I write fantasy. I love writers of urban folklore like Charles de Lint and Emma Bull. I have fun reading Kelley Armstrong. I enjoy adventures by Daniel Jose Older and feel the spirit of Octavia Butler. I hope to follow in their footsteps.
But, sometimes, the real world gets to me and I get… feelings. And sometimes these feelings come out in stories. Now, I wasn’t sure if I would ever share these stories on my blog, but I was sure I wouldn’t share them first. These types of stories are not my forte and not my “brand”.
Then this week happened. And, between hearing the cries of children in distress and listening to people make excuses for it, I just said “fuck it”. So I, humbly, present….
Photo by JÉSHOOTS on Pexels.com
I’d decided to work on the presentation at a coffee shop. Both the idea and the presentation were mine, but my boss would get the credit. I’d hoped a spiced chai latte would wash away the bad taste of that. It didn’t. I also needed an apple cinnamon muffin. My boss, Jerry, promised me a promotion- again. The last two times came to nothing, so his words did nothing to mitigate my anger at the injustice of it all. But what could I do? That was the way in Silicon Valley. The ability of people to hear you depends on what’s between your legs. A penis meant your voice was a magical megaphone that made everything you say sound brilliant, even an announcement you had to take a shit. A vagina meant your voice was a magical modulator that made it a whisper, no matter how loud you screamed, and nothing uttered was good enough. If you created an app that detected cancer instantly, you’d have to filter it through the shit-announcing guy for it to be considered a money-maker. I continued to work while my mind whirled with rage but took a break when I typed so hard my fingers almost went through the keyboard. I took a few moments to practice deep breathing exercises and soon the noise in my head was drowned out by the whir of the espresso machine, the buzz of conversation, and the soft beats of chill electronic dance music in the background.
I opened my eyes, saw my cup was empty, and decided a refill was in order. I got up and approached the counter. The barista had hair the color of orange sherbet with streaks of lavender. I complimented it as she made my order, thinking to myself I couldn’t do anything like that. I already wasn’t taken seriously and I had an MBA and wore skirts to my knees. But at her age and working at a coffee shop — she could get away with it.
The bell above the front door dinged and two black guys walked in. They looked around a minute before making a beeline for the table next to mine. My stuff was unattended so I cut my conversation with the barista short and headed back with hot beverage in hand. The guys were discussing the finer points of a recent Warriors basketball game. With a smile and nod to my new neighbors, I opened my laptop and got back to work.
My foul mood returned. I’d gotten another idea while working on the slides and knew it had to be “filtered” through Jerry for it to be heard. My body burned despite the fact of life that was sexism. I just had to breathe it in then right back out like I did the smell of garlic when I drove through Gilroy on my way to Monterey. But nothing stopped me from getting angry. My dad said I shouldn’t let it affect me, to rise above it. Usually I tried to follow his advice but I often failed — miserably. Determined to get back to the task at hand, I took a swallow of my tea to mask the bile I felt rising in my throat. I coughed and heaved from the still too-hot liquid.
Thank god for Tanisha, I thought. If it weren’t for her I’d have quit long ago instead of lasting as long as I did. She’d been with the company ten years, much longer than most of the other women, and she and Maria were the only women of color to have done so. Tanisha was a total rock star. It was like she was on a mission to help other women, a true sister. Two of the women she mentored got promotions. One became a director and another a VP, but Tanisha was still a manager. I asked her about that, once, and she seemed to hint that her race may have been something of a factor. I couldn’t believe it, though. If true, it would just be too depressing. I don’t like thinking about things like that.
I was totally grateful for her support, however. She counseled me, helped me navigate office politics, and listened to me bitch about Jerry the Jerk. She’d even encouraged me to go to HR about him. In addition to taking credit for my ideas, he was also kind of a creep. Jerry always laughed things off as a joke, but I had the feeling they weren’t jokes. But what if I was wrong? What if people thought I was being too sensitive or, worse, difficult? My ass would’ve been out the door so fast I wouldn’t have time to kiss the VP track goodbye. Honestly, I always thought her wave-making was why Tanisha never made VP, more so than any other reason. I really appreciated her efforts, but she would have gone a lot further if she’d been less supportive and more silent.
