Last fall, librarian and creative nonfiction writer Melissa Foley-King heard rapid gunfire as she was packing her lunch for work. Life on her block would never be quite the same. Warning: This essay contains tragic violence. But it also honors friendship and community.
On a Wednesday morning in October at 8:30, I was absorbed in the routine of spreading organic peanut butter and raspberry preserves on gluten-free bread when I heard what sounded like professional fireworks. Or twenty to thirty rounds from a high-caliber weapon. I crept to the front window in my slippers and disbelief, knife still in hand, to see a man in all black, wearing a black mask, run to a nondescript black car, back over the curb, and speed up our street in reverse.
Rob had taken the day off and was sleeping in for the first time in months when the shots woke him. He ran down the stairs and I told him what I saw. We went out to the front porch and our neighbor Megan and her young daughter did the same. Her daughter saw the same person get into the same car I had seen. Few other neighbors were still home, but those who were joined us. We were all unharmed.
Rob and I went back in, through our house, and out the kitchen door to see if either of our cars were hit. Megan was leaning over her deck railing about forty feet away, looking down, and said, “I didn’t know he was back here.” A man was sitting on the bottom of her steps; I could see his maroon hoodie from behind, his hood up. Megan said, “Tyler’s been shot.”
It was my second day at a new job, I was still in pajamas, and I knew the police would be swarming our street. I didn’t dress fast enough, and within minutes a cop was at our door demanding our doorbell camera footage, asking if we rent or own our home, and telling us we couldn’t leave their crime scene. Tyler was loaded onto a stretcher in our driveway, the fence between our yard and Megan’s flattened. He was conscious and talking, the EMTs explaining to him what they were doing while they administered aid. When the ambulance was gone, a single cruiser blocked our driveway and the officer stood by it with his arms folded, facing our house, while other cops trampled my flower beds and vegetable gardens, and overturned our trashcans, looking for evidence.
I called the trainer at my new job to say I would be late as I sat in my running car, a cop repeatedly leaning into my window, again demanding my identification and doorbell camera footage, telling me I couldn’t leave his crime scene. Rob, normally quiet and cool, a former EMT and firefighter, made it clear that they couldn’t have anything we could provide until they let me out of the driveway. They refused while my panic increased, my new job hanging in the balance.
Finally, realizing we wouldn’t cooperate, the cop in charge moved the cruiser. He told me to go left, where a different cop wouldn’t let me through. I turned around to go in the other direction, where a third cop yelled to the original cop, who told him to let me out. The third cop slowly and begrudgingly moved the yellow tape just enough for my car to fit. I drove to work, shaky but focused on getting safely to the library where I was training. I checked in with Rob throughout the day, asking for updates and asking if he could tell how Megan was holding up. He said there were shell casings all over our front yard and porch steps, and a bullet hole in Megan’s mailbox. It went in one side and made a clean exit out the other.
Tyler didn’t make it. He was shot in a femoral artery and–despite eleven pints of blood–died at the hospital. I felt like a jerk for how I had left that morning while a man was fatally injured.
When I got home that night, Megan was on her back deck, feeding her dog, and she seemed steady. She asked if I was okay and she told me Tyler was her nephew; she had been letting him stay with her, against her better judgment. I told her that, as insensitive as it sounded, I was grateful it wasn’t one of her sons. She thanked me for saying that and agreed. Still, I remembered, Tyler was someone’s son.
Another neighbor came home that night, accessed camera footage from the house across the street from ours, and sent it to me. It was chilling to see grainy footage of Tyler silently walking in front of our house with a white grocery bag in his hand, turning to look behind him, and starting to run as not one but two men ran after him, shooting, breaking the silence with splintering pops. One of them had already crossed the street and gotten in the car before I looked out the window. Another neighbor across the street posted on our neighborhood Facebook page that a bullet had entered her living room window after she had left for work and her oldest daughter was home alone.
I know this was an isolated incident and drug related, so I still don’t feel unsafe in my neighborhood. I often walk to the library branch where I work now, and I don’t worry about anything other than loose dogs. I am, however, heartbroken. Megan and her family were already vilified by some of our neighbors for not making repairs to her porch steps or weeding her garden, for having “too many” people living in her house. It sounded hollow when I told Megan to let us know if she needed anything, but I meant it. Other neighbors just talk about wanting to move away.
Two nights later, Rob and I had an outdoor movie night with our trivia team; a thing we do occasionally where we roast marshmallows over a little bonfire and project a movie onto our garage doors. While hanging out with our friends, we ate snacks, focused on keeping the fire going, and didn’t think twice about the shooting. When we were cleaning up, though, putting away chairs and waiting for the embers to burn out, Rob found a gnarled piece of lead: a spent bullet in our driveway.
The cops had missed it.
Melissa Foley-King is a nostalgist, librarian, and MFA candidate in the Creative Writing & Publishing Arts program at University of Baltimore. Writing is among one of the many things she enjoys, which include, but are not limited to, quilting, crocheting, gardening, playing bass and ukulele, going to punk shows, making miniatures, and overcommitting. Melissa lives in Baltimore with her husband and her pets.