Saturday, June 30, 2007

Tonight's Aikido Practice

From earlier this spring:

Though I sat in an adjacent room with a book, I was fairly certain that the muffled screams were not part of the Comedy Channel program on the television. Just after midnight, on the first relatively warm evening in a fortnight, unfriendly activity that might otherwise have remained quiet indoors and unnoticed was not contained. Opening my window did little but confirm a problem: a female voice, a male voice, back and forth, escalating in anger and volume, geometrically rising, accelerating, and culminating in a shrill female scream. And again from the low growl through the final scream, the pattern repeated.

I do not understand the language of the exchange. My thoughts wandered briefly to what might be the cause: Who did what to whom? Who said what to whom? Are they lovers? Are they friends? Are they family? Any number of paths may have lead them to this moment...

The distinct snapping sound, the impact of flesh against flesh followed nearly indistinguishably by the female' scream, shattered my casual daydream.

"Should I call the police?" asked the voice in my bed.


Again the voices rose, again with a crescendo of a punch or a slap and that same shrill scream.

There's not going to be enough time. "I'm going to take the dog and my phone. Listen at the window."

Disheveled in baggy jeans and a halfway zipped hoodie, hair a mess, dragging my heels with dog in tow, I was convinced I was a typical, nonthreatening sight rounding the bend and walking up the road, coming into their sight. In the center of the road are four people, all perhaps in their twenties; two men and two women. Circling around their collective center, I see that one man and one woman are clearly at odds, the woman's voice beginning its characteristic ascent, the man tense with a reddened face and eyes fixed in a pre-violent state. Another woman stands with the first; another man stands with the other. They seem alarmed but calm.

Cutting deeply through the center, entering as if from nowhere, a middle aged man and his dog now stand between them: "Is everything okay?"

There is a pause, whether real or imagined in the dilation of time...

"Is everything okay?"

The angry woman answers and begins to regain her composure: "Yes... everything is okay."

"I am glad everything is okay..."

In fact, it is not true: Things are not okay. The angry man is clearly on the verge of attack: The tenseness of his posture, the rhythm of his breathing, and again the eyes, they are all telling... For a moment, perhaps I am even the target...

"You have to know, we can all hear you from the end of the block, several houses away. It is so loud, the neighbors must all be worried. Certainly someone will call the police."

On my hip, beneath my sweatshirt, my own phone is pre-dialed. Perhaps my wife or any of the other neighbors had already called; there was no way to know.

"I am sorry. We are sorry. Everything is okay," repeated the woman. The man's friend turned to him and put his left hand on his right shoulder, placing the anger briefly at ease. They moved toward one side of the road and the women started toward the other.

"I am glad." Again, a notable pause...

Dragging my heels, the dog and I shuffled off slowly, remaining in their sight for an unduly long spell, not looking back. There was quiet.

Once in shadows, we turned to observe. The pair of men and the pair of women remained separate, and they remained quiet.

The dog and I quietly patrolled, moving into and out from under a streetlamp across the street, pacing slowly, as if waiting for the dog to do its business... Within five minutes or so, three patrol cars raced up to the corner---no lights, no sirens, but with clear intention. The situation was already diffused. Within a few minutes, one car and then the other two were away. The dog and I sat quietly on a berm among the trees and shadows watching for a while longer. The night returned to quiet.

I wondered whether my aikido would have been proven. Simultaneously, I also realized that it had. Still, the dichotomy of thought reveals how much more I still have to learn.

I dialed back to my bed: "Everything is okay. The dog and I are going to finish our walk."

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