Luckily, diversity is still a hot topic in our industry and Tanisha had an idea to get our company ahead. She was going to present it at the company town hall in a week. She’d put a lot of work into it and it was great. It would definitely make my life easier and I told her I’d support it in any way I could.
But the upcoming town hall and Tanisha’s idea did nothing to help me in the coffee shop. My mood was getting worse and my productivity plummeted. The guys next to me didn’t help. They were getting excited talking about the game and seemed kind of loud to me. I kindly asked them to lower their voices. They did so with a smile of apology and a nod but they were still kind of distracting. When I asked them to lower their voices again, the skinnier one rolled his eyes but his politer friend apologized again and they lowered their voices to a whisper — which turned out to be worse. The low tone of their voices along with the hisses and hushes of whispering drove me nuts.
I tried to block them out of my mind, but that somehow made me angrier. Why should I have to suffer? Dealing with inconsiderate dude-bros at work was bad enough. I shouldn’t have to deal with the same crap during my off-hours — and pay for the privilege to boot! I may not have been able to say or do anything about Jerry, but I could definitely deal with a couple of yahoos in a coffee shop. They looked at me when I practically slammed my laptop closed.
“Look, I don’t mean to be rude,” I began, “but could you go somewhere else?” They both looked at me like I’d grown a third eye — on my chin. “I mean could you move to another table? I’m trying to get work done and you’re just too loud.”
“Man!” The skinny guy said before he snapped his mouth closed and turned away. Like he was disgusted or angry — when he had no right to be. He looked as though he wanted to tell me off, but it was the other guy who spoke.
“Look, we appreciate the fact that you’re working, Miss. That’s why we’re being quiet. In fact,” he looked around the room, “we’re being more quiet than everyone and everything else in here.”
I’d decided I didn’t like his attitude, either. As far as I was concerned, he was just as rude and dismissive as his friend. “Maybe, but they’re not the ones bothering me. You are.”
Both men’s eyebrows shot up and they looked offended. I really didn’t give a damn. The first guy spoke up again in a calm tone like I was a crazy person ready to snap. That pissed me off even more. That’s the way men always discount women.
“Look, I understand you’re trying to work. My boy and I are bein’ quiet. You need to chill.”
“And you’re in a public place, a coffee shop.” The second other guy said. I guessed he was tired of holding it in. “If you want quiet, go home or go to a library and leave us alone!”
I turned in my seat to fully face them. “I’m a customer here, just like you. I have every right to be here.” I glanced at the empty table between them. “Hell, I have more of a right to be here — at least I bought something.” I waved my hand toward the cup and crumb-sprinkled saucer on my table then pointed at theirs. They just stared at me, stone-faced.
I stood, gathered my purse and laptop lest they try and steal it, and marched up to the counter. The barista with the Muppet-colored hair smiled as I approached. I didn’t return it.
“May I help you?”
“Get your manager.” I snapped. She opened her mouth to say something but I guessed the look at my face made her think better of it. Instead she scurried toward the back and returned two minutes later with a middle-aged man with graying blond hair in tow.
“Hello, Miss. Can I help you?”
“Yes. Those two men over there,” I pointed to the two guys looking at us, “are harassing me. Please ask them to stop or leave.”
Both men shot up out of their seats.
“Whoa! Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold up a minute.” The one who gave me the most attitude spoke. “We didn’t do nothin’ to this lady. We were just sitting here talkin’ and waitin’ for our friend. In fact, she was buggin’ us.”
“That’s not true!”
“It is.” The quieter one backed up his “boy”. Typical. “She asked us to be quiet and we were. Then she asked us to be quieter and we whispered. But then she said our whispering was too loud!”
Then it was my turn to roll my eyes. “They didn’t really whisper. It was too loud. They did it wrong on purpose!”
The manager turned to the barista. “Krista, did you see anything?”
She shook her head. “No, boss. I mean I was busy but I didn’t hear them say or do anything out of the ordinary.” She gave me a strange look I couldn’t decipher. “I didn’t notice anything until she got mad. They were talking, but just like everyone else here.”
