I spent a lot of time debating on whether or not I would write this blog. I thought it was important, but was it worth writing about, because nothing I do will change what happened. And I wondered if it was worth the anger and fear it caused me originally; did I want to revisit it all again?
But yes, I have to talk about it.
About a week ago, I witnessed an assault, possibly a sexual assault. And there was nothing I could do.
At about 1:30 in the morning, I decided I finally had to go to bed, because I had a 10am seminar in Cicero for a potential job. I wasn’t looking forward to driving to Cicero, especially since there were multiple warnings, advising commuters to “avoid leaving the house, if possible” due to a massive amount of lake effect snow moving in.
But, ugh, need job, need money, probably should go.
Jimmy tucked me into bed and kissed me goodnight, and I spent a few minutes reading my Twitter feed. I heard some shouting outside, but that’s completely normal. We live in the corner unit above a bus stop in the middle of Boystown; it’s usually loud.
The shouting stopped, and I turned off the light.
No more than a few seconds later, I heard the shouting again. It was getting closer. I started to make out some of the words.
“bitch” “fucking” “go” “stupid fucking” “goddammit”
As I was sitting up in bed, Jimmy opened the bedroom door. I looked outside and saw a man dragging a woman across the street. She was standing up, but her pants were down. She was wearing some kind of leggings or tights underneath, but she appeared to be crying. She also appeared to be intoxicated, but obviously I couldn’t confirm this.
I could only confirm what I saw.
I saw her stumbling, as she had pants around her ankles, and I saw the man pulling her as hard as he could across the street, screaming in her ear the entire time about what a “fucking bitch” she was, “goddammit”.
As soon as they got across the street, she fell.
By this point, I’d told Jimmy to call 911. I couldn’t leave the window.
The woman started sobbing, unable to get up. The man yanked on her and shouted that she need to get her ass up, “stupid bitch”. Finally, he gave up and walked away. He walked to the apartment building directly across from ours, got out his keys, and went inside.
The woman laid in the snow, pants down, screaming “Help me, please help me, come back and help me!”
I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to run outside, grab her, and bring her inside my lobby until the police came. But, I didn’t know if the man would come back. I did not want to see that man. I did not want that man to see me.
I held my breath and counted the seconds. Where were the police?
After what felt like hours but could have only been minutes, the man came back out, angrier than before. He pulled her up as hard as he could, and I could see the pain on her face. There was about a 30-foot distance between the corner and their apartment building. I wished for the police in between short, shallow breaths.
He tried to pull her pants up, but as he did, she stumbled again. He shoved her to the ground, and her face hit the sidewalk. This time, he helped her up with what seemed to be precise movements, not erratic ones.
Fuck my optimistic heart. My thoughts immediately turned to, “He must have realized how horrible he is, how horrible his actions are. He wants to help.”
They walked to the cold steps that led down to the apartment alleyway, and before he opened the door, he shoved her against the metal fence and appeared to be choking her. I couldn’t entirely see, because his body was in the way, but he had his hands on her neck. He was angrily talking to her. I couldn’t hear any of the words, but I saw the look in her eyes.
About fifteen seconds after he closed the gate, I heard sirens.
I threw on my coat, gloves, and boots, and I ran downstairs.
“Over there, they just went into that building over there!” I shouted to them. The officers thanked me and started to go around the building, looking for the couple and looking for a way in.
Jimmy came down a few moments later and urged me inside. I couldn’t go. I wouldn’t. I had to see this man in handcuffs.
The cops searched for about 5 minutes, trying to get into the building, trying to find these people. Finally, one of the officers came up to me and shrugged. “There’s nothing we can really do,” he said, “just call back if you hear them again.”
I nodded. I wasn’t angry at the cops. They couldn’t break into an apartment with no more than my witnessing a potential crime. I had no names, no apartment number, they had done all they could.
But what about me? Had I done all I could?
I went inside, shaking. I didn’t even notice the tears that had turned to cold water on my cheeks. Jimmy gave me a hug and went to lay on the bed and wait for me. He knows that when something bad happens, sometimes I need a few minutes alone before I want company.
I ate two Hershey’s Kisses that were leftover from our recent New Year’s party, and I sat on the edge of our bed, and I stared out the window.
I willed the man to come back.
I could identify him. I could easily identify her.
Just come back outside to cool off, man. Stay outside a few minutes and have a cigarette, let the bitch sleep.
I just wanted one more chance to call the police back.
It felt like hours, but all of this took place in about 15 minutes. The seminar was canceled due to snow, and I went to bed under warm, soft sheets, lying next to my loving partner.
Did she sleep?
I called my mom, who is a prosecutor, the next day. She has seen dozens of cases like this, and I needed her rational look at things. She delivered. But I felt sick. I felt drunk, like things were moving too slowly.
Almost a week later, after the intense snowfall, I headed out to the suburbs to see my family. As I opened our building’s garage, I noticed a car blocking my exit. A woman was stuck due to the snow, and a few people were helping her. They pushed the car as she tried to gun it, and one of them had shovels and was admirably digging at the rock and ice that had formed over her tires.
Finally, after about 10 minutes, the woman’s car lurched forward. I heard some clapping and cheering and smiled at their efforts.
As I was pulling out to leave, I glanced at one of the men.
It was him.
The same man who had just beaten and possibly sexually attacked his “girlfriend” was gallantly helping a stranger move her car. He even smiled as he left the scene to return home.
What could I have done? Could I have done anything more? I’ve thought about this since it happened, and no, I probably couldn’t have done anything more without endangering myself.
As a woman, regardless of relationship status, I fear this. I fear being attacked and being helpless. I fear a lack of reciprocity and justice.
I fear it, because it’s happened to me.
It’s the mentality of “It won’t happen to me! It’s terrible and tragic, but it won’t happen to me!”
I just want everyone to be safe and loved and fearless.
And for those who have ever felt otherwise,
just remember that there is always something that someone could do.
Even if it’s just listening,
if it’s just being there when someone needs to talk,
if it’s just thinking through your thoughts before you make them actions.
No one is ever alone.
Note: I know this was super heavy, and I didn’t think I’d end up writing this much. But it just hit too close to home for me, and it made me eternally grateful for the love I have in my life.