Last night I woke with a start, opening my eyes to a pitch-dark bedroom. Outside there was a strange murmur of voices, and I knew something was wrong. It was too late for people to be outside. I lay in bed and turned towards the windows in the far room, listening to the litany of voices churning outside. It didn't make sense.
Then a woman screaming: "GET THE FUCK OFF ME! AAIIEEEEE! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING! HELP ME!"
I cowered in bed for a second, ashamed and afraid. My heart was pounding.
"GET THE FUCK OFF OF ME! AAAIIEEEEEEE!"
I thought about calling 911. I thought about Kitty Genovese. I thought about the previous time I called 911, when my phone locked itself in 'emergency phone' and the police called me back a few minutes later with questions I struggled to answer. The woman screamed again. I leapt out of bed and ran to the window, grabbing my glasses and my cellphone. Angled against the glass, I could see several police cars parked askew in front of our building. Their lights and sirens were off, making the cars look oddly demure. The police were standing around, and the person screaming was strapped to a gurney that they were loading into an ambulance. Her cries softened, and then stopped.
L was awake at this point too. Across the street I could see a few more lit windows separating themselves from the uniform darkness of night. I came back to bed, noticing that it was 4:30 in the morning.
I lay in bed for a while, waiting for my heart to slow down. James and I used to talk about the worst things about living in the city, and for me it was always this: there is no insulation, no protection from ugliness of so many kinds. Since I've lived here I've heard screams of abject fear. I've called 911 to help someone who was being attacked. I've seen people doing drugs on the street in front of me. I've seen people whose lives seem so irrevocably broken.
Last night was one of those nights when the city seems like a place of chaos and fear. There is no luxury of ignorance here. Eventually I fell back asleep, and woke up again to another new morning, no police cars in sight. How this place can turn on you.