There was no sisterhood anymore. I was tired of bullshit. I whipped around back to the manager. “Look, these guys shouldn’t be allowed to harass a paying customer.” I gesture to their empty table. “They didn’t buy anything. They should leave!”
The “quiet” guy just stared at me before shaking his head and looking away, but I noticed a nerve jerk in his jaw. The loudmouth couldn’t help himself.
“Girl, forget you, you don’t own this place. We’re waiting for our friend. Leave us alone!” He waved his hand at me as if shooing away a fly. I seethed. Fuck him.
No one spoke for a long minute. The manager looked at his employee, me, the two guys, then back at me. He seemed to be making a decision. My body heated with rage as I stood there and waited for him to make up his mind. He reminded me of my boss. He was probably a manager from hell, too. Did he hit on Krista, steal her ideas for drinks, and take all the credit? He probably did. I knew the type. I figured he’d dismiss my complaint, too. He’d think I was too emotional to know what was true or what wasn’t.
Finally, he broke the silence.
“Have you ordered anything yet?” He asked the jerks.
I scoffed. Of course, dudebros gotta stick together and all that crap. I didn’t try to hide my annoyance.
Both men shook their heads, but the “calm” one spoke. “Not yet. We’re waiting for our friend.” He reached into his pocket and the manager tensed and jerked back. The guy noticed and pursed his lips, but he didn’t say anything. Instead, with a sigh, he removed his phone and checked the screen. “He’s five minutes out. We’re all going to order together.”
The manager widened his stance and crossed his arms. “Then you need to leave now.” I felt more relief than I expected.
“Calm” guy just shook his head but his loudmouth friend said, “What? Why? We didn’t do anything!”
At the same time Krista said, “They didn’t do anything”. The manager gave her a warning look. Her face turned a shade of red that clashed with the orange in her hair. “At least they’re not doing anything anyone else is doing.” She pointed at a blond guy typing on a laptop with a bottle of juice on the table the cafe didn’t sell. “Let them at least order while they wait for their friend.”
She and the manager just stared at each other until she lowered her eyes and slunk off. She mouthed “I’m sorry” to the guys then she slid her eyes to me. I didn’t know what her look meant but I didn’t like it. Women should support each other, not tear each other down. On closer inspection the woman looked no older or younger than me. My age and still a barista? She was probably jealous, I thought to myself. It was a shame we couldn’t have each other’s back.
The manager turned back to the guys. “Go now before I ban you from this cafe.”
I was indignant. “Excuse me, but these men harassed me. They’re obviously troublemakers. They should be banned anyway!”
I raised my voice. Before, our little huddle by the counter only drew the occasional curious glance. After my outburst every patron was outright gaping. Even juice guy had his ear buds out as he watched. With all eyes on him, the manager didn’t know what to do. Once again, he looked between me and the guys.
“You gentlemen are banned from his establishment. Leave now or I’ll call the cops.”
The loud one opened his mouth like he was going to argue but his friend held him back. Both men glared at me but I just smiled back. The door jingled again and a white guy came through. He smiled at the assholes but it faded as his friends shook their heads. My relief soured a little when the loud guy took out his wallet and dropped two twenties in the tip jar. He nodded to the waitress and said “Appreciate you”. She looked sad but smiled back and all three men left. They were a bunch of fucking drama queens. And who was the villain in their little play? Me! The wronged party. I wondered how the loudmouth guy could afford a $40 tip. Maybe the two of them were drug dealers and were about to do business right there in the cafe! Then it was a good thing I spoke up. My spirits lifted when the manager took the two twenties and put them in his own pocket. The barista didn’t deserve it with her bad attitude. It was probably dirty money anyway.
Despite those guys and the barista, I felt pretty good. I spoke up and, while I made some waves, things worked out. Speaking up didn’t lead to being left out. Maybe Tanisha was right. The idea would be put to the test a week and two days later at the town hall.
The company rented a movie theater and it was definitely not bad. For all the crap I put up with, the industry definitely had its perks. We had an open concession bar and the seats were comfortable. Brian, the CEO, gave a speech about what the Executive Team was doing to make our company a Best Place to Work while a PowerPoint presentation progressed on the big screen behind him.
