I got on my bike because I was anxious. I wore a thick navy blue sweatshirt, jeans, a wool cap, and sun glasses because it was cool but sunny. Was self-conscious about the sunglasses because they were new and had weird green and blue camo print on the wings and I always felt self-conscious when I wore something new. Because what would happen if someone thought something bad about it? And I was biking on the bike path towards the shore because it was lush and verdant and pacifying and I thought about women and work and money and worry, I usually think about that stuff. As I passed people, they seemed like bits of blur, they were blobs in the peripheral; I didn’t want to make eye contact even though I knew the glasses would hide my eyes. Somedays something hurts because it just does. It was one of those days. But also I was thinking about “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles, and how I used to sing it with an ex-girlfriend of mine because it made me feel warm when we did. Except now I felt colder because she hadn’t been there for a long time and no one else had either because. After a good twenty minutes of huffing and pedaling the lush, verdant woods broke out, opened into a big aired path on the side of the lake that lead into a nicely maintained park because sometimes Burlington is beautiful. I didn’t feel cool, but I didn’t not feel cool. I was relaxed, looking with new, maybe kickass sun glasses and a big ole beard and was about to go sit on a swinging bench on the dock of the bay here because that’s how I wanted to enjoy a day and as I hopped off my bike and my feet hit the wood of the pier and I walked over to the bench I saw two women looking past me. I looked behind me because I wanted to see what they were looking at. There was nothing. There was the park and some people play Frisbee and some other walking the paths and there was a dirt parking lot up farther, adjacent to two nicely kept brick buildings and in the parking lot were a man and another man and they looked like deer darting through the woods as they moved through the bushes because they were messing around. And then I looked and everyone else in the park was looking because maybe the men weren’t messing around. And I thought, don’t make a big deal out of it because no one likes a panicky bitch. I thought that because when I used to think things about myself I thought in a cruel way. Then I was running towards the men. I was walking fast towards the men and I was running towards the men. I was walking fast across the verdant park. I was thinking about how it takes two people, not one, to make real change. That if you ever see folks cross the street during a dicey moment it takes one to pave the way and the second to subconsciously prove to the rest of the crowd that it’s safe. I was walking fast towards the men because it wasn’t safe. I remembered a time someone I loved was in trouble and something in me made a promise to another part and it said “now you turn and do what’s right. Now you do this.” I think I did. The right thing, I don’t know if I did it.
As I fast walked towards the men the world around me seemed to be filtered through a porch screen, there was a fuzz, a film grain, or haze, and a smell of ozone and the faces of those I passed were blank and they weren’t walking. I was walking because it wasn’t safe. And there was a pop sound because one of the men was shouting “Motha F*cka’s shootin’ at me.” I saw both men and they were both black or Hispanic and they were each on one side of a black Nissan Altima that was trying to get around a big white SUV and one man was in black and the shouting man was in a teal button down shirt because they were. And as I heard the shots they were pops because I don’t know if it was a real gun. Or there was muffling, but the man in teal was dodging and weaving like it was a real gun, but I didn’t feel scared like there was a real gun there, not even as scared as I had been firing a .22 rifle at Boy Scout Camp when I was little because maybe it wasn’t a real gun. And no one was moving besides me and the men because it wasn’t safe. And I didn’t know why I was going towards them because, like people told me after, that was dumb to do, one shouldn’t do that. But I did. And the man in teal was putting his hand on the Altima to keep it from leaving and shouting, “You stupid motha f*cka! You high on pills, dude! You f*cked” and the stupid motha f*cka was still, like, thrusting his gun, or, cap gun, or pellet gun, at the other man and it was popping, but I didn’t see any bullets landing and because I was talking to emergency services and then the police and describing it all and I wondered if the cops could hear the men yelling because one of them was yelling so loud. I have been useful before. I think I have saved a life before. I have felt powerless. Entirely, totally powerless. Agency has been stripped from me. I know what it’s like to be an object.
I was describing the men to the police and they were using the phrase dark-skinned and that made sense and I kept saying Hispanic or black and then the cars took off, ripped away, right up towards North St. and when I told the cops this I was about to ask if I should stay here and wait and then they hung up. I kept waiting to hear their voice on the phone because I thought they told you what to do.
I looked around. There was no one there now. People were walking with their heads down. Despite the general noise and bustle, the afternoon was silent and still. All of it was empty. Some folks stared at me as they walked past. I don’t know why. I felt live and empty. I don’t know why. I felt homesick for something that didn’t exist.
I was going to invoke the film Blow Up as a comparison point for this bizarre mime show I unknowingly took part in, but to do so would insist I was comparing fiction to reality. I can’t do that because I don’t know that anything I saw was real. Its’ not as if it didn’t all happen, I just have no place to put it.
Some people said, “well it’s because they were probably into drugs.” “Well are their gangs there? Because that can happen” And besides the obviously ugly racist tones there, it fails to touch on the real pulse of those moments that throb outside of reality: in many ways I carry myself through the day because I have a set of assumptions that things work in specific ways. Because I do. Why? Because I do.
I biked back up to my apartment because I thought I needed to be alone. I called a friend because I needed comfort. I sat on my bed shaking because I have seen moments like this before. Or because I have been stripped of all agency by moments like this before. Or maybe because my PTSD flared up. Or because it was funny to see two men playing violent mimes in the park. Or just because. Because I haven’t learned that somethings can’t be explained. Like the madness of a moment, or the quiet lament of loneliness, or the abject misery of objectification. Just because.
I’m writing this to you because I want you to believe me that it was real enough. That it was real enough to matter.