on the outside), and she was getting the hell away from him. “Hey,” I said as I passed her on the street, smiling, hoping my smile also projected “whoa, you scared me. I thought you were dead. And god, I don’t really know you, but I am so proud of you right now. Welcome back to life sista”.

Myself on the other hand, I wasn’t so proud of. Scared or not, I should have picked up the phone, stomped around and alerted him of my presence, anything. By witnessing what happened, and then essentially being indifferent about the whole situation, I was in a way, saying it was okay. And it’s not. Oh my god, I know it’s not. What I’m saying is, I should have gotten my ass off the couch, no matter how comfortable it might have been.

As for him, he still lives in the same apartment, playing the same instruments, and still being overly protective of his piece of crap truck. We don’t live above him anymore. Someone else might be experiencing an oh my god, what should I do moment as I write this. Hopefully, they have a little more backbone than I did.

As for Her, I don’t know. I haven’t seen Her since that day on the street with the moving van. I think it would be a weird, awkward thing to see her now. We experienced something intimate, scary and heartbreaking together, and yet we barely knew each other. The truth of the matter is, if I did happen to pass Her on the street again, I don’t even know if I would recognize Her.

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