Tuesday, May 11, 2010

To Mind My Own, or Not to Mind My Own

I was strolling along the other day, daydreaming about how much better life’s going to be once I finally pick up and move into the mountains. Right when I was particularly lost in thought about whether I’m better suited for a small cottage or a bona fide log cabin, I was interrupted by some commotion up ahead. (This is precisely why I belong in the mountains or some kind of wooded area - I’m so over commotion, and there’s way too much of it outside of the woods.)

This time, it was a domestic spat, exported from the indoor arena and landing onto an extremely public sidewalk — the very sidewalk I needed to walk down in order to buy my big bags of drug-store candy. A young couple had reached a major ideological impasse. After having hysterically screamed at the top of her lungs for a long bit, the woman grabbed her man’s BlackBerry and hurled it against a neighboring brick wall with the aim and focused intensity of a former state-ranked fast-pitch softball star. The look on his face, as we all watched the device explode into several different pieces, was unforgettable.

I quickly walked by them, avoiding eye contact. Moments after I passed, there was more yelling from each of them and I soon heard the distinct sound of an open hand swiftly and repeatedly slapping against bare human flesh. “You’re going to hit me again, even in public?!” she yelled. A few other people ambled out of the surrounding buildings to stand watch. One of the onlookers revealed how much he wished he had a camera.

I’m the type who would normally (somehow) intervene in a situation like this – and probably get into a fair amount of trouble for it. But I’ve recently launched a self-enhancement campaign, whereby I’m studiously training myself to become less impulsively mouthy, just to see where the shutting up and staying out of others’ affairs will get me. So far, I’m hating this new me and I don’t know how much longer this imposter act can go on. Ten minutes after having passed this couple, I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I should have said or done something. I should have offered to help her. It was so unlike me not to have acted; and it always feels uncomfortable to venture out of character. I remembered sitting in one of my college psychology classes and learning about the Kitty Genovese tragedy — in the 1960s, a Queens, NY woman was brutally stabbed outside of her home. She screamed out for help for the better part of an hour. And a lot of people apparently either heard or saw her. But nobody ended up doing anything in response, largely because they assumed that somebody else would and/or they didn’t want to get involved. So then Kitty died that night.

After about 15 minutes of this on my already heavy conscience, I turned around and retraced my steps, heading back in their direction. Fuck my pledge to mind my own business more often. I was going to kick this guy’s ass. Fling some of my bottled water at the both of them. Call 911. Whatever it took to diffuse.

When I reached the corner where I had left them, they were still there. But things had changed. There were no bystanders milling around and there was no more yelling. The woman was leaning against a parked car calmly talking to the man; and he was patiently listening to her, earnestly nodding his head and asking what she would like him to do about something from now on.

I guess I’m glad I stayed quiet. But I’m not innocent enough to think that there’s not going to be another, much worse, noisy flare-up at some point in this couple’s future — this time behind closed doors. And when that happens, I hope at least one person on the other side of the wall decides to pick up the phone and take a loud-mouthed risk.

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