April 21st, 2008
In my early 20s, I blind dated a man who, upon seeing a tiny puppy yanked mercilessly on its leash by a teen-ager, jumped up from our shared frozen yogurt to confront the kid.
We’d watched the dog yelp for a few seconds and I, not wanting to make a scene, said nothing, while my date took matters into his own hands and ran after the guy to tell him his behavior was unacceptable.
I remember being impressed, it wasn’t often I saw people react in Los Angeles, and to be sure, I was one of them; not much acknowledging what went on around me.
I see those shows occasionally on TV, the “What Would You Do?” kind of thing, where certain scenarios are put in place — an adult caregiver beats his elderly charge — and the television cameras wait to see if passerby will speak up and do the right thing. I’m often saddened by the number of people who walk on by, and cheered by the occasional do-gooder who steps up and says something.
I’ve often wondered what I would do in these situations and I like to think I’d say something, too, but some recent events gave me pause, where I lingered between “should I or shouldn’t I? and am ashamed to say I ultimately did nothing.
Just yesterday, I took my girls to our local park, and after about 30 minutes, the place cleared and it was just us and another small family. I looked up from the slide to see two teen-agers hanging out by the water fountain, one talking loudly into his cell phone. Both looked about 14 and scruffy, but what got me was their clothes: they were obviously from a gang.
I tried to play it cool and be forward-thinking and all that. Just because they’re wearing gang colors and baggy jeans doesn’t make them gang bangers, but their close proximity made me nervous. The one on the phone shouted into the receiver, obviously agitated. The other paced, and shot nervous glances our way.
After a few seconds, I heard the kid on the phone say, “Shoot,” and “Had to,” and “No choice.” At this, my ears telescoped to his conversation and I heard him yell quite clearly, “You need to pick us up! They’re looking for us!” Then: “They’re coming for us!”
He said this, quite a few more times, louder and with curses, obviously not caring there were children 20 feet from him. At this point, I’m envisioning a low-rider gang car, speakers blaring indecipherable music, coming to a screech at the park sidewalk, inside occupants shooting indiscriminately (I’ve seen Law & Order, my friends).
Well, I say to the other mom there, “I think we should leave.” Now, a big part of me didn’t want to wuss out, but I have children and like I said, I’ve seen enough crime shows to know where this could be headed.
She nodded, and right when we alerted the kids to gather their stuff, the two teen-agers drifted further away from us. Soon, they were walking down the sidewalk, and one of them, the poor kid, looked ready to melt with fear.
So, I think I should have done something here. Call the police? Let them know what I heard? Maybe I could have saved somebody. I checked the news last night and today to see if there were any gang shootings, but sadly, that probably just doesn’t make the news anymore: it’s too commonplace.
I hate that I did nothing, and I hate that I wonder if there were anything I could have done. For it’s better to err on the side of “yes.” But I chickened out, didn’t want to burden the police with so few details, such little information, no direction on where the kids might be.
The same sort of thing happened with two similar circumstances earlier this year.
In one, as I entered my neighborhood grocery store, I saw a man lounging against a pillar, staring at a toddler strapped in a stroller in front of him. The toddler was noisy, screaming, asking to get out. The man just stood there, one hand holding a paper bag. Now, I know that somehow these two — the baby and the man — were connected. Seemed to me that this guy was watching the boy while his girlfriend or whoever shopped inside. But something bothered me about how upset the toddler was, and the man’s apathy. So I walked over and I asked him what was up.
“I’m his dad.” he said in a monotone. “His mom is inside.”
(Ooookay. Why are you acting so un-dad-like then?) I asked him again. He avoided my questions and acted irritated with my presence. And guess what? I gave up. I felt self conscious and bothersome and like a worrywart and then I went inside the store. I didn’t tell security or store personnel or anyone. And I wonder about that kid all the time.
Then, just last month, The Rock and I waited at a red light, watching a woman holding her baby, crossing the street. Something rang my alarm bell with the way she walked, and jerked and twitched with the baby. She held the baby as an afterthought, and her arms barely circled the little girl, who ricketed and rocked with her mom’s each step. If I had to guess, her mom was jacked up. On drugs, on grief, on booze, on something. She stared blankly, eyes looking into the vague distance, scarcely aware of her child or her own feet.
I watched her walk into the Salvation Army Thrift Shop and I sorely wanted to follow her inside. Keep an eye on her, survey the situation, something. But? I didn’t. What if my imagination had the better of me? I often look glassy-eyed and zombie-esque with my kids… But my gut, my gut told me otherwise. And I didn’t follow up on it.
I hope most people aren’t me. But I suspect they are.
I postulate that some of my hesitation is uniquely female: I don’t want to be a burden, a problem. I’d rather not raise a false alarm and feel stupid. I don’t want to be perceived as bitchy, naggy, persistent. So I keep quiet. And I sincerely hope that no harm was done by my inaction. Because I’d rather be a load of bitchy than have someone suffer for my hesitation.