I sat toward the front with Tanisha, Maria, and a few other women. Maria and I didn’t get along very well. Everyone called me Becca, but she insisted on calling me Becky and made it sound like an insult. I had no idea what her deal was, but we both supported Tanisha and her reforms. We all sat with five other women, a silent bulwark of support as Brian opened the floor to employee suggestions. Tanisha sat poised on the edge of her seat gripping a file folder as thick as the seat cushion chock full of printouts, laminated charts, scholarly articles, and an SD disk of her arguments in support of her new diversity initiative.
She raised her hand several times, but Brian always seemed to miss her and catch someone else. Employee suggestions ranged from having more dark rooms to more group activities outside of work. Ideas whizzed at a dizzying pace but Brian managed to keep up with all of it. Picking up a thread even when the person speaking dropped it. It was energizing and electrifying, but poor Tanisha was silent still holding her hand in the air.
People continued to shout out their thoughts but Brian said we were running out of time. That’s when Tanisha just stood up, with Maria following her lead.
“Excuse me, Brian.”
He hesitated a moment before nodding. “Go ahead, Tanisha.”
He sounded resigned and annoyed. Tanisha stiffened and her smile looked frozen her face. She turned to look at the crowd of dudes and few women who looked as annoyed our dear leader. But the heat of determination in her eyes seemed to thaw her body to the point where she could move with all the fluidity of a marionette. Maria reached out and squeezed her hand and I gave her a smile of encouragement. Tanisha took a deep breath and forged ahead.
“I’m not sure if you remember, but you told me to bring up my idea for a diversity initiative at the town hall.” She held up the folder.
For a second, it looked like Brian didn’t want to remember but he covered it with a smile.
“That’s right!” He waved to the group. “We’re going to take a bit of extra time to hear Tanisha’s idea. It’s very exciting and could be just the thing we need to make this a safe place for everyone.”
There were groans, some quiet and some not so. I frowned. If Brian knew Tanisha was supposed to present an idea, why didn’t he plan for the time? Tanisha was clearly nervous but she didn’t let it stop her. That’s why she was my hero.
She started out by mentioning how much she loved working at the company. She’d been there since the beginning when it was just Justin, the founder and former CEO, and five other employees. In those early days, Tanisha said she felt heard and part of a team. The feeling was a heady one, cementing a loyalty that has lasted more than a decade. But since its growth and re-organization, the company was in danger of losing that inclusive spirit. High turnover rates for our female and minority staff causing our beloved company to miss out on fresh voices that could help us keep our competitive edge.
“It’s time to take the temperature of the room,” she continued, “to make sure this space is comfortable for all — for the sake of all.” She nodded to Maria and another woman to distribute the booklets she prepared starting with Brian and the rest of the E-team. Brian flipped through his with a frown then motioned for the women to stop.
“Ladies, please.” He turned to Tanisha. “I appreciate your efforts ‘Nisha, but this is not the time –”
“You told me to present my idea –”
“Yes, but I didn’t expect all this. We’re out of time. We can have a meeting about this later.”
Then Tanisha frowned. “But you said you didn’t want a mee –”
“That’s enough, Tanisha!” he snapped. “Please take a seat. That’s the end of it.” Suddenly the air in the room took on the consistency of Jell-O and murmurs in the crowd became deafening. Tanisha looked both mortified and angry. I grabbed her arm and pulled her down before things got worse. Maria quickly took the seat on her other side and the woman helping her sat behind us.
Tanisha looked as crushed as my hopes of the company culture getting any better for women. I remembered what happened at the coffee shop and how the sky did not fall because I spoke up for myself. Since the cradle, I’d been taught not to make waves. To keep my head down, work, and everything would be all right. That obviously wasn’t true. I had to make things happen myself. Sure, Tanisha might be a cautionary tale — for someone else. I was not her. I was different. I stood.
