Take Back the Night
Three days ago my friend Leah invited me to march, rally, protest, support other men, women, and children who have had the night taken from them. I told her that the first Friday in April I was going to head to the Phoenix Art Museum with my favorite poet friend in tow and we were going to come up with a set list that would shake Phoenix up one last time before my friend leaves. It will also be a lovely way to celebrate my upcoming 27th birthday - poetry, marching, feeling safe in the night.
Last night at 2 in the morning my dogs started going crazy. Sage, my Labrodor, was excersizing the ferocious bark he only uses when he is truly trying to protect his space. Havok was running beside Sage with a bark I never hear come from him. I let them outside to investigate, they barked at my neighbor's fence. At 2 am I was on my back porch in underwear and barefeet, trying to coax the dogs to come back inside because none of us saw anything worthy of barking at. I didn't know at the time that there was a man on my back porch.
I went inside. I tried to go back to sleep. My friend Christan stayed the night so she could be in peaceful energy before her board exam. The plan was a healthy dinner, a good night's sleep, and then I would send her off in the morning with a cup of coffee and a brainfood breakfast. The house was quiet again for maybe 5 minutes, but then the dogs started barking again with the same intensity. This time, I grabbed the hatchet and pepperspray I have in the laundry room. Before going outside, I looked out of the living room window, without opening it. I looked to the left and saw my baby blanket. I knew I didn't leave it on the ground outside. It was on the recliner under the back porch. I studied the blanket for a moment and saw white shoes. I looked to the right and noticed shovels and rakes on the ground probably from when the person jumped my fence. I think I was more scared that someone was outside under my baby blanket, dead, than I was of someone hiding on the porch to hurt me.
I should have called the cops at that second. And what I did next wasn't smart. Maybe the adrenaline was pumping. Maybe I knew I had two dogs and a close friend in my house and I felt the urgency to protect us all. I took the hatchet outside and brought the dogs with me. I swung the hatchet (on its side) against the blanket on my porch and I will never forget how the heavy steel felt against the softness of that man's leg. At first, nothing, not even a stirring. Then he made a sound that was a sound I've heard from drunk people before when they are in that state of not being able to move because their world is spinning. He wasn't leaping to his feet, he was still against the wall.
I told Christan to call the police, we all went inside, dogs too. I saw through the window that he jumped back over my fence and started to run down the street.
I don't know why I did this because it could have been dangerous but I was pissed off. What right did he think he had to come into MY back yard while I was sleeping, while MY FAMILY was sleeping, while my home was peaceful? Who did he think he was that he could just hop my fence and wrap himself up in MY baby blanket, one knit by my grandmother's hands 26 years ago to celebrate my arrival into the world. How dare him, I kept thinking, who does he think he is. I ran outside after him, hatchet in hand, yelling, "What the hell are you doing on MY porch!?"
And he turned back and said something very clever, "Fuck you!"
Took a straight run for five houses and he turned left on Cherry Street.
The cops came. A cop came. He sauntered out of his car and up my walkway. I told him what happened and he said they would contact me if they found him. "That's it?" I asked.
"That's it," he said.
And he left. I know he couldn't sleep against my front door and make sure no one would come to hurt me....but there was something about how small it seemed to be and how scared I was that made me feel like yelling at him too. While Sheriff Joe is training his men to racially profile anyone in my state with brown skin, he is forgetting how to educate his officers to respond to distress calls, calls where people call because they fear anything is about to happen. What else could he have done last night, that 20-something cop, looking at me with baby skin and saying, "We'll follow-up with you if we need to."
But he can't answer my questions. Why was that man on my porch? Why was he against the wall next to the water heater, laying in (I'm sure he didn't know) a spider web that I believe may belong to a black widow....why did he only reach for my baby blanket to cover him, how long was he there, what did he want, if he just wanted warmth, to sleep, why didn't he walk five feet further to the futon that's on the back porch? Did he see my old bike and think it may be worth something but he was too drunk to walk further and try to throw it over the fence? Did the dogs wake up the first time because they heard the shovels being knocked over? Did he hear them and reach for the blanket and hide from us? When we went back inside, was he just fucked up and unable to remember why he was here so he passed out against the wall?
I don't know the answers to any of these questions. Maybe he saw my Tibetan prayer flags and my friend's sticker on the back of her car that references Jesus and thought it would be a safe back porch to hide out on for awhile. What was he hiding from? Why MY house?
The first Friday in April I will march, rally, hold hands with people who have experienced violence in the night - from a child afraid to fall asleep due to abusive or drunken parents fighting, for the woman who turns every three seconds while walking down an ally, for the same women who are told not to wear that skirt next time if they don't want to draw attention to themselves, for anyone who has ever been startled from sleep and into a sense of danger and uncertainty, when their flight or fight instincts either kept them hiding in the house or running outside enraged with a hatchet so that man knew that this is MINE and he has no right to it.
If it was not my baby blanket, maybe I wouldn't have ran down the walkway and yelled down the street. Maybe my heart would have raced less. But my grandmother was just buried a week ago and that is something SHE left to ME. It is mine.
The nerve of him to turn around and say, "Fuck you," to me after he violated my sacred space.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my students two years ago. She had missed class. Her house was burglarized. They stole her computer. But the worst part, she said to me, was that the man went through her underwear drawer and into the piggybank she was filling with change for her granddaughter. And she said, "To know he was in there, touching those things that are mine, touching those things I put on my body, this was worse to me than the money and things he stole. He was in my sacred space, that was mine."
I will be taking back the night the first week in Friday, because it belongs to me as it does to everyone, and no one on the planet deserves to be woken to the presence of strangers who have invaded their homes, bodies, minds; nor should they be denied their basic impulse to protect, defend, barricade themselves against what they hold to be sacred - themselves, their families, the small spaces we claim along the way as home.