For a couple of years my husband and I rented an apartment in the city. (Ironically, just blocks away from where he lives now with his new wife, but I digress . . . ) It was in a semi-circular stone post-war building that in its hey day was probably luxury living but had since come to disrepair. If I had a few million dollars sitting around I would have bought and refurbished the whole thing, it had great bones and was located near a golf course, it just needed an overhaul. All the units were attached around a shared courtyard with the “A” apartments downstairs and the “B” apartments upstairs. We all had separate entrances but “A” and “B” apartments shared a back door. The complex had an absentee owner but it was managed by one of the tenants who lived in the “B” apartment above me.
At the time, my husband and I were child-free and I was a student, so although he had regular day-time work hours and nighttime sleep hours, I was out a good portion of the day and up a good portion of the night.
The manager/neighbor upstairs was a nice enough guy, at first. I’ll call him Kenny. Kenny’s day job was managing the complex. I soon realized that Kenny’s other day job was selling drugs. There were too many short visits, too many exchanges of small items. Yet Kenny was a “family” man. He was married to, let’s call her, Laura. They had a son, little Kenny, who at the time was about four years old. He was a really cute kid, an unusually cute kid, actually — and a real sweetheart.
A neighbor next to me used to come out and practice Tai Chi and little Kenny would just sit down and stare at her, but he was very quiet and respectful. When I sat outside with or without my dog he would visit and talk with me about life the way only a four-year-old could. His mother knew where he was and that I was cool — meaning safe. I really liked that kid, and I admit I don’t warm up to every child.
I started to cool on Big Kenny, though. I soon realized that big Kenny had another dark side, other than the illegal drug activity. My husband and I would hear he and Laura arguing, yelling, screaming. It wasn’t pretty. Actually, we would hear him yelling at Laura. The building was old and the walls were very thick and we couldn’t always make out words, but there is an unmistakable tone of voice — that sound that means somebody has lost control. Some couples are screamers, that’s the way they argue. My husband and I were no strangers to the occasional loud argument, but we could sometimes hear Laura crying and as I said, there was something about Big Kenny’s tone. Laura worked during the day so these “situations” usually happened at night.
Occasionally, I would see Laura come and go. She was a small woman, probably in her early twenties, but looked like she’d lived a century. Her hair was usually just pulled back in a short ponytail, no make-up, her eyes were sunken with dark circles. I could tell she was brought up with manners, because she always spoke nicely but she avoided eye contact and small talk and almost scurried away. Maybe she was embarrassed by the thought that I could hear how her husband treated her? I don’t know. Maybe Kenny didn’t want her making friends with the neighbors.
During the summer months big Kenny spent more time outside, not working on the apartments, of course. No, he was working on his car, listening to gangsta rap, meeting “visitors” and, as I could tell when I had to pass him, sampling some of his product.
Drug dealing is a dangerous vocation. People get angry, people get ripped off, people get paranoid. I wasn’t going to live there forever, but in the meantime, I’d keep an eye on this guy.
Kenny started to get even meaner. The late night fights with his wife escalated in intensity and frequency. My husband and I would lay in bed and hear muffled yelling. Soon we heard crashes — things got broken.
My husband and I discovered that if we made noise, it would stop. I guess once Kenny realized there might be a witness he would calm down. So my husband and I got into a habit of making noise whenever heard them fighting upstairs. We would start talking really loudly, knocking on furniture, making our dog bark, turning up the television, etc. It would usually stop. One night it got so bad I sent my husband to actually knock on their door. Of course, they didn’t answer. Still, our noise making temporarily stopped whatever was going on up there. It became a semi-regular routine.
I would see Laura from time to time. I admit I didn’t know what to say. I was much younger then, and I was a different person, up to my eyeballs in a co-dependent yet not physically abusive relationship with a man. I wish I had known how to help her better back then. The Roxanne now would have been blunt in offering help, talked about shelters, asked to drive her somewhere, anywhere. But back then I took a more passive approach by making my presence known during the fights and when I saw her, hoping she would just know that I cared, that I knew. I didn’t realize that perhaps Laura might have needed a more direct approach.
I handled many things passively back then . . . but I digress. Big Kenny was a big asshole, but he was also a drug dealer who managed my building and I was alone in my apartment a lot. I didn’t know what else to do.
One night it got really bad. There was yelling, screaming, crying, crashing and then — it sounded as if Kenny threw his wife down the stairs.
“I’m calling the police,” I said. And I did, while making a whole lot of noise. Things got quiet, suddenly, as was usually the case when we became the noisy neighbors. Whatever was happening up there had stopped, again. I just hoped Laura wasn’t injured too badly.
The police came. Kenny and Laura refused to even answer the door. Laura came to the window and told the police she was fine. The police said there was nothing they could do if the woman doesn’t complain since they didn’t witness the abuse. So all we had accomplished was stopping the fight that night — and I guess we created a record. Small victory. Now I was afraid of what big Kenny would do to her when I wasn’t around.
Big Kenny needed to have his butt kicked, big time. His very presence was pissing me off, and he had this adorable son who he didn’t deserve, and a wife who did not deserve to be treated like that.
My purposeful noise making increased, not just during the fights — but when Kenny had his visitors, whenever Kenny went in or out of the house, whenever I was home. I would go outside for no reason to let him know when I was there. I just wanted him to know I was watching him. Jerk.
Then one day, Laura was gone.
Little Kenny was gone, too. At first, I thought they were just gone for a day, a weekend, but then big Kenny seemed to be on his own. I’m suspicious by nature, I’ve been known to often suspect foul-play, it’s just where my mind usually goes, see “What Happened In My House?” but not this time, somehow I felt that Laura finally just left. At least that’s what I hoped.
Fast forward over a year later. My husband and I had since bought a house and moved out of that apartment complex. I was downtown, making my way to the train out to the suburbs. As I was walking some woman stepped right up to me and said,
“Hi, Roxanne!” She was all smiles and seemed to know me.
I had no idea who she was. I put my mind through some mental gymnastics trying to figure out how I knew this woman, since she clearly knew me — Was it law school? Had I worked with her? Was she some sort of family friend I can’t place?
I guess I hadn’t hid my confusion very well because she finally said,
“Roxanne, it’s Laura. You know, with little Kenny.”
My mouth dropped open. I couldn’t hide it. Because this woman looked gooooood. I mean, her skin was healthy, her make-up was flawless, her cheeks were plump, her hair was out and styled, she sported a cute outfit. This woman had it together. She was unrecognizable — in a good way. I never would have known it was her if she hadn’t stopped me. Never in a million years.
I had to say, “Oh my God, you look so good!”
She knew exactly what I meant and simply said,
“Thanks. I got away. “
“How’s little Kenny?”
“He’s great. We’re both great. I’m done with him [Big Kenny].” I knew exactly what she meant. “I got out.”
She told me she’d moved out of the city and was doing just fine. It showed.
I had to hug her, and I’m not a hugger by nature. I told her I’d often wondered how she was and added, “It was so good to see you.” It was heartfelt.
I had never before been so happy to run into somebody I didn’t recognize.
I think I smiled for the rest of that day, and I’m smiling as I write this.
I never saw her again. But I never worried about her again, either.
I tip my hat to Laura, “You go girl. Here’s to one that got away.”
Just Me With . . . a happy ending.
P.S. I wish I had done more to help her. Now, looking back, my mind fills with the “I should have done this, I could have done that . . . ” and Big Kenny should have done time — for something, anything. But I am just glad Laura got away. I don’t need to be the hero. Laura did it. She got away.