I awoke in a haze of sleep, my dreams evaporating instantly. The room was still dark, nearly pitch black to my half closed eyes. I pulled the thick covers away mechanically and stepped onto the carpet. Holding my hands in front like a blind man, I sought the hard realness of the desk against the wall and the glass doorknob I would find to the left of it. Holding the knob, I slipped my feet into the slippers I had thoughtfully left by the door. There was a sea of cold tiles that stretched from my bedroom to the bathroom, and I tried to avoid the frigid shock. I pulled the French-style door open, and a cool air hit my face. Without central heating- a cold darkness lay just beyond the bedroom walls.
It took me a second to realize it, while my brain computed and bumped along, but there was an unmistakable flashing red light coming from the garage. My door was open just a crack, and I pulled on the knob. The garage pulsed with flashing red and blue lights, like an empty nightclub. I urged my feet forward, carefully stepping over the guitar and microphone cords that criss-crossed the floor. The light source came from outside, just beyond the wood panels and high frosted glass windows that made our garage door. I stood on my toes and looked through the diamond shaped window, an architectural necessity for any house constructed in the 50s.
Two police cars were double parked in the street, one just in front of our house, the other in front of the first car, almost out of sight. Both had their lights on- blinking red and blue that seemed to scream silently in the night. There were the cars and the houses on the other side of the street, illuminated in the blazing lights. I immediately thought of our next door neighbors, the ones who had just moved in and brought with them loud voices and almost a dozen children. I listened hard for voices, but heard none. No sobbing women, no shrieking children. I pulled a green and cracked vinyl chair towards me and quietly stepped up, looking through the diamond window once again.
Partially shadowed by the night, then brightened by the lights, was Toni, our neighbor, with her hands behind her back, surrounded by four large police officers. Three of the men were white and large, one of them wearing a black beanie on his seemingly bald head. The fourth officer was a stocky Asian man. Toni looked so small and thin next to them, her chocolate skin illuminated and somehow looking pale.
“They don’t take care of my mom, I do!” she shouted. The men mumbled their responses.
They walked together towards the car closest to our house. One cop in front with the black beanie leading, one next to Toni, the two others following. The man in front was shaking his head, and from where I stood, he seemed to be looking right at me. I wondered if he was. Was it a warning? I felt myself grow cautious, wondering if they could see my curious white face through the small window. I felt a fear creep inside. The men felt dangerous. Men armed and willing, ready to take a life. They closed the backseat door behind Toni, then huddled by the trunk, looking at something the one with the beanie held. Toni shouted from inside the car, but her words were muffled, just the anger escaped through the closed metal door.
“Shut UP!” yelled the man wearing the hat. He turned instantly to the Asian man on his left, smiling. His smile filled me with fear. Bullies from high school, men with a license to shout and abuse, kill if need be. He thought it was funny. He did not have the insight to see that his actions altered the course of lives. What was a job, a routine night perhaps, something he would write a report about and then forget as he put the pen down, it was different on the other end, between the metal cuffs, waiting in the backseat of a car. A river flowing one way was instantly diverted with his presence. Arrest wasn’t a minor thing, though he might have gotten used to being the figure with power. And when he laughed, like he didn’t care, like she was just another piece of trash he had to deal with before his next coffee break, it etched a dread in me I had not felt in a long time.
The men conferred behind the car, looking at something. The Asian man broke away and walked to the police car. He opened the driver’s door and spoke through the metal grate to Toni.
“What’s your name?” he said quietly, but distinctly. I thought I heard her say Jessica, but I probably misheard.
I thought of Toni confessing months ago that she used to do crack, that her grown children were still mad at her for how she had been when she was raising them. What had she done tonight? I imagined her in a yellow lit house, wandering from room to room. Which one of her family members had called the police? Who would take care of her mother with dementia? I thought of the old woman who sat in the easy chair in front of the window, what would happen to her? What would they do with Toni? I imagined her heart shattered, crumbling in on itself as she thought about the helpless mother she was being dragged away from. What had she done?
I left the window and walked back quietly through the garage, careful to step over all the cords. I used the bathroom, never turning on a single light. I stood by the doorway to the garage, wondering if I should go back to bed. But then I heard my friend’s voice, asking me questions. I thought about Toni and thought someone should keep witness. Moving gently to the window again, I stood on my tiptoes. I looked into the windows of the other houses across the street, looking for other faces. If they were there, they were hidden. And if it was just me, watching as Toni was taken by the four men. Then I should watch it through to the end, whatever would be the end at this hour.
As I stood, the word boredom crossed my mind, and I felt guilty that the events had lost my interest. The scene was a bit more quiet, Toni had stopped cursing. Two cops now stood by the hood of the police car closest to me. The steps leading to Toni’s front door was illuminated by the porch light. I could see the purple exterior paint and the metal gate at the landing that was slightly ajar. I watched the quiet scene for a little while, then the light above her garage door came on. I wondered if it was a motion sensor, maybe a cat had walked by. Maybe someone had turned it on. A few minutes passed, then the sound of jingling, perhaps keys, though it sounded more like glass.
One cop came down the front steps, taking each step quickly, with a sort of bounce. His large black Maglight was beaming and down-turned. At the sidewalk by the steps, he began to search the driveway, carefully looking around the red car that was parked there. Toni started cursing again and another cop turned on his flashlight, joining the search. They didn’t find anything and within a few minutes two cops walked towards the car parked just beyond our house. I heard the ignition start.
The cop with the black beanie walked to the other car and took his place behind the wheel, his partner sat beside him. He turned on the engine and then turned his face to the left, in my direction. The shadow of the car’s roof hid his eyes, but I felt like he was watching me, perhaps daring me to do something. A deeper sense of fear moved through me, the man was dangerous, more ugly than many I had met. He stayed like that for several seconds and neither of us moved. Then he looked straight ahead and drove away.
I stood in the garage for several minutes, the space now black again without the police car lights. I moved back towards my room, but lingered in the doorway to the garage, wondering if I should lock my door. The space seemed less safe, not because of whatever Toni had done, but because of those men. The police and what they stood for.
Men without any hero’s code of honor, but simply men that had passed a few tests, a few obstacle courses…men that had been given a gun and the power to enforce laws, the power to hurt, the power to change destinies. They were nothing special, but they were backed by cells and judges and an entire system of repression that would bite down on the prettiest of flowers without a thought.
I was cold. I got under the blankets again and stared at the blackness of my wall until the sky turned blue.