This is not a story of heroism. There are no capes or large, commanding spot lights embracing the night sky as a city in chaos beckons its loyal protector. This is simply a recollection of an evening in which a good deed was attempted but ultimately, and sadly, poorly executed. The villain of this story is not a monster. It is laziness and second thoughts, a mask that has unfortunately become all too familiar. One evening, when driving home late from work, my wife asked me to stop at the grocery store to pick up some milk. For you married men, you know that this is a request that is instantly followed, as milk is often the lifeline of a household with children. As I was driving down highway 85, music from a band which I oddly can't recall pouring though the speakers, my attention briefly turned toward the far side of a parking lot between Cottle Rd. and Great Oaks Blvd.
What I thought I saw was a man and woman arguing, his hand seemingly gripped around the woman's throat. This seemed odd considering the beaming light above them practically announcing their tryst to neighboring individuals. It could've been anything, I thought. Did I actually catch the beginning of a violent act or a couple enfolded in a passionate kiss? After all, my eyes were only on them for mere seconds. With my exit fast approaching, I let it go and continued on to my destination. I entered the Lucky, grabbed my gallon of milk and proceeded to pay the clerk. As I did this, that image, brief as it was, kept running through my mind. I imagined standing there with my items, a projection of the image painting the wall behind me and the clerk judging me for not only forgetting to use coupons but also failing to help a fellow citizen in distress. "What the fuck was that?" I pondered.
The question lingered as I exited the parking lot, finally on my way home. A rapid kick to the gut is all it took to find my trajectory had changed, sending me careening into the left turn lane. I called my wife and informed her of the situation, bullshit or not, and that I was going back to the scene to check it out. One thing remained certain. I wasn't confident in my knowledge of their location. For as long as I've lived in San Jose and in my current home, I can be shamefully bad at directions. Not always, but often when it counts.
I turned down streets I never knew existed finding nothing but businesses and dead ends. No strange parking lot with a narrowed end near the freeway bathed in a million fucking lights. I didn't feel drunk or mentally compromised in any way but I knew this should not have been this difficult. As I made another turn, I saw a police cruiser enter the parking lot of a nearby business. I turned around and preceded to drive in its direction, eventually pulling into the lot where the cruiser stopped. As the officer spotted my approach, his car now facing my own, he slowly exited his vehicle and stood near the door.
As ours were the only two cars in the parking lot, and us possibly the only two human beings left in the world, I can imagine how odd it must have looked to find some weird dude driving toward him at 11:00pm on a Tuesday night. Caution commanded his stance as I rolled my window down. I told him what I thought I had witnessed, the validity of my report slowly discredited by the weakness of my delivery and all out storytelling. I was a fucking lunatic for all he knew. I couldn't describe the parking lot nor could I even point him in a suitable direction.
He thanked me for the crumbs I dropped him and sent me on my way. As I exited the street, I still felt the unease ballooning in my stomach. Instead of simply turning down a backstreet to go home, one I was shockingly familiar with, I decided to hop back onto Highway 85 and head in the opposite direction. Shortly into my pursuit, I located the parking lot and, to my surprise, found the couple still standing there underneath the lights, talking but now free of physical contact. I yelled to myself "Goddamnit, it was the light rail station on Cottle Rd, you dumb shit!" If music has done anything, it's seizing my complete attention.
I exited Cottle Rd. to make one last attempt to close out my investigation. I drove into the parking lot and stopped my car about fifty yards from theirs. The woman was sitting in the front seat while the man created a barricade by the door, through which she evidently could not escape. Whether or not she even wanted to was completely unknown to me. I just sat there and watched them. After a brief moment, the man slowly walked around and hopped in the driver's seat. With the stereo on mute, a rare occurrence in my car, I waited for them to exit the parking lot, which based on my current position, would require them to pass right by me. As they got closer, I pretended to talk on my cell phone, my head slightly turned to allow a glimpse of the girl's expression. My acting was phenomenal and should a nomination be considered for "best fake phone conversation" at the 2016 MTV Movie Awards, I will graciously accept.
