Breathing the shallow breath of a panic attack, my daughter called me this past week. Her car had been stolen from where she worked as a nanny. It vanished along with a little of her confidence to manage life. I’ve read that at the onset of a panic attack, putting one’s feet firmly on the ground and touching something with texture with one’s hand helps. Her breathing didn’t slow much, but she hung up after telling me she had found the police’s number. Later, I told her the theft is but another a bump in the road, a new car could be found. Besides, I was glad she wasn’t the one out stealing cars–check, headed for jail–check, life out of control–check. I went down the list and focused: Inhale. Exhale. When police found the car a few hours later, a few blocks away, presumably taken by kids out joyriding and racing, we all breathed a sigh of relief. Her anxiety was valiantly in check, and one might say that we “dodged a bullet.” She hadn’t lost it.
Before the end of the following week, her nerves would be tested again, I’d rediscover a gratitude for her strength and we’d dodge another bullet.
Not seven days after the theft, a man phoned police with the news that he had killed someone. That someone was his wife. A half dozen or more police pulled up outside the house. How do I know this? Because I woke to the sound of “M–, come out with your hands up,” calmly repeated over and over on a bullhorn. My husband turned on the police scanner app on his itouch and told me that police were watching from a neighbor’s yard. For over an hour, the man sat still at a kitchen table in the gray corner house across the street from mine.
In the meantime, I phoned a client that needed to be pinned down for an appointment time. Just another day. While on the phone, I sat on my favorite red Queen Anne’s chair near my home’s large picture window and watched as the police gathered in the street. My husband waved goodbye as he set out for work but stopped at the end of the street when he heard a swat team had been summoned. He texted me: move away from windows. Still on the phone, I moved to the kitchen where I stood sipping on my second cup of tea.
That’s when I heard it: pop! pop! Pop!! Poppoppop pop! The police had killed the man. Two people lay dead within one hundred feet of me and I hadn’t even changed out of my pjs.
Within moments, the police taped off the house and yellow ribbon criss-crossed the street. An hour later, I finally pulled on a soft pair of jeans, put my feet into a pair of cotton socks and tennies, and grabbed my purse. When I returned at 7, police cars were still blocking three roads leading to the house. Two news vans were parked down the corner. I drove by and saw a camera pointed at a woman in a vivid blue dress holding a microphone, reporting what neighbors had told her: this is a quiet neighborhood where nothing happens.
Life is surreal. As I sit writing this, I can see the windows of the home where his body and his wife body once breathed their final breath. The stain of their blood was left on the front porch, the mark of their death on a sleepy suburb street.
Their grown daughter comes to mind and I feel compassion for what she’ll face next. I hope she’ll have someone to call. Was it her father or her mother’s husband sitting there for over an hour? I can’t get him out of my head. What was he thinking? Was he remorseful? Did he contemplate all of the possibilities before him? Did he feel he had no other path open to him? How might it all gone have differently if he had picked up the phone? While sitting there, was he contemplating the final escape?
The police later claimed he had a weapon. A kitchen knife the news would reveal. A kitchen knife. He must have known that he could not come of out this alive if he walked towards them with something in his hand. Surely he knew that they had guns and all he had was this small weapon.
My family is still breathing. And talking. Sometimes I think breathing and talking is our only weapon against all that is eager to lay us flat.
I hope you and your family are breathing. And talking, too.