Barefoot and sobbing: A visit from my neighbor

March 21, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 21, 2014

Author’s note: If you believe that you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-7233 or (800) 787-3224 (TTY), or visit Click here for a list of state-specific advocacy organizations and other domestic-violence resources. 

I was going over some paperwork at home Thursday at about 20 minutes to 6 p.m. when someone knocked on my door.

I went to the front door and asked who it was. Even before there was an answer, I heard labored breathing.

The person on the porch said that she was a neighbor and that she needed to borrow my telephone to call 911. She said she’d been attacked by her husband.

My door has no peephole. I went to a window and peeked out through the blinds. I saw a woman there, obviously distraught.

I pulled out my phone and dialed the emergency services line. “Hold on, I’m calling 911,” I said.

My call was answered as I pulled the door open: “911, what’s your emergency?” the operator asked.

“Hi,” I said. I handed the phone to the woman on my porch. “It’s 911,” I told her.

The woman took my iPhone and said hello to the operator. She started answering questions. Her husband had hit her and tried to strangle her. She had run across the street. I stood in my front yard; the woman (I’ll call her Tabitha) sat down on the porch. She answered the operator’s questions and tried to pull herself together.

After a few moments, I went back inside my house and filled a glass of water for Tabitha — strictly in the interests of attempting to be hospitable. I also grabbed a hand towel so she could wipe the tears and sweat from her face. I went back to the porch and handed the items to Tabitha.

Tabitha was dressed in a plain white T-shirt and what appeared to be flannel pajama pants. I noticed that she was barefoot. I hate walking around outside without shoes, but the area where my house is located is particularly bad: The ground is dotted with spiky spheroids that I gather carry seeds for sweet gum trees.

So as Tabitha continued to converse with the 911 operator, I went back inside, rooted around a closet and pulled out a duffel bag. After a moment of searching, I found a pair of flip-flops wrapped in a plastic dry-cleaning bag. I extracted the footgear — purchased, if memory serves, so I could enjoy the Atlantic Ocean in South Beach, Fla., prior to the 2011 Orange Bowl — from the bag and disposed of the plastic wrap in the kitchen garbage can. Then I exited the house and presented the flip-flops to Tabitha. She smiled gratefully.

I stood some more in the front yard, concentrating on finding a respectful distance and demeanor. An ambulance pulled up and three men emerged. Tabitha disconnected from 911 and handed the phone back to me. The paramedics began talking to and examining Tabitha. I hovered in the background. At one point, one of the paramedics asked who I was; I told him that I lived in the house and that my neighbor had come here to use my phone.

And then I stood some more, positioning myself at a spot on the driveway. Occasionally I looked around to see if anyone was approaching my house. I was particularly interested in spotting any angry-looking man who might be walking toward us from my distressed neighbor’s house. (None came.)

A police cruiser glided to a stop in a space on the curb between my car and the ambulance. One of the paramedics spoke to the officer who got out of the car. Then the officer and paramedics gathered around the woman sitting on my porch.

I stayed in my spot and kept checking the street. A second police cruiser pulled up, and the two male officers went to confer with their confederate, a woman. My house, normally occupied just by me, was now playing host to an apparent domestic-violence victim, three paramedics and three police officers.

The two officers went to my neighbor’s house to look for the man who had allegedly attempted to strangle his wife. I kept on looking their way from my spot on the driveway.

They came back after a few minutes. The man wasn’t at home; other residents of the home had given them a photograph of him and a description of what he was wearing. They drove over to Club Boulevard, where the husband had supposedly gone walking.

The paramedics packed up their gear and drove off. The first officer spoke some more with Tabitha. Then they started walking toward me. They were going back to Tabitha’s house. I hugged Tabitha and said I was sorry to meet her under these circumstances; she said she’d bring my flip-flops back, but I said that wasn’t necessary. I gave my name and phone number to the officer. They got into the officer’s cruiser and headed back up the street. About half an hour after a frightened and desperate Tabitha had come to my door, everyone was gone.

Later, I reflected that there was a faint irony in this episode. On Thursday morning, I’d gone to my doctor’s office for an annual physical. While using the bathroom to provide a urine sample, I’d noticed a poster about domestic violence with the slogan “Love doesn’t have to hurt.” I’d seen the poster before, but it had struck a chord that time for some reason I couldn’t decipher.

Domestic violence is a serious problem. According to this page on the National Domestic Violence Hotline website, intimate partner violence affects 12 million people a year in the United States. Women aged 18 through 34 experience the highest rates of intimate partner violence, and more than three-quarters of women aged 18 through 49 are repeatedly harmed by the same individual. Nationally, about one in three female homicide victims are murdered by a current or former partner.

I don’t really have a pat, original way to wrap up this post. I guess I’ll just say this: Be kind to one another, and protect those who are vulnerable.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: