My lovely chill Saturday morning was suddenly disrupted by the screaming next door. Not my duplex neighbors, other neighbors. A door slams. Slams. Slams. Slams. Hysterical rage. She’s out on the front stoop screaming to be let in, so clearly the target of the yelling has now locked her out. From her repeated enraged screaming, “if you would just HEAR ME!“, again and again, I’m pretty certain she already felt “locked out” for some time, this morning, if not for far longer.

I can see their front stoop from the window of my studio, where I am sitting. I’ve turned up the music on my headphones to try to drown out her anguished vocalizations, but at this point, I’m at risk of damaging my hearing to turn up the music more. My eyes are helplessly drawn to her misery and anger, and she’s begun throwing her body at the door, again and again, and isn’t making actual words now, just animal sounds, anguished, enraged, frustrated, demanding, pleading. She is lost to “now”, and exists in some moment of complex emotion, trapped in her narrative.

This isn’t where I want to exist this morning. The morning began quite differently. My tears, part sympathy, part PTSD, part lack of executive function, part pure animal stress at being exposed to pure animal stress, spill down as I write. I glance at the phone – should I call 911? Shoulders shaking now with sobs, helplessly overcome by my own memories of terror and rage, I watch her collapse, crying, on the front step of her home… what do I do? I mean, aside from sitting here crying, myself? I can’t bear to be that person who observed and did nothing, even recognizing that I don’t know who the “good guys” or “bad guys” are (it’s “other people’s drama” – in a very real sense, we are all both good guys and bad guys; they are human beings, having their own experience), and I don’t know what’s really going on there, or what the risk is.

…I’m triggered now, but I’m also aware of the other human being, over there, alone in her moment. Shit. I sigh as I rise from my chair, slipping my sandals on to walk next door and offer her a moment of calm, a cup of tea, someone to talk to. Hell, I’m already crying, and I know how terrible such experiences can feel in the moment. May as well… Can I conquer my fear with my compassion? Can I be a friend to someone suffering?

…. … …

It’s some time later. I got to the front walk, and started to walk down the driveway as the first police car pulled up. I find myself wondering who called, and when, although those details don’t matter at all. I go back inside, figuring this is likely a deeply embarassing moment for their household, and not wanting to compound it being an obvious witness. I’m trembling. Crying again. Leaning with my back to the inside of the front door, the unexpected knock startled me. It’s a “cop knock” – they have their own unique way of making a knock on a door sound terrifying (or is it just me?). The officer at the door “just has some questions”. He scanned my face, the tears were obvious. Was I involved, or…? “No, dude, I’m a survivor with PTSD. I’m stressed about that shit going down next door, is all…”

His questions aren’t hard, but I unexpectedly broke down trying to express myself clearly, sinking to my floor helplessly weeping uncontrollably, lost to a moment that doesn’t exist anymore, that can’t hurt me anymore, that isn’t my experience of life anymore… He asks to see my id, and I try to retrieve it from the wee card case in my pocket. Cards spilled everywhere. Credit cards, id, my insurance card, my medical cannabis card, assorted defining cards of an adult human – without any real worth or meaning, just then. I cry harder. He picked up my cards, because I clearly couldn’t. I looked up, feeling embarrassed and childlike. He looked at my id closely. “You’re a veteran?” I just nodded. He sat down with me on the stoop. He sees how my view frames the stoop next door. “Did you see anything?” “Heard her screaming at her door is all” I say, sniffling and wiping my eyes. Practical questions gave me something in the present to hang on to. She is not me. I’m here, now. I’m okay, now. “She was body slamming the door a couple times, then just sat down crying”. I wipe my eyes on my sleeve. “I was going to offer her a cup of tea and help her calm down” I observe, “…you guys got to her first.” My tone sounded vaguely accusatory in my ears, although that’s wasn’t my intention. He sounded sad when he replied “That’s all the questions I had” and “thank you for your service” as he stood and reached out his hand to help me up, before shaking hands with me and leaving.

It’s quiet now. Very quiet. I don’t even know if anyone was arrested, or who, or… I only know it’s quiet now. I’m okay right now. This wasn’t about me, or my life, and now the moment is about letting it go, and taking care of the woman in the mirror. Begin again, I remind myself…

…Please treat the people you say you love as if you do indeed love them. The damage done when you don’t lasts longer than you may understand. There are never enough tears to wash away the stain of cruelty, neglect, or violence.