“No, that’s not the end of it, Brian. At least it shouldn’t be.” I projected my voice and all eyes were on me. I took a big swallow and pressed forward. I recounted my experience at the coffee shop and what a difference it made not only on my personal psyche, but also on my work. I felt valued and respected and that increased my morale and productivity. The cafe had a customer for life because I felt safe and valued, and the encounter gave me energy to finish three presentations for Jerry (a subtle way to let Brian know who did the real work in our department) and three reports — all in the space of one afternoon.
“So you see, it’s important for employees to know they’re valued and their contributions will be respected. Just that ten-minute encounter made a difference to me. Imagine workplace morale if such treatment was every day, twelve hours a day.”
Brian blew out a breath and shook his head. “Wow, that’s a powerful story. So much insight.” He looked out over the crowd. “And this is why we have town halls. Edicts from the top down aren’t always the way. It’s important to listen to our employees. Luckily, we have great ones with great ideas. Let’s give it up for Becca!” The room exploded in applause. My cheeks were so hot they stung but I couldn’t stop smiling. I mouthed thank you to a number of people in the room. Even Jerry the Jerk gave me a thumbs up sign. I hoped that was a sign of my career trajectory as well as approval. Would he give me a raise now, too? I wondered. The applause lasted a full minute. I gave a little curtsy then sat down. I turned to Tanisha and grabbed her hand.
“We did it! It looks like Brian is going to implement your plan.” I squealed and gave her a hug. She was stiff, probably shocked, but lifted her arms to pat my shoulder. Maria didn’t say anything.
Brian continued after the applause died down. “Becca, I’d like you to spearhead this project. This is your baby!”
After what Jerry did to me, I had to speak up. “Oh. Actually, it was Tanisha’s idea –”
“It’s great she helped you Becca. Great work, ladies.” There was more applause. He looked at Tanisha and Maria. “Tanisha, Maria, I need you to support Becca on this project.” He looked at me. “Becca, let me know what you need. The success of your endeavor will be the success of this company. Our resources are at your disposal!”
Currents of excitement zipped through my body as my heart pounded. Using my voice gave me this great opportunity! “Thank you, Brian!” I managed to get out without a single shriek. I turned to my friends. “Oh, my god. This is so exciting! I can’t wait to make this happen, guys!”
Tanisha sat trembling as tears rolled down her cheeks. Maria had an arm around her shoulder and rubbed her back as she spoke softly in Spanish.
It’s a wonder I didn’t melt on the spot. “Awww, are you guys that happy?”
Tanisha turned wide eyes on me and the look in them made me lean back and shudder. “What’s wrong?”
She didn’t answer. Instead she stood up and flowed into the crowd streaming out the doors. That was the last time I ever saw her. When I looked for her later someone told me she went to her desk, typed a letter of resignation, packed her desk, and walked out. She didn’t even wait for her last check. She told HR to mail it. Shock didn’t cover what I felt. Why would she quit when what she worked so hard for was coming to pass? And how could I continue working at that place without her?
Working with Maria without Tanisha as a buffer was excruciating. She seemed to be under the impression that Tanisha quitting was my fault. And judging from the lack of response from my emails, calls, and texts, Tanisha felt the same. The whole thing pissed me off. I was working to make her idea a success and she thought I was the bad guy? I even expanded her original idea of a day-long forum to a three-day event. Brian got two other tech giants to come aboard and it quickly became one of the largest events in Silicon Valley. I’d tried to tell Brian it was Tanisha’s idea but he didn’t listen. How was that my fault? I’d begun thinking her lack of corporate upward mobility had more to do with her bad attitude rather than her race.
Things came to a head when Maria implied that I was pushing out women of color. I stamped down my irritation with the race thing. It was so divisive. Nevertheless, I patiently explained to her that one of the keynote speakers was a woman of color, I got another one to head a breakout session, and I even added a panel on women of color in STEM. It still wasn’t good enough for her. I didn’t like her attitude and wasn’t shy about saying so. I was not going to be bullied. When I expressed my frustrations to Brian he assured me I wouldn’t have to work with Maria after the event. He planned to move her to a different department and I would take Tanisha’s old job with a track to VP. Maria and I would move in different universes.
