I knew that there was someone at the door because he was knocking. I knew that he was going to come inside because no one who knocks that hard doesn’t ever not come inside. I knew that he was going to kill us because no one ever knocks that hard. Soon the door would fly off its hinges. Then we would be dead.
Given that I knew these things and the certainty with which I knew them, it’s no wonder that I woke up screaming. I think I asked my wife, Tracy, who it was. I don’t remember what she said. Then she said that there was no knocking man, that the sound I heard was a gun. Someone had been shot to death.
We lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where we rented a two-story apartment on a street called Alamo. Our bed was on the second floor. The master bedroom’s window overlooked a narrow street, more apartments and their parking lot. We never opened the blinds because there was never anything we wanted to see outside.
Tracy crouched by the window and lifted those blinds off the sill just enough to peek through the gap. I was afraid to do the same — I was thinking about television. There’s an episode of The Wire (probably the closest thing I have to a frame of reference for violence) in which a child is accidentally killed by a stray bullet fired during a gang fight. The child is — if I remember correctly — in a second-floor apartment. The bullet flies up and through the wall, then kills him. This all happens off screen. We only see the aftermath. The child’s mother has taught him and his siblings to get low when there are gunshots, so there’s a moment when it seems possible that he’s only frightened, that he is staying low to keep safe. But that’s not it at all.
I wanted to stay low to stay safe. I wanted Tracy to stay low too. She might have stood up eventually. I don’t remember. I don’t think I did for a long time. I did kneel beside her at the window just long enough to glance at the parking lot across the street.
The police were outside and so was their rifle. I don’t think that I saw it, but I did see the police. There were two of them. Did the shooter drop his rifle? Surely not. He must have been holding it. The fact remains, I didn’t see it.
Tracy saw that the gun was an assault rifle, which explains in part my waking belief there was an angry person beating down our door. This was also the first time that I had ever heard a gun fired. I was 24 years old. I’m 27 now. I haven’t heard one since.
The other thing I saw, the thing that I am trying to remember now so I can draw a picture for you, was a jacket or a hoodie. I think it was a hoodie. I remember it as having a sort of glossy, reflective surface, like a thermal blanket. I remember its arms were spread wide, and it was face-down, so to speak, on the pavement. I can’t remember if it was orange or blue.
The police stayed and waited for other police to arrive. Tracy watched much more than I did. At some point, I came to understand that a person had been shot to death. I don’t want to write his name because I never knew him. The vast majority of news accounts would note that he was called “Lizard Man” by some of his friends because he owned and loved so many lizards. Many of these news accounts would use this nickname in their headlines. Journalism is a very dignified profession.
What I must have seen when I believed that I saw a hoodie was in fact the dead man. Though at least one account initially implied he was shirtless, it seems he was in fact wearing an orange shirt. It’s not clear to me if the shirt was long sleeved or short sleeved, but I can find no mention of a hood. I remember the hoodie as lying face down, but this must be wrong, because though he initially fell forward, court testimony indicates that the officers then demanded that he roll onto his back. (My wife heard this, though she does not recall their exact words.) He complied. Though I remember the hoodie’s arms as being spread, this can’t be right — they cuffed his hands together. Some time soon thereafter, he died.
I have tried to find a photo of the body. There is some footage aired on television, captured from another person’s second-story window, but the torso appears to be blurred, presumably to protect the viewer. Looking at footage now, wherein the body’s legs are almost discernible, I think the glossy blue material my memories sometimes attribute to the hoodie must have really been his pants, which I don’t remember at all, except in that detail.
If I could find a picture of the body now, would I finally remember what I really saw? Or would I still see the hoodie?
I’ve attended three funerals in my life so far. The first was for an aunt’s brother, a suicide. I gave her a pastel drawing of some yellow flowers because yellow was my favorite color and because I thought that it might make her feel better. That aunt is not my aunt anymore (she married into, then divorced out of the family), and I never knew her brother. I believe that the casket was closed, and in any case, I never approached it. The second funeral was for my mother’s second cousin, an old woman whom I likewise never met. The third was for a woman named Juanita. She had worked for years at the YMCA daycare that my mother managed and where I also worked for a time. She always worked in the baby room, which was exactly what it sounds like. Though I was fond of Juanita, she was the oldest person that I’d ever known, so her death was no great shock. In no case do I recall seeing the body. In the third, I may have approached the casket. If I did, I believe it was closed. I believe there was a portrait of her on its lid.
Nobody close to me has ever died, though there have been times that I believed someone I loved would die soon. So far, I’ve been wrong every time. My good luck can’t possibly hold. I expect the first death to come soon.
Here is why the police officer shot the man that died outside my window: He had a sword. The media and the court called it a “samurai” or “samurai-style” sword. Estimates of the length vary from three feet to four feet. The decision in the wrongful death suit that followed states unambiguously that it was four feet long. I don’t remember seeing the sword, though my wife says that she does. After shooting the man, the police approached his prone body and kicked the sword away from his hand. By the time I found it in myself to peek out the window, this would have already happened.