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The residue of terror

Its swift, sudden onslaught freezes the will; its lingering shades darken the imagination.


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 9, 2002

Its swift, sudden onslaught freezes the will; its lingering shades darken the imagination.

The fireworks sound ominous, like war. Happy New Year, New Century, New Millennium. Gunshot, cannonade and pounding. Roman candles and cherry bombs. The low and constant rumbling of an engine: somebody's car, parked amid the swales of long grass on the point across the water from our house, casts its beams and shadows.

Toward midnight, the crackershot, car horns and yelling voices escalate. From the point, not 100 yards away, I hear a woman screech, "Get the f-- off of me!" and "Get out of here!" I hear a man roar, "Rape?! We're not even going to go there!" They're yelling at the top of their lungs, as if to be heard above the din. As if to say, Please, somebody, prevent what is about to happen.

I hear the slam and bounce of a body against a car door. Her head? And then, moments later, the sobbing wail. I am dialing 911, too late already, too late. My husband, his hearing impaired by army artillery long ago, does not hear the rape. I guess he does not quite believe it. I've got the bedroom light on, pacing, pacing, pacing. I spot a police car on the wrong side of the inlet, dial 911 again, try to give directions. But I don't know my neighbors, I don't know the number or the street.

All quiet. No more fireworks, no yelling, just cold, starry peace. I cannot sleep, of course. Why was that engine rumbling, rumbling, rumbling? Why didn't anyone turn it off?

I sleep with the windows closed and the A/C on. For months afterward I cannot abide the daytime shrieks of the neighborhood children, far away, beyond my ability to distinguish attack from play. I prick my ears at odd hours. My vulnerable ears. They cannot help what they hear, what they have to process. It is not so good to have sensitive ears.

Fifteen years ago, my college friend Anita was raped in her home while I was at church. The coincidence does not resolve, will never resolve. Years later, I heard a rape, the shouts and growls echoing in the courtyard from below, in New York City. I panicked, rushed out into the bustling street to find a cop -- there was always a cop -- but no, no, there was none. I ran back up to my room, then out again. I couldn't bear to be there, to hear it, to be unable to do anything about it. Dial 911? And say what? That I don't know the number of their building, much less of their apartment?

My old roommate told me recently that one of them shot the other one. Some days I imagine that the man shot the woman. Other days (still) I imagine that the woman shot the man. It is not a triumph for the woman; it is despair, as when the car blasts off the cliff at the end of Thelma & Louise.

I watched the towers go down. It was hardly real: It was on TV. I could do nothing but watch. They didn't show the dying. I couldn't hear the screaming. Later I read that some chose to leap, faced with fire. Some chose to hold hands.

- Melanie Hubbard is a writer in Ruskin.

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