Note: This letter was written a year and a half ago after I got the scare of a lifetime and a young man's life was forever changed. I'm posting it now because it's still relevent and timely.
There’s a certain amount of comfort in living day to day; knowing what each moment is likely to bring… caring for your family, investing in your relationships, working hard, saving, planning. In the midst of it, it’s easy to know how to go forward. Even if you feel disconnected at times, your purpose and your spirit carry you from day to day, your goals... living mile markers to guide you on your journey.
I didn’t know I was going to meet you, J, until moments before I did. Even at that, your arrival in my life was hardly note worthy. You were heralded by the soft whoofing of my puppy as she paced the foot of the bed. Unable to comfort or quiet her, I dressed and headed downstairs to take her out. At the top of the stairs I heard you pounding on the door. I was so disgusted, thinking that my daughter could get herself home at 3 am but still be child enough to forget her key. As I made my way down the stairs with the wiggling puppy, you rang the bell. I rounded the corner of the stairs with irritation, prepared to scold my daughter as the noise she was making would surely wake her father. What I saw standing in the window next to the front door will stay with me for many years.
You stood in the glow of the porch light with right side of your face cut open from temple to chin. The blood that soaked your face and clothes was a vivid indicator that you were in trouble. I have never seen that much blood in real life.
I admit to you now that my first instinct was to run… and I followed it. I pivoted and flew up the stairs towards my husband... your voice, a veil of dispair calling for help behind me. I admit, I only wanted to get away from you. And frankly, I wanted you to go away. Because I was afraid of what you brought to my door.
My husband acted promptly, finding the phone and calling 911. As you continued to call to us for help, we tried to reassure you that it was on the way. With 911 on the line, my husband relayed pertinent data, pausing only to grab my arm and say “do not open the door, we don’t know who else is out there”. I think that is the hardest instinct to ignore. Once you move past the fear and the blood, it is horrific to stand and watch someone suffer and not offer comfort.
After you stopped knocking, I went to the window to check on you. The last thing I expected was to see you laying spread eagle on my sidewalk. In hind sight, I should have expected it given your blood loss but I don’t have enough experience at these situations. I had no idea how much blood you had lost before arriving on our porch....
I ran upstairs to look out the window overlooking the front yard, knowing that I should be able to see rescue coming. My husband and I looked at each other with the same thoughts; they should have been here by now. You weren’t moving and finally we had no choice but to call again. Thank goodness we did, because they had the wrong address. They had used Place instead of Street.
Time felt surreal as we watched you roll from the sidewalk to the street in pain, no longer responding to us as we reassured you that help was on the way. It seemed forever until we saw the lights from the police car. We called down to the police officers and they said to bring towels.
I walked toward you with my puppy in one arm and the towels in the other. In the stark overhead of the streetlight, I could see that you only had one eye open, and you were shaking. The police officer put the towel under your head and you and I looked at each other up close for the first time. They continued to ask you questions as I sat quietly next to you. Finally they walked away to speak to each other and you said “I’m sorry I scared you”. I told you I was sorry I couldn’t come out and help you, but that I didn’t know if it was safe. In the eerie light, I could see your gums and the bones of your jaw while you spoke, your skin falling back toward your ear. I tried to focus on what I would want to know in that condition. I told you that the medics should be there any minute. After a brief moment you asked me “how is it? Is it ugly?” I responded in the only way I could. “You’re going to be fine. I know there’s a lot of blood, but you’re okay”.
The medics arrived then and my husband and I stood back and kept watch, our illusion of security and safety long gone.
All I can think of is what we both gained and lost last night.
I feel for you, so young… to lose your sense of self and how you perceived yourself as a man and invincible in the world. I grieve that at your age, you will go through the rest of your life with that scar to remind you of your loss of innocence and your unexpected vulnerability. I think how awful it is for you to lose your trust in fellow man so early. I hope that you gain wisdom and a knowledge of who you truly are.
For myself, I gained the knowledge that as much as we detach in our urban life, I’m still capable of both terror and compassion. What I have lost is my ability to understand how we can do these things to each other. When I think of those men that did this to you, I am saddened that they are going down a path that offers so few options… and I don’t understand the anger or powerlessness that would allow them to live with their actions or brag about them to others. Perhaps it is knowing that they could just as easily be the victim the following evening.
The worst part is the lack of safety. As the night closes around us, will we have another bloodied victim pushed out of a car in front of our house? When we wash the blood off our porch and sidewalk, will we quit seeing you? I don’t know how to detach from this. Perhaps time?
Although we will never see each other again, we'll both be affected by the deeds done that night. And even though I'm not the one with the scar to remind me, I want to assure you that I will not forget.