Friday, May 28, 2010

Abuse? None of Your Business


Twenty Eight Days: Day 10

I'm sitting in my apartment and staring at the screen of my laptop, trying to get an early start on my writing, when I first hear the whimpering. And the banging. It's coming from across the hall. The whimpering is punctured by tiny little barks of pain, following by a banging against the door and muttered curses. All of it loud enough to be heard through two sets of doors. I try to wall out the sound. It's none of my business. The whimpering continues. So does the banging. I move to our door and listen. The sound is louder. I cannot stand the cries of pain and I step into the hallway and knock on my neighbour's door. The whimpering stops. My neighbour, a friendly guy in his early twenties, looks askance at me.

"I heard whimpering." I say. "Everything okay?" I pause and take the leap. "Beating your dog is not acceptable."

"What? I wasn't beating her."

"I heard the whimpering and banging. Listen, I grew up working with the local humane society, and it isn't cool."

My heart is throbbing, and my skin feels weak, as if I'm drained of all energy. I don't like confrontation, though I seem to do it quite a bit. My neighbour is not aghast by my intrusion. I know what that means.

"I was hitting the ground with my hand. I would never lay a hand on my dog. I would never lay a hand on them, because it teaches them to fear your hand."

"My wife saw you hitting the dog a few weeks ago with a foam bat or something."

"What? I don't even have a bat."

The conversation is absurd, they always are in situations like this. I'm wondering what to say next. I already feel like an invader, as I've knocked on his door to ask what's going on in his apartment. Two weeks ago however, my wife had stepped around the corner and watched him beat his dog with some type of rubber or plastic bat, whaling away on the helpless animal. She'd angrily asked him what he was doing. His response was that it was his dog and he could do what he wanted. Her response was that if she saw it again she would call the Humane Society. We've heard his screaming from our apartment as well. Friendly, but with a nasty temper. Something I never would have suspected upon our first few encounters in the elevator.

He says something about it being none of my business, but it's a quiet comment. I suspect that has to do with the size disadvantage and the fact I look scary. I don't feel scary. My body feels lifeless and suddenly drained.

"Well, if you heard our cats screeching, I'd hope you'd knock on my door" I say.

I have to let him off because I haven't seen anything, and if I back him against the wall, I know who will pay the price. And it won't be me.

He mutters something and I nod and let it go and head back into our apartment. Bethany is now awake after hearing the commotion, and I tell her what happened. She shares my anger, but there is nothing we can do. I think of my neighbour's four month old puppy and feel my stomach roll. When I close my eyes I can still hear the whimpering. When it comes to abuse, I cannot tell the difference between a human or an animal, because neither understands what's happening and neither deserves it. I wander around the apartment, and Bethany lets me talk. Maybe that will help. I tell her about the first time I intervened in a situation that was none of my business.


I was in Ottawa, living alone in an older, four story building with wooden balconies. I didn't know my neighbours very well, though there were a few people I said hello to when I did my laundry. The area was fairly quiet, though it had its share of hard cases. I'd gone to bed and was just starting to fall asleep when I heard the crash of pots and pans from the apartment above me. Loud shouts and then a crash of broken glass. I lay there for another sixty seconds. My former brother-in-law had been a cop, and I knew that domestic situations were dangerous, that even cops were often reluctant to get involved. But the screaming and shouting, only slightly muffled by the ceiling between us, continued to reverberate through my apartment. When I finally couldn't stand it any more, I ripped on some clothes, hustled up the stairs and pounded on the door. The noise quieted. I pounded again. A small black man, dressed only in a pair of jockey underwear, answered the door.

"What's going on?"

"None of your business!" He said, his accent thick.

He tried to close the door but I used my forearm to keep it open and pushed it wide. The woman, also black with her hair in corn rows, looked at me, her eyes large with fear. Her arm was bleeding. I ushered her out and took her down to my apartment where she could clean up and bandage her cuts.

"Do you want to call the police?" I asked, trying to keep my voice gentle.

She shook her head. They were from Haiti, and he did not have a Visa to be in Canada. She said that he could stay the night so long as he was quiet and left the next day. I didn't like it, but it was her decision. He didn't live there, and didn't have a job. She also mentioned that she would talk to his mother, and she made it sound as though that would solve some things. Again, I didn't understand, but I walked with her upstairs.

The man was laid out casually, still in his jockeys, and flipping channels as if nothing had happened. As if he was lord and master of the apartment. I could feel the rage boiling under my skin. As always, I felt weak the first moment of confrontation, but it left quickly. How dare he sit there as if nothing had happened? I stood over him and pointed a finger in his face. I could feel the scratch in my throat. My voice was loud and sounded wrong, as if it belonged to someone else.

