We’re standing across the street from our house early on Sunday morning, surveying our grand 1/8th acre estate and discussing our yard work plans for spring. I tell Sarah I will be smarter this year and trim the hedge along the fence before it blooms. I realize that the phrase “nip it in the bud” has a real-world literal meaning. It had honestly never occurred to me before.
We watch as a woman and her son push a shopping cart along the sidewalk in front of our house. They stop and begin throwing trash from their cart into our trash barrel, which is at the end of our driveway. Sarah runs across the street to stop them. There appears to be an amicable exchange of words and the duo heads back up the street. Sarah goes inside while I watch them go. But they don’t go far. The woman hands off the boy and the shopping cart to a couple of homeless-looking people and heads back in my direction. I pretend to be doing something, I’m not sure what, as she crosses the street and walks right past me. I feel that adrenaline rush of social anxiety as I avoid eye contact. She says something to me which I don’t catch.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“Who cut the cheese?” she says. Her tone is flat and slightly malicious. She’s vaguely attractive, a pale Irish woman. But her eyes are like black pinholes, something off about them, and honestly she terrifies me. I don’t say anything and she walks away.
I hear a cry for help and look down the street. There’s a child lying in the street, and another person hunched over her. “Call 911!” I shout towards my house. I run to them, more adrenaline pumping. A young Hispanic girl is lying on her back, eyes wide, breathing shallow. A square Lego-shaped lump protrudes from the side of her neck. She is scared, awake, and absolutely still. “Is she okay?” I ask her father. He looks a little bit like the actor Luis Guzmán, except less frowny-looking.
“She’s all right. I called 911.” He is calm and in control of the situation.
“Good,” I say. “They’re coming?” I ask, which is a really stupid question.
“They’re coming,” he confirms.
“Good,” I repeat. I could do an emergency tracheotomy with a ballpoint pen if I needed to—I’ve seen that episode of M*A*S*H—but I’d rather not. I hear another cry for help. I look up and realize there is another couple further down the street. Again, one on the ground, one standing. These were the people I had heard calling for help the first time. I’d stupidly stopped at the wrong emergency. I put my hand on the father’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. They’re coming.” I run to the second couple. Adrenaline.
A Japanese woman is crouched over an overweight black man, her husband. Even in the rush of the moment, part of my brain is noting what a bizarre multicultural morning I’m having.
“Is he okay?” I ask as I kneel beside him.
“He’s not breathing,” she replies. She’s crying, her palms holding the man’s face. She’s right. He’s not breathing. I don’t know jack-squat about CPR.
“Did you call 911?”
She says something I don’t understand because of the crying, but I gather the answer is no. I check my pockets but I don’t have my phone on me, which is damned unusual, endlessly aggravating, and somehow makes me feel lost. I see her phone and keys on the street next to the man’s dead or dying body. I grab the phone. It’s not like my phone and it takes me a sec to figure out how to power it up. For the first time in my life, I’m about to hit the “emergency call” button that bypasses the security login screen on a smartphone. I feel anxious about it and there’s another rush of adrenaline real adrenaline and I wake up and it’s five fucking ten in the goddamned morning, Sunday morning.