It is a warm and sunny afternoon in Georgetown. Knots of tourists, shoppers and neighborhood folks crowd the narrow sidewalks along Wisconsin Avenue. My Wonderful Friend and I have just finished our most delicious gelato treats. We are on our way to Restaurant Gal Daughter’s workplace to pick her up at quitting time. We get there at precisely 3 p.m., chat with her boss, say goodbye and head for my battered car, which is parked nearby. We laugh at the drips of gelato we only now notice are splattered across the fronts of our T-shirts. We point at and pet the myriad dogs strolling with their owners. We dodge tiny children scampering ahead of their parents as they leave a tucked-away playground.
Indeed, it is a lovely summer day in D.C.
I know better than to try and make my way down the main thoroughfares, as congested as they are bound to be. I navigate a block off Wisconsin Avenue down a side street that is lined with multi-million-dollar townhouses painted in colonial yellows and greens and blues, with perfect curtains and handsome plantation shutters gracing their windows. Window boxes spill forth with petunias and geraniums and trailing vines, a riot of color and texture. All is neat and beautiful and oozing history here. Oh, to live in such a place.
As we wait at a three-way stop sign, I notice a young man, nicely dressed in a polo shirt and khaki shorts, standing on the sidewalk. A young couple is staring up the block at him, and for a second I stare at them. When I look back at him, I watch as two other men, dressed in white T-shirts and baggy jeans, jostle this young man. Wait, are they pushing him into the street? Is he on his knees? Oh, they’re running away, fast.
I later learn from RG Daughter, although I don’t really remember, that I am saying aloud, “Hey, what’s going on up there? What’s that all about? Hey! Oh my gosh, I think that guy was just pick-pocketed. Oh, God, he looks hurt.”
The couple on the corner is staring, doing nothing else. I watch as the victim staggers to his feet and stumbles to a car stopped in front of us. He talks to the driver through an open window, but the car speeds off, and the victim weaves his way back to the sidewalk, holding his hand to his ear.
For one split second, I consider jumping out of my car and running after the assholes who have hurt this guy. Not for one second does it occur to me to stay in my car and follow them. I pull up next to the young man. “Do you need me to call 911?” I ask him.
“I think the other people are, but they drove off,” he says, taking his hand away from his ear and staring at it, as if it doesn’t belong to him, because it is dripping in blood.
I pull over.
RG Daughter immediately hops out as she digs through her purse for her cell, and she calls 911. She is calm and assured as she describes exactly where we are and how we saw someone being assaulted, and he is with us and he is bleeding. Yes, she tells the dispatcher, he is conscious and able to speak.
I later learn, that as I was semi-considering running after the thugs, RG Daughter had pressed her foot hard into the passenger’s side floorboard, willing the car to speed up and chase the bad guys, if only she could. When I pulled over, she told me afterward, she knew she had to get out of the car to call 911, because, she said, she was “that” close to following the bad guys in my car, even as she thought to herself, “No f—-ing way!”
I grab some McDonalds napkins from my glove compartment and hand them to my Wonderful Friend who hands them to the injured young man. “I cannot believe this,” he is muttering, over and over. He is still somewhat surprised by the blood now staining his shirt and shorts, in neat dots all over the place. His forearm and the top of his left ear are the source of this bright red pattern that is now splattered across his shirt and shorts, and I wonder how so much blood can come from an ear wound. His face is rapidly loosing color, and it is now taking on a yellowish ashen hue.
A woman suddenly appears on the sidewalk next to us, and she says she lives “right there,” and she takes the victim by the arm and walks him into her house to give him some water. At this precise moment, RG Daughter is being told by the dispatcher, “Don’t give him anything. Wait until the paramedics get there.” Oh well.
We hear the sirens within a minute or two, and we are happy that the response is so quick. We figure we will be on our way just as soon as we know he is in capable hands, that he is really okay.
And just as suddenly, police cars are everywhere, yellow tape is stretched across the intersection, traffic is stopped and diverted, and one officer in particular asks for my ID as he scribbles down my name, address, and phone number. A fire truck arrives, as does an ambulance. The victim is sitting on the front steps of the nice lady’s house, as pale as ever, his ear continuing to drip blood.
