The brick commercial building—lodged between the corner store and our house—was lackluster, and only its changing name captured my eye over the years. In the early days in the neighborhood, the sign indicated the building was home to Islamic gatherings. Then it went vacant. A year later, it sprang from obscurity, snagging attention in the big news outlets. The building had been used as an illegal after-hours club, we learned, and at 3:00 a.m. on March 7, 2013, almost a hundred people were gathered at the establishment when an argument sparked, turning into a scuffle. By the time it was over, two men were dead—one inside, one outside. And the two shooters had fled. The usual course of action followed: law enforcement marked off the place as a crime scene, investigations ensued, and the police issued the landlord a notice of nuisance—the legal form of a slap on the wrist—and he boarded up the building.
The morning after the shootings, we rubbed our eyes and wondered what had gone down a half block away at the brick building while we slept in our warm beds. The streets—for many blocks around—were barricaded, and exiting the neighborhood was as tricky as in the tornado’s aftermath. When the situation cooled, we noticed mourners had slipped in behind the yellow tape to build a memorial on the sidewalk. They left behind teddy bears, flowers, signs, photos of the deceased, and remnants of meals consumed right there on the pavement. The only things that touched us from the tragedy were the fast food wrappers that blew on March winds into our yard.
The double homicide was close. But no bullets ripped through our lives. And fear didn’t find a way in.
My brother, a New York City dweller, called me one day.
“So I’ve been streaming Joe Soucheray’s ‘Garage Logic’ out of Saint Paul,” he said. “Anyway, a local news story came up. Notice any unusual police activity at the end of your block?”
“No,” I said. “But I haven’t been looking.”
“Sounds like a guy is holding his girlfriend hostage,” he said. “They’ve got the place surrounded.”
I poked my head out the front door and flicked my eyes down the street.
“Well, sure enough,” I said.
The place hummed with activity. Police cars lined the streets and a SWAT team was in position. Officers surrounded the house in question, guns drawn.
“Since it’s a domestic, you’ve got nothing to worry about,” my brother said.
“I’m not worried.”
The hostage situation was close. But I wasn’t barred in my home by an abusive boyfriend. Or by fear.
My neighbor Marta had a favorite spot in her back yard—her lounge chair—where she’d bask for a measure of each fleeting summer day. But on a Tuesday in the summer of 2014, obligation beckoned. Marta, a formidable culinary force, arose from her chair to serve the common good: she had a BBQ rib contest to judge.
While she was away, two cars sped through the neighborhood, the drivers working out their grievances through open car windows. But words wouldn’t suffice, so the men tried to settle their differences with lead. One bullet penetrated a neighbor’s fascia, and another one pierced Marta’s fence and skidded to rest in her most cherished place in paradise: right under the seat of her lounge chair.
The drive-by was close. But it didn’t keep Marta from living in freedom. Or laughing when she retold the story about the day she wasn’t hit in the backside by a bullet.
One of the two shooters in the double homicide pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to nearly nine years in prison. The other had a second-degree murder charge against him dropped after serving almost a year. The landlord eventually rented the brick building to a church. The hostage-taker at the end of the block was apprehended, never to return. And the police caught the two drivers and arrested them for gunplay on a residential street.
We knew the past. But we didn’t think it into our future.
All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.
We neighbors wouldn’t be shaken. Unruffled by the exceptions who passed through our streets with guns, our area of the city always settled back into a rhythm. We didn’t look over our shoulders, and we didn’t lose sleep.
But to be safe, we kept our doors shut tight, leaving fear locked outside alone.
*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date/
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.