Headaches aside, the event was a success and my career was looking up. Life was finally headed in a good direction. Two years later, I was named VP of People and Culture and moved to our new headquarters in San Francisco. A year after that, I was able to afford a condo — in Oakland. It was only kind of a bummer because Oakland was rapidly changing. My condo was in an up-and-coming neighborhood and my place was already worth twice the amount I paid for it. In a few years would be worth a lot more.
The neighborhood used to be really run down and seedy but it changed, attracting more people like me who continued to enhance it. The city began spending money to improve infrastructure and the bodegas, barber shops, and check cashing places that overran the place like weeds were slowly replaced by cute boutiques, yoga studios, and yummy brunch places. Some people complain that they’re being pushed out of “their” neighborhood but I didn’t think that’s true. How could it be “pushing” when developers offered those people money when they desperately needed it? It didn’t make any sense.
One of the few who didn’t take any money was a sweet old lady named Mrs. Jackson who owned one of the few Queen Annes left in town. The house was definitely a fixer-upper, but between the strong bones and the rising home prices it would soon be worth a small fortune. I tried my best to buy it from her, with my dad’s help, but the woman refused to sell. Foolishly, she was determined to leave the house to her no-good grandson, Rufus, who came by on weekends to help her around the house, run errands, and other things.
I hated Rufus and it had nothing to do with me coveting his house. The guy was seriously rude to me just because I called his wife his “baby mama.” I was just trying to be friendly. Show I was cool. How was I supposed to know they were married? They didn’t strike me as the type. And he claimed my father’s attorneys were pressuring his grandmother into selling. When I asked my father about it he explained that his lawyers only suggested the old woman think about the future of her family when deciding to sell — or not. But those people took offense, grabbed it with both hands, really, and never let go of it.
I’d ask them to turn down their music, they ignored me. I’d ask them not to use charcoal grills for their barbecues because it was bad for the environment and they rolled their eyes. They had no sensitivity or consideration whatsoever and I was sick of it. That Sunday was the last straw.
I’d decided to make myself a special breakfast and enjoy it on my balcony. I’d had a particularly tough week at work. There was a merger and another reorg was up ahead with an E-Team not as progressive as Brian. I shuddered. I was not looking forward to Monday. I took my breakfast and coffee to the table set I had outside. The morning was perfect. It was a breezy cloudless morning and was early enough that the sun wasn’t too hot. The sounds of the wind in the trees were complimented by the pounding of joggers’ feet and Ariana Grande could be heard through a neighbor’s window. I closed my eyes and felt my shoulders relax.
But the peace was shattered by the blare of some horrible rap music. My eyes snapped open and my head whipped in the direction of the disturbance — Rufus. The man had his shirt off and was cutting Mrs. Jackson’s hedges with some shears. I shuddered as morning light glinted off his skin and the metal blades. I took a moment to steady my nerves. My voice had to stay nice and calm.
“Hi, Rufus.” I smiled and waved. He took one look at me and went back to cutting as if I didn’t speak. I was used to his rudeness but I wouldn’t respond in kind. My smile never wavered. “Would you mind using earphones? Your music is kind of loud.”
He didn’t look at me as he kept cutting but answered, “It’s no louder than that other music.”
I cleared my throat instead. Why did he always have to be difficult? I still smiled, though my lips were so tight my mouth hurt. “Yeah, I know. I probably should talk to her, too,” I conceded. “But your music is…a bit much for so early in the morning. It’s not like we’re at a house party or a club.” I laughed.
He didn’t and he stopped cutting to look at me like I was poo on his shoe but not as pleasant. I rolled my eyes because, of course, I was the wronged party. He turned away from me to shake out his gardening shears. Loose leaves and twigs fell on the lawn. He grabbed his water bottle and took a few swigs, ignoring me. I thought he was an arrogant bully. The last thing he said to me was “Whatever, Becky,” and he went right back to cutting. I went right back inside my apartment leaving my food to grow cold outside and lamenting the fact people had no idea how to behavior anymore. I called the police.
“This is Officer Kaden, how may I help you?”
“Hi, officer. I’m sorry to bother you. I’m sure you guys have more important things to worry about.”
