She moved into the top apartment of a 1920's duplex several months ago with her teenage son. At first, I only took notice of the son walking around, cat cradled in arms, calling to his mother like a neglected toddler. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mama. Mother. Mom. He never got a response during the day, but late at night, I often heard the shrill and raised voice that proved there was some interaction between them long after the rest of us were sleeping. After a little while, I didn't see the cat anymore. After a little while longer, I didn't see the boy anymore either. After that, I started to see more of Them.
They come at regular intervals throughout the day, all day long and into the night. They come in beat-up old Jeeps and Suburbans with spinners. They come in cars with college licence plates and in cars with no license plates at all. The only thing they have in common is that they're all coming to sell or to buy the same thing. When they're coming to buy, they stay for less than a minute. In and out faster than the drive-through line at the bank. Service with a smile and quick like lightning. When they're coming to sell, it takes a little longer. My neighbor has limited currency, you see, and she only knows how to pay with one line of credit.
The neighbors whisper about her. We're all surprised and validated that we've each come to the same conclusion about her business. She either doesn't notice our whispers, or she doesn't care. Four years ago, her line of work was more common here, but the value of our houses has increased by about fifty percent since then and we're moving past the Transitional Phase of neighborhood development and have started to make way into the "Gentrified" category. Most people who owned investment properties available to rent have sold out, and where we once were pushers, pimps, prostitutes and poor, we're now professors, traders, doctors, architects and insurance salesmen. The Old Regime didn't disappear, it just moved a little to the West and to the North as neighbors demanded to have their investments protected and we started getting better police protection. My neighbor came just a little too late to be able to practice the Oldest Profession without being noticed. And so, Sunday night the neighborhood came together for the same reason neighbors have for centuries: to fight a common foe.
David and I were sitting on the porch eating supper with Jason when we saw her leaving in a cab. Gone to score, no doubt. Despite my safe and respectable suburban upbringing, I've learned a little about the culture around me. I've learned a little, both from my own empirical research and from the careful study of those around me, about the power of addiction. I know what it means to watch from the bottom of a self-dug pit while happiness blooms around you. I know this and I'm sad for this small and much used woman who inhabits a shell of a body and a rusted-out life. Everyone on this street is ready to do their part to make sure she isn't on this street for one moment longer than necessary. We're all her adversaries. Social services are good. Rehabilitation is good. Inhaling the chemical consequences of her crystal meth addiction, having her clients come to our doors by mistake, knowing that someone somewhere might just be tweaked enough to show up at her doorstep with a weapon and a score to settle makes us nervous. I don't know if there is a "Christian" way to handle this problem. I am sympathetic, even empathetic, but not so much that I can handle living next door to a full-blown, fo-sho, crack ho. This is reality laid on the line. What would Jesus do? Maybe the better question is what is Jesus doing?.
Sunday night, we noticed a battered Pontiac cruising down our street. He's looking for her, I said when he looked up at the three of us with a little more interest than ordinary. When he came speeding back up the street followed by at first four, then five, then seven police cars, a firetruck and an ambulance, we thought we had been more right than we knew. The Pontiac pulled over and an undercover police officer leaped out. For about 30 minutes, we watched our street swarm with cops and flashlights up and down the sidewalk and in the bushes behind our house and our neighbor's. No one took notice of the three of us. Other neighbors heard the noises of seven police cars, one firetruck and an ambulance and started to come out on their porches to watch. For some reason known only to God, I yelled Y'all come over, I have brownies. And they did.
Stay tuned. I'm hoping to finish this up in one more installment. Good night, Moon.