Reacting to my vehicle's hazard lights, the man drove around me. Mid-laugh at a fake joke with my fake friend, I turned my head slightly and saw the woman crying, her hand resting over her right cheek. What was once unease quickly morphed into a ball of anxiety as I now felt even more obligated to further my pursuit. I followed them to a 76 gas station near Bill's Cafe on Cottle Rd. Gas being an actual necessity at the time, I pulled up to a pump, "actor mode" still very much intact. I watched the man leave the attendant's window, having just purchased a new pack of cigarettes. He returned to his car and waited a few minutes before slowly backing out of the spot. I returned the pump to its holster. As his car moved forward, I heard a woman's voice scream "You're fucking crazy, get me outta here!" This was followed by rampant sobs as she leapt from the car and went galloping through the parking lot.
I grabbed my phone and quickly hurried to the clerk's window, tapping repeatedly on the glass. But no one answered. At that moment, It dawned on me that I was going to have to take this guy out on my own. I weighed the possibilities. Would I have to jump on the hood of this dude's car like T.J. Hooker or Steven Seagal in Above The Law? I've watched martial arts movies before. A quick kick to the neck should do the trick. These stupid events raced through my mind as I tore the work uniform from my body and threw it in the front seat of my car.
Still sporting a black Mossimo undershirt, I raced to the scene, befuddled at the realization that, in less than a minute, she had already reunited with the guy in his car, even though in her words he was "fucking crazy." I yelled into the air as the car sped off. I returned to my car and immediately dialed 911, practicing every tailing method I've ever learned from cop shows I've seen on TV. As the dispatcher answered, I explained the situation. My heart was on a trampoline in the middle of my chest. I was pissed off, strangely excited and growing increasingly weary of the temperature of my son's milk.
I stayed three cars behind him, and in an asinine attempt to sound cool, made sure the dispatcher was aware of this. It was amateur hour on Cottle Rd. The dispatcher asked me questions as I relayed to her inch by inch my movements and current state of mind. There was a new projection displayed behind me. Only this time, it was of me saving this poor girl and pouring my son's spoiled milk over the bloody corpse of her attacker, Lou Reed's A Perfect Day playing in the background. This opportunity started to slip away from me as I got stuck at a light as his car continue on its path.
I had come to the conclusion that three cars may have been too many. Play by play hit the dispatcher's ear. As the light turned green, I noticed his car making a U-Turn at the light up ahead, now heading back toward the intersection from which we just came. I caught a glimpse of him as he passed on the other side of Santa Teresa and felt the time of my fifteen minutes slowly begin to dissolve. I made the same U-Turn and sped back toward Cottle Rd once again, this time communicating my inability to tail a vehicle like the big screen heroes.
I could no longer see his car and what I thought was him in the distance turned out to be a completely different car all together. Help was not going to come for this woman. At least not from me. I lowered my head in shame as I explained this to the dispatcher and drove around like an idiot for the next 25 minutes looking on my own for this douchebag. There was no reason for the officer to stay on the phone with me and even less of one for the officer who called me minutes later. I had provided all the assistance I could, and to my indignity, maybe of which I was probably even capable. I just didn't act fast enough. And not knowing what became of the women in that car lends only to the itch that still remains, a scar born of disruptive inaction.
Before I became a father, or even a husband, acting fast in situations like that was never easy, but it happened. I thought only of myself and the harm that could be done to my own body. Some moments ended in words, while others ended in blood. A bottle to the face will do that, as the barely recognizable scar on my forehead will tell you. But other people have entered the equation now, affected by any result. Inaction isn't always caused by responsibility. It's caused by laziness and your interpretation of it. And for alI I know, that couple is snuggled up on a couch somewhere as I write this, catching up on their Game of Thrones or reeling from last Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead. As they undress, descend on a bed while the Target bought incense masks the smell of their impending sex, I'll be hitting "post" and sharing this with all my friends. That's only fair. It's life that's not.