A handsome young couple is now on the sidewalk with us, too. Their eyes are bright. They are excited, but in a somber kind of way. “They caught two of them,” says the beautiful young woman.
“Oh, fantastic!” I exclaim, because I figured the dumb-ass bad-guy losers were wandering M Street, ready to pounce on someone else. “How do you know?”
“We followed them in our car,” she says.
“He drove,” she smiles at her significant other, “And I was on the phone saying to the police, ‘They’re right here, heading down this street. They just turned the corner. Now they are on this other street.’ And they caught two of them.”
The rest of that story is that this couple was in the car in front of us, the car I had seen the victim talking to. I thought they had simply driven off, all too willing to ignore this poor guy’s plight, much like the bystanders on the corner had clearly done, because the bystanders never called 911, never walked up to the young man to offer him assistance, and, in fact, never did a damn thing but watch and then disappear.
“You drove after them?” I ask, incredulous. “Oh my God, you are real heros.” I am astounded.
And she and her boyfriend describe how they were so scared they would be carjacked if the bad guys knew they were on the phone to the police the whole time they drove down the street, tailing them. I am looking at this beautiful young woman wearing extraordinary jewelry and sporting great hair and subtle, tasteful designer togs, and I marvel again to myself, ‘You actually drove after them?’
Now a detective is on the sidewalk with us, as are so many other police officers. “We want you to ID them, if you can,” he says to me, and then to the brave couple.
Here? On the street with the beautiful homes and the lush flower boxes? Right here? Right now? On this beautiful summer day? And now I am far more involved in this than I thought I would be, wanted to be.
“Stand behind this tree, I don’t want him to see you.” Oh God.
But he does see me, handcuffed and surrounded by police officers, because he looks me right in the eye from half a block away. As much as I want to, I don’t recognize him at all.
“I am sorry, not him,” I tell the detective. “The one I saw was wearing…”
“Okay. Okay. We have another one for you to ID.”
I feel like I am ruining everything. Did I really see what I thought I saw? Was I just stupid and mistaken about the details? It happened so fast, even if it did play out in ultra slow motion.
As I stand behind the tree, crushing the ground cover someone carefully planted not too long ago, and peer around the trunk, I see him. Him. HIM. The fucking asshole. I have never, ever in my life felt such a huge urge to run up to someone and slap them full on and then scream at them, “You are the biggest fucking loser, ever, you fucking idiot. What were you thinking? All for a stupid iPod? Jesus! And thanks for perpetuating a never-ending stereotype, you complete scum bag.”
Nor have I ever felt so very afraid. Because this one–the one I am able to 100 percent ID–sees me, too, handcuffed as is he is like his pal, escorted by police, from half a block away. He looks me right in the eye, too, because no tree was going to shield me from him. And he knows what I know–that everything I want to yell at him is the truth about himself, and that means he hates me with a passion I can read very clearly in his insolent expression.
This is why people don’t get involved. This is why crime happens and people walk away from it. It’s too raw, too real, and scary doesn’t even begin to cover it.
And this wasn’t even a terrible crime, as crimes go. Far worse, more heinous crimes have occurred in Georgetown. One as recently as within the past year. The only witness to that was the girl who survived, when the man she was with did not.
As walkers strolled past this scene on this beautiful summer day, they asked, “What happened?”
“A mugging,” RG Daughter took upon herself to answer anyone who asked. Everyone who asked was clearly worried that it was something more.
“Everyone okay?” to a person these passersby asked.
“Yep,” RG Daughter replied to each one. And only later would she tell me, the icy edge of fear wrapping itself around her strong voice, “I am worried about that guy. He will be afraid to walk alone for the rest of his life. How can he, without remembering this? Those guys ruined his life. Forever.”
Yeah, they probably did. Not in the most profound way, to be sure. But they surely wrecked his sense of peace to walk down a sunny residential street in Georgetown on a Saturday afternoon in summer, at a time when nothing bad is supposed to happen, until it does. And then, yes, you carry that with you, forever.
Jesus, I hate the bad guys. I really hate them. And they scare the shit out of me.