“How can we help you, ma’am?”
“Well, it’s just that my neighbor is playing his music too loud. I asked him to turn it down but he just shook his shears at me.”
“He had scissors?”
“No, they’re bigger. Gardening shears. He –”
“He threatened you with a weapon?”
“Well…no. I wouldn’t say that. He –”
“What’s the address?”
We exchanged information and in less than ten minutes the whole thing was over. At first I smiled in satisfaction when I saw Rufus had on earbuds. Finally, I thought, he was acting decent. Then the cops came. Four squad cars came speeding up the street, all to make Rufus the Jerk turn down his music. That was the power of asking!
But things took a wrong turn. The police sped until they pulled up on the curb then screeched to a halt. But their cars were barely stopped before four cops hopped out, guns drawn, screaming at Rufus to drop his weapon. He took out his ear buds and looked around the hedge, confused. When he saw the guns, he screamed and took a step back tossing the shears to the ground in front of him. Before I could yell there was a mistake, a gunshot rang out followed by a two dozen more. I learned later that one of the cops thought Rufus was throwing the shears at them and he pulled the trigger. The others reacted in kind and in less time than it took for me to blink five times Rufus Jackson was dead.
Mrs. Jackson’s cries dove into my ears and lodged in my bones where they created an echo. Rufus’s wife ran out of the house wailing. Two cops tackled her to the ground and handcuffed her as the grandmother held a crying baby through her own tears. The street began to flood with neighbors. Some yelled at the cops while others talked amongst themselves and took video with their phones. I went back inside my condo, too stunned to take it what was going on. But later I was fine enough to give my statement to the officers who came to my door.
“I feel terrible!” I cried.
“This isn’t your fault,” one of the officers said. Officer O’Hanlon. “He didn’t comply with orders. We had no way of knowing if he was a threat or not.” He paused and exchanged a look with an African-American officer who was silent and stone-faced.
“We still don’t.” O’Hanlon was emphatic while his colleague didn’t say a word, just scribbled in his notebook.
“It wasn’t a race thing.” I blurted to him. He stopped writing. I knew I was babbling, but couldn’t stop. Racially charged police shootings were in the news. Between that and the truly awful cries of Rufus’ family right outside, I felt an inexplicable urge to explain myself.
O’Hanlon gasped. “Of course not!” He looked to his colleague to agree but he was saved by a ruckus at my front door. The elder Mrs. Jackson burst through a wall of blue uniforms.
“You killed my baby. He was all I had left!” Mrs. Jackson screamed. I swore the pictures on my wall shook from the volume of her voice. She charged at me, but the black cop held her back. “You took everything from me, you bitch!”
“Hey! Watch your voice, ma’am!” O’Hanlon barked as he took a step forward and pushed me behind him.
“She killed my boy, my family!” She wailed. Her sad eyes turned sharp as she lunged at me. The black cop grabbed her back before she got within five feet of me.
“Stay back!” O’Hanlon said as he jumped in front and pushed me behind him with a sweep of his arm.
The old woman collapsed into the black officer who wrapped an arm under her ribcage. Her sobs tore at me, gutted me. O’Hanlon looked back at me reassuringly before turning back to glare at Mrs. Jackson. “Get outta here before I charge you with trespass and obstruction!”
“The fuck?” One of the other officers said from somewhere up front. I didn’t know which one it was.
O’Hanlon turned to me. “Do you wish to press charges, Ms. Wright?”
I shook my head. The woman was sad. She was being punished enough.
“Get her out of here.” O’Hanlon commanded. The black cop guided the woman out until her cries were once again in the distance.
“You have nothing to feel bad about.”
“Your partner seemed to disagree.”
He grimaced. “Jerome’s a good guy, just a bit of a troublemaker.” O’Hanlon guided me to the couch and handed me a box of tissues I had on the coffee table. His smile was kind.
“Thank you.” Mrs. Jackson was wailing again. “I feel bad for his grandmother.”
The officers nodded. “Yeah,” one of them agreed. “I wonder where the mother is.”
