You may have heard: there was an accident the other night.
Only, maybe it wasn’t an accident. Maybe it was intentional. Maybe the kid meant to pull the trigger. Maybe someone mouthed off and he wanted to teach that someone a lesson. Or maybe he wanted to show off to his friend, his accomplice: I can do this too, y’know.
But for personal reasons, I want to believe it was unintentional, an error, a fluke. I want to believe that he was just a confused teenager, some wannabe gangbanger, out for his first mugging. Maybe something startled him: maybe someone was walking a new puppy, and the puppy saw his own shadow for the first time, cast by the once-gas/now-neon streetlamp, and the puppy had never seen his shadow before, and it scared him, and he barked innocently and earnestly and that bark startled the kid with the gun, and the kid didn’t mean to, he really didn’t, but he kindasorta pulled the trigger. But guns aren’t built for kindasorta, they’re fired or they’re not, and this one was fired. And the boy looked at his friend, whose eyes were wide with astonishment, and he looked at the woman, whose eyes were wide with astonishment, and the next thing he knew, he was home, and things were very, very different….
* * * * *
For the record: I didn’t know Wendy. I have plenty of friends who did, and chances are good that at some point, in some barroom, she and shared a cigarette or a beer or a story in that casual, boozy, wonderful late-night way that friendships fade in and out here. But no, I didn’t know her.
However, I am unfortunately familiar with the pain her friends are suffering: the suddenness, the need to be together, the fear of being apart, the need to memorialize. How they’ve got stories to tell about her–funny stories, sad stories–and they’re reminded about them by every other crack in the sidewalk. Oh, this one time she and I were sitting on this very stoop when her boyfriend came walking by. Oh, this one time, she and I were out too late, and we’d been at Molly’s, and Laura had served us one too many shots of tequila, and right here, on this curb…. Oh, oh, oh.
I’m also familiar with the block where the accident or non-accident occurred. I’ve traveled it a thousand times, sometimes with hounds in tow (or more often, being towed), sometimes tipsy, sometimes groggy and trying to remember where I parked, but almost always nonchalantly, never worried. In fact, the boyfriend and I had driven down that block just minutes before the accident or non-accident happened. Obviously, we will all think of it differently now….
* * * * *
Since I never knew her–never really knew her–all I can do is put myself in her position, or in the position of her friends: think, What if it had happened to me? Which is a very selfish thing to do, and completely irrelevant to Wendy or her family or her friends. But it’s how we empathize. At least, it’s how I do.
And I when I put myself in her position, I wonder: what would have happened if it were Jonno and I walking down that block, on the way to a party or to pick up a friend? Would I have kept my head down? Would I have kept quiet? What would I have done if the kid had started asking questions?
Do y’all live around here?
No, no, we’re just going to get something to eat.
Is this all y’all have?
Yes, but my bank card is right there. There’s money in the account. I won’t cancel it. You can use it.
Y’all are faggots? (Said in that curiously New Orleans way, derived from the French, which knows the answer before the question’s been asked.)
We’re just walking down the street, man. Just walking down the street.
It’s the same sort of thinking, the same sort of daydreaming that survivors of tragedies often do: What would I have done differently? What would I have done to save the ones I love? How would I tell them goodbye? In New Orleans, sometimes it’s hard not to have some survivor’s guilt, even when you have nothing to feel guilty about.
(NB, and I’m not just being Catholic here, because I’m not Catholic: Is there ever a time when we have nothing to feel guilty about?)
* * * * *
On the upside–and it’s not much of an upside–the mugger and the murderer have been caught. Well, actually they turned themselves in. Given our city’s overworked police force, that’s probably the only way they would’ve found their way to a jail cell.
So there may be some closure to this story–more than many families here and elsewhere ever get, but also more closure than Wendy’s family and friends had ever imagined or wanted.