Eight years is too long, but not long enough – 2008

When I came back to town in 2008, I had a couple of new neighbours.

I was half asleep on the couch waiting for a basketball game to start on the TV when I heard a car horn honking and my neighbour screaming. My upstairs neighbour and myself ran out at the same time to see my neighbour struggling to get out the passenger side of her car screaming to call 911. The first thought that crossed my mind was that she had somehow been half run over, but when I saw her bloody mouth, my instinct was to go toward her and try to help her, (pretty sure my Red Cross training said to call 911 first, but I figured the girl who lived upstairs would do that).

As I went around the passenger side of the car, her husband got out of the car, and the other neighbour who came out was talking to him, trying to calm him down. I was still half asleep, but something was wrong here.

Once it was clear the woman was okay, I remember walking toward the guy as he started to walk away. At this point the woman was screaming at him, and the other neighbour was keeping them apart. He finally got back in the car, and I backed up a few paces to get the license plate number. I remember the sound of the plastic CD cases he ran over as he backed out of the driveway and drove away. I called the 242 Cops line and gave them the information.

From what I’ve put together, The guy had dragged her out of the apartment into the car, when the woman started fighting back and screaming. He hit her and was choking her out when she bit him, which is why she had blood on her teeth when I saw her.

He was shot and killed by the Bernalillo Sheriff’s Department a few hours later.

Eight years is too long, but not long enough – 2006-2009

I’ve been living in these apartments for eight years. It’s about to end, and I can’t help but be sad.

I remember when the grandmom and her granddaughter and two grandsons first moved in to the tiny apartment next door. At first it was a lot of screaming and fighting. So I let ’em play with the soccer balls and basketballs I had. I wasn’t using them. I’ll never forget waking up one Saturday morning to the sound of the kids laughing while they played, it was a profound moment for me. It was the first time I truly knew what the term “peals of laughter” meant, and it was a good thing.

I cut the bottom out of a 5 gallon bucket and tied it to a pole for a basketball hoop. I hung up a swing. I taught the kid to skate, and built a couple of ramps (at a mere cost of one wrecked cellphone due to a collision). When it was too hot in the New Mexico sun, I strung up tarps for shade. I made a makeshift ladder to climb the neighbours’ flat roof when the soccer ball ended up there. We blew up balloons and made insanely annoying squeaky noises letting the air out, until the upstairs neighbour had a fit. We drew magic marker faces of ourselves on the balloons and hung ’em up and threw soccer balls at them till they popped. We danced silly jigs, sang silly songs. We put long boards across the roofs of my cars and walked back and forth, trying to scare each other into falling off. We put the boards across a boulder for a makeshift see-saw. The kid learned to climb the tree by propping the board up against it and climbing the board. The kid learned how to pick up and let down (slowly!) weight with a block and pulley, learned to tie a bowline and clove hitch, learned crane hand signals. Anything I could think of to teach, I tried to teach.

When I first met her, the kid was two years behind in school. I pulled out the whiteboard, and taught her the alphabet and counting. I made arithmetic flash cards. Her grandmom and a former neighbour worked with her on her reading exercises. When I came back into town last January, the first thing she did was come out and proudly show me her last 3 perfect test scores.

When her grandmom was having trouble with her running all over the neighbourhood, I told her that it wasn’t a joke that sometimes kids get abducted. It happened to me when I was younger than she was. I think she understood.

Many afternoons, I would be met at the curb when I would get dropped off from a job. That ranks right up there with waking up to hearing the kids laughing, as far as profound moments goes.

And through all of this, in the back of my mind, I was hoping that somehow, I was making a difference. I’ve known plenty of people who’ve gone down poorly chosen paths. I know that a kid being raised in her situation has a lot of odds stacked against her.

As I sit here and write this, within days of having to leave the place that has been my home for the last eight years, alls that I can do is hope that it was enough.