SF Apartment : April 2016


Domestic Distress

by Theodore

When two people or teams engage in a competition, one 
will “beat” the other 
to become the winner. But “beating” does not always mean “winning.” 
When a husband hits his wife, there is no winner.  
To me, it has always been a despicable and cowardly act to strike a woman. As a resident manager and as a human being, these kinds of situations are not something I am comfortable dealing with—nor can I claim any education on the subject. Still, in my building, it is my door people knock on for help. That is one reason a resident manager exists: to assist those who need help. Do not take the job if you do not want to answer the door.  

In front of my door stood a crying woman holding what I knew was a one-year-old baby. Behind them, her husband was descending the main stairs of the building, screaming, “She’s a liar!” in a very loud voice.  

Give the woman a chance to say something before you condemn her, I thought, as she frantically began to explain a situation that hardly needed words at all.

At that moment the wife told me she wanted to call the police. Her phone was in one hand, while her daughter occupied the other. It was time to step forward. So I did.  

A Resident Manager’s Plea
Please do not ask me if I thought through what I was about to do. I did not. Time moved so fast at that point that I could not tell you until this day why I did what I did.  

I moved between the woman and her rapidly approaching husband. “Stop!” I yelled in my most strident voice. “Go away...Go away...” finished my message to a man now close enough to do me harm. I pointed back up the stairway. 

He stopped. He retreated. He actually went back up the stairs, all the while reminding me that his wife was not to be believed.  

What possessed me to challenge a man half my age and double my strength would have stumped even me, had I been thinking clearly enough at the time to ask myself that question. I am not a hero. Upon reflection, two things come to mind. First, he was and is a bully. Challenge a bully correctly and you gain the upper hand. Second, I pointed. Give that angry young person a clear way out of their dilemma, and they will take it.  

He took it.

For the husband, the game was really over as soon as he saw his wife on the phone. A confrontation that could only have lasted a few seconds at most was finished. I turned my attention back to the woman, who was now already speaking to the police. I couldn’t help but think that those tame and rather pathetic commands I shouted at the husband would have been more biting had I taken the time to think of a wise and clever putdown. But fortunately, I simply acted.  

The police arrived. One of them carried some kind of a rifle in addition to their usual handguns. It appears that domestic disputes, especially when one of the aggrieved parties calls it in, evoke danger as much as other scenarios. Maybe more so. They weren’t taking any chances.  

I could have told them the kind of guy they were dealing with. But they were smart enough not to ask my opinion. From where we were standing, no one could hear what the police asked the husband. But as time went on, it became obvious that the rifle they carried would not get a workout this time.  

The officers questioned the wife. She told her story at length to one of the cops. “Length” is the operative word here, because the policeman asked me for several blank sheets of paper. The wife’s story continued as the husband was led out of the building in handcuffs. Their hindrance did not prevent him from calling out that she was a liar in a loud voice. Like me, this guy needs a better script.  

The husband was gone, but the wife and their very young child remained. I would like to say this was an unusual incident. I would like to say that, but I cannot. This scenario, you see, was taking place for the second time. Approximately six months prior to this arrest, it had 
happened before.  
The First Time
Back then, the circumstances played out similarly. Frantic knocking at my door interrupted an otherwise quiet day. The wife appeared alone that first time—no child, no husband in hot pursuit—just a sobbing lady asking me to call the police. She explained that her husband had grabbed away her phone as she was trying to call for help. He threw it on the floor, and apparently broke it.   
There was not a great deal to think about. I called the cops. The story followed the same sequence of events as it would a half-year later. The police came quickly, though without a rifle. Perhaps when I reported the original incident to them I was too calm and collected. Such situations require a sense of urgency that I lacked at the time.    

The husband was contrite that first 
time they hauled him off to jail. He had 
not found his voice, yet. Give him time. The wife knew she and the baby 
had to get out of town. The first airplane she could book to the East Coast flew early the next morning. She packed what she could carry with them, then packed a few boxes that would be shipped to her sister back East and stored them with me. Most of these consisted of things for the baby. Babies, as I am sure you know, require wardrobes disproportionate to their size.  
I put the woman and the baby into an empty apartment that by luck was in the building. She was afraid her husband would return, despite a temporary injunction against his appearance at his apartment. 

Amazingly, she was right. The police let him go; no one could corroborate the wife’s story, so the District Attorney wouldn’t prosecute. The husband returned in the evening to his apartment to find me standing, by chance, in the hallway in front of his door. His wife and baby were safely tucked away in the other apartment. I told him he was not allowed in the building because a temporary injunction was in force. Without a word, he turned and left.  

The wife flew away the following morning. The boxes went soon afterward. A potentially bad story ended well. Or so 
I thought.  

A Repeating Cycle
Less than six months later I bumped into the woman and the baby in the lobby of the building. She had returned, she said, due to pressure from his family, and the desire on her part that the baby should have a father. She believed her husband had changed. He even said so. Nice words, I thought.

I waited. The property manager for the building waited. We both heard the time bomb ticking. And then, one day, it exploded in my ears as the husband screamed on the main stairs, “She’s a liar!” 

In a real sense, the story does not end here: it begins. After the second incident, no one could be certain—again—how long this guy would remain in jail. Probably one night at least, but beyond that, who knows? The wife knew from experience what she had to do. She had to get out of town. She and the baby had to put as much distance between the two of them and that man as quickly as she was able.  
True to form, the DA would not prosecute without outside testimony. No one, other than a one-year-old baby, had witnessed what happened. The husband returned after two nights. By then, the property manager and I had helped the wife and baby escape. We don’t know where they went. They took only what they were able. At the time, I do remember pointing out of the building. They left.  

“Theodore” is a resident manager with some two decades of experience. He has been a professional writer and editor for much longer than that.