being neighborly

At 2:20 last night I lay awake in bed listening to a woman lose her mind.

I heard her huge, gaspy sobs. I heard her running up and down the street and, it sounded like, into and out of the intersection by our corner lot. I heard a group of men—at least three of them—make catcalls at her and swoop in for a closer confrontation than seemed advisable. I prepared to grab the fire extinguisher, bark a warning to my husband (he’d try to stop me, if he knew beforehand, and probably get himself hurt), and launch myself into the front yard at this point, because even if this lady was tripping on the bath salts those guys in the South were on, I’d rather have my face eaten off than know I sat safe and warm in my bed and just listened as someone got raped. But before the men got much closer the woman howled and did something and the men took off screaming “crazy bitch!”

It continued for ten minutes. She alternated between sobbing and screaming, the only part of which I could make out was “LET ME IN!” At one point a single male, perhaps in his thirties and perhaps in a vehicle but probably walking, asked her “Are you okay?” Like the last encounter, this one occurred right in front of our house, and as much as you can trust tones of voice heard through a bedroom window (perhaps not much?) he seemed genuinely concerned. “I’m fine!” snarled the woman, and the exchange ended. 

I think she ran away, eventually. I don’t think she made it into the halfway house two doors down from us, which is where I assume she was trying to go. I don’t know if she was actually locked out or imagining it, since some of her later demands of the night were along the lines of “LEAVE ME ALONE!” and there wasn’t a soul out there. 

“Are you awake?” I asked the darkness at one point, when she had run off to the far side of the intersection.


“Do you think she’s actually locked out?”

“Maybe.” We listened to her keening from across the street. “I haven’t heard anything yet that you can call for help for though.”

Paramedics are always at that house. At least once a week. But there’s also a lot of meltdowns that occur over there that don’t involve paramedics, and I don’t know where they draw the line. At one point she did scream that she was going to kill herself, and I think you could probably call based on that. Maybe my husband was asleep for that part. I listened when cars passed, to see if she was throwing herself in front of them, at which point yes, you’ve got to do something. Had I been less sleep-fuzzed in my thinking, maybe that would have dawned on me. Maybe the threat is enough. But the fits that occur at the house nearby tend to run their course, and my concern was less for her psychotic or drug-induced episode than for the advantage other people might take of her in the state she was in. 

I probably should have called someone.

I was remembering, too, how in Infinite Jest, there’s a strike system, and if you lose your shit too many times; if the authorities get called on your behalf too many times, you’re out. Your chance at redemption is gone. And there is no way the people in that halfway house couldn’t hear her raging out there. Absolutely no way. So if they weren’t letting her in, there had to be a reason. There’s always someone in charge—someone on duty—and if they weren’t calling someone, or acknowledging her in any way, there had to be a reason.

Maybe I am just telling myself this to feel less guilty.

I hope if there were drugs in her they left her system, or that she got the meds she needed if she needed them. Listening to her, I thought of all the solipsistic moaning I did in Japan, and all the people I know here who talk about having it rough, and thought, we don’t know the first thing about it. Not the first goddamn thing.


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