Behind the Wall
As I’m currently alone in the house, with the spouse away at work (an essential field, she’s a Mortician), and the offspring away to pick up some necessities resulting from yesterday’s medical appointments, more or less in the solitude imposed upon our community by the State’s decree due to the SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 outbreak, I’m listening to music, something that I rarely get to enjoy enough these days, as our television is generally on a streaming game network.
I’m listening to Tracy Chapman sing “Behind the Door”, and remembering a time in my life when I was the one who heard the screaming …
Last night I heard the screaming
Loud voices behind the wall
Another sleepless night for me
It won’t do no good to call
The police always come late
If they come at all
It happened often enough, and I had called often enough, that I, like the person in the song, knew it wouldn’t do any good to call. It wasn’t “a good neighborhood”. My neighbor wasn’t white, or rich, or any of the other social criteria that the local police used to determine “worthiness” of risking their precious time on.
Of course, that didn’t stop the city’s finest from brutally beating one of my neighbors, on a different night, right across the street from me, with me watching, looking over at me, as if I was to be next if I didn’t get back inside and just keep quiet.
As a young, bisexual person, I knew enough about Bakersfield politics at that time to do exactly that. I went inside, locked my door – not that it would have stopped them, had hey wanted to come in after me (it was a hollow-core door, one of the cheapest kind you can buy. Typical for my landlord, who put the least amount of upkeep into the set of duplexes as they could. But I wasn’t complaining about that, or much else at the time. I think the most we ever paid was $98 a month for rent, and that included utilities.) I laid down on my bed, and cried into my pillow for the young man being beaten across the street, under the lights of the Catholic Church.
We generally felt safe there, in our studio apartments. Ross, our gentle giant, had managed to terrify most of the lower level criminals shortly after moving in. Ross stood 6’6″ and was a massive man. He loved putting on a show, and would come outside sans shirt with a katana and prune the tree that stood in the courtyard between the two rows. He did this often enough that most people of ill intent would leave him alone, and by extension the rest of us as well. In reality, he had a heart of gold, and would have given you anything you asked for, or anything that he thought you needed, even when you didn’t think you did. (Ross and I were roommates in college, briefly. He died, alone in his apartment, in a different neighborhood, a few years ago, and I still mourn his loss. Pardon me while I cry for a while.)
But even Ross couldn’t protect us from the Police. And I didn’t call, especially not that night. Nor did I ever see any mention of the incident in the local newspaper, where I happened to work at the time.
And Tracy sings for us all, the ones who hear, the ones who scream, and the ones who scream no more.