I am afraid.
My wife works for a state agency that runs environmental tests for public safety. People sometimes get upset with her lab when test results don’t turn out the way they’d hoped, especially since some of them see her agency’s very existence as an example of government intrusion on personal freedom. On days when I work from home I bring our son down to visit her at lunch time. While they play, I often work on my laptop in the lobby of the State Revenue building across the street. There is a lot of foot traffic in that building, much of it irritated-looking people trying to resolve tax issues. There have been several lockdowns and evacuations in the complex since my wife has worked there, all of which have turned out to be false alarms.
I am afraid.
My son’s pre-school is on a busy intersection right downtown. His classroom has a large picture window facing out toward the street and a security door with a passcode that could be easily cracked. I work for a sizable corporation that has been struggling to adapt to the new economy. It is generally a pleasant work environment but uncertainty and tension bubble just below the surface.
I see a lot of live music. Most of the shows I see are in small, dark, crowded clubs. The bands play loud. People drink heavily. The exits could be blocked with very little effort. Our family goes out to restaurants two or three times a week. We go to grocery stores, malls, gymnastics classes, coffee shops, museums, art galleries. We spend countless hours in public spaces where people mill about and anyone could enter at any time.
I am afraid.
One night in late December I have a dream. I am waiting in line at a second-floor business, possibly a bank or a DMV. A place where the queue moves slowly and no one much wants to be there. I’m checking my phone when out of the corner of my eye I see a scowling woman unzip a duffel bag and pull out something long and thin and black. My stomach seizes and a collective gasp sweeps across the room. I glance behind me and see that I have a clear path to the exit. In a split second I decide I can do more good outside summoning help than I can inside as a hostage or god knows what. I bolt for the door and down the stairs before the woman notices.
Outside it is warm and humid. The sky is jet black, the stars obscured by the thrumming glow of the city. I turn on my phone and start to dial 911 when a cry from above makes me look up. My wife leans out of a second-floor window. She holds our son out at arm’s length. I choke, as I had no idea they were inside the building. I never would have run had I known. Before I can speak or even think, my wife thrusts the boy out into the night sky. I run to catch him but can’t get there in time. He lands on his backside on the dew-dampened lawn, miraculously unhurt if rather stunned. I race to his side and scoop him into my arms, my mind racing with half-ideas of how to rescue my wife.
Suddenly I hear someone else call my name. I look up and see one of my closest friends standing in another window holding his own young son. We lock eyes briefly before he too flings his arms outward and sends the boy soaring through the air. I hurriedly set my son down and sprint to catch the falling child, but again I am too late. The boy hits the sidewalk face down and does not move again. I stop cold in my tracks, gaping at the tiny form on the pavement. The wet thud of his impact is still reverberating in my ears when a staccato burst of sharp cracks from above splits the night.
I wake up panting, panicked, staring at my bedroom ceiling in near-paralysis.
I am afraid.
But I get up. And I go out. Because this is how we are. This is what we do.