"I swear to God, if I hear one f****** sound coming from this f******* apartment tonight, I will come up here and tear you the f*** apart, do you understand, you little two-bit, piece of f****** dirt!"

"You can't tell me what to do, man!" He yelled. "This is my place, man! My place!"

"It's her place, you piece of sh**! And if you think I'm kidding, I will f****** throw you on your f****** ass right now!"

He glared at me, but turned back to the television. I felt the rage boil over, but managed to collect myself. I said good bye to the woman, whose name was Elizabeth, and reminded her that she could knock on my door at any time. When I got back to my apartment I felt sick. My body started shaking and I felt nauseous. I went outside to gulp deep breaths of air, and sat out on my balcony for the next few hours, unable to sleep, unable to stop asking God why people were such assholes. Why we were so awful to one another?

Six weeks later, it would happen again. Another neighbour, Stephanie, from down the hall, came pounding on my door early in the evening, clad only in her underwear and a t-shirt. She begged me to go to her apartment, and from there, I walked into hell. Her three young children, two of them naked, were playing on a dirty mattress under the careless eye of a bearded man tossing back a beer. They were both French Canadian, but spoke English well enough.

"He was choking me." Stephanie said.

"I had a few too many beers, and it wasn't for long." He said, his voice slurred.

"You did it in front of the children." She said.

I looked at the kids and then back at Stephanie.

"What do you want?" I asked her.

"I want him out."

I nodded and looked at him.

"Let's go."

Another neighbour, an older woman, had heard the commotion and joined me at Stephanie's door.

The bearded man, who was apparently the children's father, swaggered as he walked past me. A part of me wanted to throw him down the stairs, but I didn't. I escorted him outside and headed back to see if Stephanie needed any help. She said that she was fine, and once again I was back in my apartment, staring at the walls and wondering how cruel people could be.


I wish I had a better answer why people act the way they do. Christians use the word "sin", but we use it so much it has no meaning. We use the word "sin" for sex outside marriage, profanity and dancing 'lasciviously'. We also use it for rape and abuse and murder, as if it's somehow all the same. But it isn't the same. And yet I hear Christians defend this idea by saying that "sin is sin" in God's eyes. If that's the case, than God is an idiot, and I don't think He is… I just think he tolerates them better than I do.

This is also my difficulty with the idea of evolutionary consciousness, which echoes from scientism, this idea that somehow people are evolving on some linear level with the continued "progress" of civilization. I don't have a problem with evolution as a theory applied to science. Two of my best friends are Ph. D. biochemists, and as we've discussed many times (I hung in those conversations as long as I could) the theory of evolution explains a great deal. It's a great aid to understanding the processes of humanity in so many ways, and we have made a number of medical advances that have saved the lives of tens of thousands through its application. That said, it does not apply to our consciousness. Perhaps in six hundred years we will have a better scientific theory. Perhaps not. From what we read of history however, people are just as cruel as they have always been, just as broken and misguided and insensitive. Education alone is not the answer, because abuse is found in both the rich and the poor, the educated and uneducated, even as kindness is found in all situations. Can God help? Does he have the ability to help us? Can we help ourselves?

The only answer I can give is that we all know that abuse is wrong, in every form. That we need to stand against it. But what does that mean? Perhaps it means reaching out to the people around us, ensuring that we do our part, that we don't become bystanders when we witness it in the lives of others. I think back over the years to the many times that I've waded into situations of abuse. I've pulled children from their homes, fought off an angry skinhead attacking me with a golf club, reported to the authorities, and delivered threats to abusers both in person and through email. Maybe I shouldn't have intervened, and maybe I could have done so in a more productive manner. What I do know is that I still hear the whimpers, still see the fear, and know that I will never forget it.

May God grant us all such horrible visions, if only so that we make it our business.


Authour's note: I realize that I'm a bit behind in my blogging, and that I've published Day 10 ahead of Day 9, which is still being edited. As well, I may have to consolidate some days, because as the end of the novel approaches, the amount of work left continues to grow. My apologies.

Authour's note II: I included the profanity here, because frankly, when I intervene, I find it helps. Abusers take me more seriously when I use foul language. I could expound on it, and ruminate on why that is, but it isn't the point of the blog. For those of you who think that by swearing I have sinned, I guess I'll have to live with that. Somehow, I think God doesn't mind. J