I am guilty of this, oh yes I am.

And it seems life has been sending me lessons lately, in the form of a family who lives on the floor above me.

Thinking back, their noises were some of the first I came to recognize after I moved in. The little girl chattering to her mom as they did laundry, the sounds of a family coming into a building.

The dad was one of the first people I actually talked to. He was outside fiddling with his old car, and we bonded when I shared that not only was my truck 13 years old, I loved it and hoped that I’d be able to keep it running for another 13 years. I’d see him once in a while after that, sometimes reading on the steps near the back of the complex, right near my patio, sometimes out doing stuff with his car. I kept thinking that I should invite them over sometime, just for something casual like drinks on the patio. I didn’t do anything about it, though, it was just a vague thought.

Last week I was woken up by the sound of someone pounding on their door, and sobbing. Half awake, I hoped it would just stop. But it didn’t. Fretting, I peered out my peep hole, seeing the quiet door to my next door neighbor, and nothing else. Annoyed that I’d have to involve myself in this situation, knowing full well that I wished I’d slept through it, knowing that I’d have ignored it if I’d been able to fall back asleep, I emerged from my condo and went up the half flight of stairs with no clue what I’d find.

What I found was C, the 7 year old girl. Sobbing, scared, hysterical. She’d accidently locked herself out of the condo. She’d been pounding on the door, but her parents weren’t hearing her. I heard her, in that odd quirk of condo hallways and traveling noises, I’d been woken up by the sound that her parents couldn’t hear inside their condo.

She knew her mom’s cell phone number, so I grabbed my phone and we called her mom’s phone. Her mom didn’t answer. We could hear the phone ringing, but it was left to charge in the living room, and wasn’t loud enough for her mom to hear inside the bedroom. I was stumped and desperately wanted to go back to sleep. Another neighbor came out to see what was going on. She knew the dad’s cell phone number, but he didn’t answer his phone either.

“Let’s knock on the windows,” the neighbor suggested. Brilliant. We got some tennis balls, but when we figured out which room was the bedroom, it was reachable from the ground. C’s mom woke up immedately when S knocked on the window. Problem solved.

I met the entire family a couple days later, and we had a good laugh about it all. C knows the landline number now (and I have it programmed in my cell), just in case. Not that she’ll ever chance it again, I’m sure. But we’re prepared now.

Today I was on my way from the recycling bin to my truck so I could head to the library and run some errands. I saw the little boy, all of 4 years old, walking towards the pool. He seemed to know where he was going. I kept going towards my truck, before it struck me that he was alone. And he is 4. And though there was someone at the pool, it was not his mom or dad. And he is 4. And damn it…

I called his name, and he came right back around the corner. “Are you supposed to be out here?” I asked him. What do I know of kids? But I know he can’t get back into the condo building without a key, and his parents weren’t to be seen. And he is 4.

He explained, in that mystifyingly confusing way that kids do, that his parents weren’t home, but I didn’t think he was quite right, because despite C getting locked out of the condo, these are really involved parents. And C is only 7. They’re not leaving the kids alone to go off somewhere, and their cars were in the lot in any case.

I told him that I thought he’d better go back in the condo (“do you have keys to my condo?” he asked with something that was close to awe), and he came along willingly enough. Pretty much as soon as I unlocked the main door to the condo, his dad came out of their condo, looking like he just woke up from a nap, and his little sister came up from downstairs, where she and her mom had been doing laundry.

I don’t think these kids were in any kind of real danger in either case, though I have no idea where the little boy was heading. Chances are they’d have realized in the next couple of minutes that he’d gone missing and they would have found him quickly enough. No harm, no foul.

All I know is that in both cases I had a strong reluctance to getting involved. It doesn’t say much for me that I would have ignored C’s sobbing if I could have, and I would have been extremely happy to hear a door opening before I went up there myself, just so I wouldn’t have had to deal with it. I was quicker to act with the little boy, but it was far from my initial reaction, and on some level I had to talk myself into it.

It is so easy to say “none of my business”, but what does that mean in the face of a sobbing child?

I read a book recently about abused women. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there is no abuse in this family I live near, it is just the “none of my business” attitude that I find so easy and comforting, the culture of non-involvement that is encouraged in this society…it is that which made me want to ignore the sobbing of a 7 year old girl, the perhaps dangerous wanderings of a 4 year old boy, and which must contribute to abusers’ ability to get away with their abuse.

A few months ago I got sick cramps. I left work too late, and I’m still not sure how I survived the car ride home. I had to pull over at one point, and hope to get sick, or die, or something, so I could make it the rest of the way home. I pulled over in a church parking lot, ignoring the sign that warned me that the lot was for church business only. I figured dying might as well be their business, and anyway wasn’t part of christianity something about helping the sick? I was sick. So I pulled in the lot. I couldn’t throw up, I couldn’t die. I just wanted to do both. A church meeting let out, and people went out to their cars, giving me furtive looks. Dirty looks. Not one single person approached, and I do not kid myself into thinking that I was acting normal. I’m quite sure they wondered if they should call the cops, probably thought I was on drugs or … or who knows.

So much for counting on the good church people to help me!

I would have been embarassed if they had tried. But I could have killed someone as I drove. I was not safe behind the wheel, and I knew it.

Community is fractured in this society. All of my stories are symptoms of that, in my mind. I can only control my own actions, create community from the fractured bits surrounding me.

I’ll have the family with 7 year old C and 4 year old O over sometime soon for casual hanging out on the patio. I’m not sure the kids will enjoy it, such an adult-oriented evening, but they can at least play on the grass around my patio, with the parents right there to watch. And we can socialize, and a small piece of community will be formed.

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