It was a beautiful night, 60 degrees with some fresh, clean wind, so I walked from the office to Foggy Bottom after work. I stopped at the Washington Monument, marveling at how the needle seemed to reach up right between the stars. I stopped again along the Reflecting Pool to listen to the ducks quack and splash in the inky night water. Then I stopped once more on the GW campus, my alma mater, and watched the students, most dressed in sweatshirts and either shorts or leggings, and thought, “Full circle. They’re wearing what I wore in 1986. They just need Reeboks and flop socks.”
More than once, I thought, “What a beautiful night. What a night to be alive.”
I hopped on the Metro, got off a stop early to stop at Giant to see if they had my favorite flavor of vegan ice cream. They didn’t, but no big deal, plenty of flavors. I got four: mint chocolate chip, chocolate almond crunch, salted caramel, and peanut butter swirl. It’s supposed to be 80 degrees here on Thursday. I thought I’d sit out on the balcony with Inigo and have some ice cream. I also picked up some radishes. They’re my new favorite vegetable. The wine section has a promotion running: Buy a bottle and scan a QR code for a chance to win Caps tickets.
While I was scanning my things at the register, one of my all-time favorite songs came over the speakers, “Come and Get Your Love,” by Redbone. After I bought my scratchers and lottery tickets—come on baby, Mama needs a new pair of shoes—I put my headphones on, found the song on Spotify, and began my walk home.
It was a beautiful night.
Until a light-colored muscle car pulled up alongside a black CRV.
Until the driver of the muscle car got out, and fired five or six shots.
Until the driver got back in, gunned the engine, and raced in my direction.
Until I ran backwards, groceries bouncing off my hips, wine sloshing in my tote as I tried to make out what kind of car the shooter was driving.
Until I realized they might have seen me see them and I dove into some bushes in front of a corner house.
Until they turned the corner, slowed just long enough for me to think “if they see me, I’m dead,” before they sped out of sight, tires squealing and screeching, the sound ripping through the beautiful night air like some kind of aural acid I will never forget.
Until I crawled out, got to my feet, and ran to the next corner, where a couple of guys in their 20s had come out of the house with the chain-link fence, the house where I can always tell when they’ve had a Saturday-night party by the ping-pong balls and red plastic Solo cups strewn about the yard and picnic table on Sunday morning. They must like beer pong. They offered to let me come in.
The CRV remained, hazard lights flashing, and I asked the guys if we should see if anyone needed help. One of them called 911 and got put on hold.
A moment later, the CRV took off, hazards still flashing.
Thirty seconds later, the playground, the recycling area next to the high school baseball field, and a two-block span of my neighborhood were awash in flashing blue light. Five, six, seven police cars and SUVs.
I approached, hands in the air, grocery bags and tote sliding down my arms to thud against my ribs.
“WHERE ARE YOU GOING MA’AM?”
This, over a squad car megaphone on blast.
“I saw the shooter’s car!”
“STOP RIGHT THERE. WE’LL COME TO YOU.”
They asked questions. Taped the block off. Asked more questions. Started looking around with flashlights. Asked more questions.
Other witnesses approached. They had seen what appeared to be an altercation between two cars at a light. They described the CRV as one of the cars.
A voice came over the police radio. “Injured female in a CRV…”
“Sounds like they have the victim,” one officer said to another.
An officer gave us pens and paper, and asked us for our statements. We filled them out by the light of a squad car. We introduced ourselves. They invited me for tea. I said I would go but I have four pints of ice cream with me. Everyone laughed, and they laughed again when I showed them the wine in my tote. At the end, the officer who took my statement thanked me and said, “We’ll let you get home before the ice cream melts.”
I live in a “nice” neighborhood. We have parks, shopping, nightlife, medical buildings, a county library, a high school on the corner, trails, two Metro stops, high rents, and a sense of community.
It’s an area where people walk everywhere.
Especially on beautiful nights.
But this is how it is now. This is how this country is. Heaven help the United States, heaven help America, the Beautiful, with its beautiful nights and its beautiful playgrounds and its beautiful parks and its beautiful high schools in its beautiful “nice” neighborhoods, because we can’t seem to help ourselves.