Another officer shrugged. “He probably comes from a broken home. Probably raised by the grandmother.”
O’Hanlon sighed. “It’s pretty common. It’s a sad cycle. The same will probably happen with the perp’s baby mama.” He tipped his hat to me and started for the front door as another officer handed me a card.
“Now, miss, someone will probably follow up with you tomorrow. We may need more details.”
“Of course.” I paused. “What about his wife?”
His eyebrows shot up. “They were married?”
“That’s what he told me.”
He turned away slightly to speak into the radio at his shoulder. He turned back to me. “If she doesn’t calm down she’ll be arrested for obstruction and interference with a crime scene.” He thought a moment. “But we likely won’t hold her long,” he added gently.
“That’s good.” I stood up and walked him to the door. “Thank you so much for your help. I wish it could have ended differently.”
“That wasn’t up to you or me.” And with that, he was gone.
It took a few hours for the street to be cut off but not in time to block off journalists and protesters. I shook my head. Journalists just sensationalized everything to provoke protesters and boost ratings. I hoped they didn’t cause any damage and hurt property values.
I was still a little shaky after everything so I called home and told them what happened. After reassuring my parents I was fine my dad asked about the house. Would the grandmother sell with no one to help her take care of it?
“I don’t know, Dad. The guy just died a few hours ago.” I was tired.
“You’re right, sweetheart, I’m sorry.”
“I think we should wait a few weeks then have an agent contact her.” Her tears were burned in my memory. “We should definitely offer a fair price, though. No shortcuts. I’m serious!”
“Of course, honey. Though,” he sighed, “unfortunately for her, the house would be worth less with such stigma attached to it.”
“Oh, the poor woman. I bet she could use the money, too.” I frowned. “How sad.”
“Yes, it is.” We fell silent for a minute before he continued. “Becca, look. I know you’re an adult, but I’m worried about your safety. The grandmother sounds a bit… unhinged. I think you should come home to Monterey for a while. Take some time to heal from this trauma.”
That’s exactly what it felt like — trauma. Earlier, the day seemed so perfect then it all went to shit. I tried to stay strong for my parents but they couldn’t miss the sniffles.
“Oh, honey,” my mom crooned from an extension. “This isn’t your fault. You didn’t make him throw a weapon at the police!”
“He didn’t, Mom. He threw the shears on the ground.”
“Maybe he wasn’t being malicious, but it was still a poor choice on his part.” She took a deep breath. “The point is — it’s not your fault, sweetie. You didn’t shoot him.”
“I just wanted him to turn his music down!” I cried.
“I hate to say it…I mean, I don’t wish to speak ill of the dead, but it was his rudeness that set off this whole series of unfortunate events.”
I continued sniffing as I let her words wash over me. “You’re right. I’m not the bad guy!”
“Absolutely not,” my dad agreed. “Come home, Becca. Rest a while.”
“Thanks Daddy.” I paused. “That sounds good, actually. I’ll come tonight.”
“Okay, darling. I’ll let you go so you can pack. Take your time but try to leave soon so you can get here before dark. Call us when you’re on the road.”
“We love you baby.” My mother added. “Don’t feel bad about what happened. It’s not your fault.”
“Thanks, Mom. I guess you’re right.” I thought about it. “It was stupid of him to throw the shears like that. He should have slowly placed them on the ground.”
My dad agreed. “Exactly, Becca. The guy lost his head. Unfortunately, it’s his family that has to pay the price. Hopefully, they’ll learn something from this and grow.”
I smiled. “Hopefully.” I sighed and felt it deep in my bones. “Okay, gotta go pack. I’ll see you guys soon.”
The talk with my parents went a long way toward making me feel better, but it didn’t help entirely. Rufus’s death was senseless and I couldn’t help but wonder how things went sideways so quickly. A number of scenarios went through my head — if only Rufus had turned down his music when I asked, or if he didn’t have earbuds on when the cops came, or if he hadn’t hated me in the first place…. There were any number of things he could have done to prevent what happened but he did none of them. My father called it “poor choices.” Maybe it was that or maybe it was one of those things that will forever be a mystery.
© 2018 Genine Tyson