I awoke this morning (having overslept!) to this text message:
"Big police action. My street is taped off and blocked, no one allowed in or out. I checked and SWAT killed someone down the street who was a robber. If you want to come in you can park [down the street] and give your name to the officer on the corner and he'll escort you up. How 'bout that snow?"
What? Hello?? Police??? SNOW?!!!
Honestly, I felt as if I'd overslept by 30 hours, not 30 minutes. Looking out my window, there was no snow whatsoever at my house (a mile away), and I vaguely recalled being awakened at 5am to the sound of helicopters circling overhead. What else was going on in the world, anyway, while I enjoyed my half-hour bonus snooze? Such a disconcerting feeling — that of life going on without you, a passing-by of the parade, not even having heard the clanging cymbals of the marching band.
I high-tailed it over to work, and, sure enough, the blocks surrounding Melinda's were cordoned off with police tape, and dozens of tank-like vehicles and police vans were parked askew, blocking the streets in every direction. I didn't know whether to feel more safe in their presence or more in danger!
The three officers positioned at the corner asked my name, looked at my ID, then held up the tape so I could pass under and walk up the steps to my last-day-of-the-workweek. All the action was at the other end of the block, where a suspect in a string of robberies had been shot and killed a few hours earlier; and just moments before my arrival, a second suspect had been apprehended in a house.
Not long after that, Melinda and I decided to take a stroll down the sidewalk, curious to get a closer look at the hubbub. There were mostly men, in various war-like "costumes", coming and going from the tank-like vehicles, weapons slung across their chests, flak jackets bulking-up even the slimmest of them. One cop did a face-plant on the sidewalk — gear and all — when he tripped on an uneven slab of concrete. He came up with his helmet cock-eyed and, I'm sure, embarrassed as hell, limping.
What I was interested in was in finding the human in all these cartoon-like characters parading back and forth. There was lots of important running (a` la Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible). At one point every person that passed us was stuffing a Costco muffin into his or her mouth. (Had someone sent out a Muffin Alert?)
It was eerie, surreal, not unlike something viewed on TV, which seems to be my only source of this kind of footage. But was this drama or documentary? The news or a movie? I had to repeatedly remind myself that every last one of the police personnel was a live human, in the flesh, who would return at day's end to some version of home, family, pets, lawn-mowing, vodka, meatloaf, arguments, love, sex, loneliness — every bit of every life as ordinary and wonderful and challenging and mundane as the next, and then some. Give or take a semi-automatic weapon or two.
A few hours later the investigation was finished, and the hullabaloo cleared out.
There's something oddly empowering about living in this neighborhood and not experiencing fear. I often walk to work, in any season, light or dark. I walk to the store, the coffee shop, sometimes to a bar or restaurant in the Columbia City business district. I know people who've been mugged. My car has been rummaged-through, neighbor's cars have been stolen. I could go on and on, but why?
I tried to find the name of today's robbery-suspect-victim, his age. Wondered if either of my sons went to school with him. Couldn't find it in any of the stories. Who is his mother? Where does she grieve, tonight?
Trying to see the human in both sides of this, wanting to understand the motivation to commit armed robbery and the motivation to be a cop. Both sides equally complex, and after this morning's weapons-and-costume parade, I understand even less than before.
We are infinitely complicated creatures, at once a wonder of evolution and often, seemingly, barely a step out of the primordial ooze.
All that I carry inside my skull — every memory and image, every song and snippet of verse — no more important than those the dead robber carried with him until this morning. No more important than what each of the city-gunmen, on administrative leave, holds inside his head this early spring night, under a waxing gibbous moon, 82% of full.