The Serial Killer, Part I: The Aerie
(Note: The prompt for this three-part series is, “Today, write about a loss.” I’m not going to say overtly what the loss is, but over the course of the three posts, it should become apparent. Some of my readers my recognize parts of this series from previous writings–not on this blog–but the arrangement may put them in context.)
The night glowed black and amber from the streetlights. In a distant living room, a portly man in a white tank top sat alone watching television, all but motionless except for when he lifted a can of beer to his mouth. A few degrees to the left, and the city lights sparkled like jewels. A few degrees to the right, and two dogs had sex in a yard lit by the full, custard-colored moon a few degrees above. Fire a laser from any of these things to the lifted slat in a dark green set of venetian blinds, through the lenses in a pair of binoculars, and into an open eye, and you’re in my head.
A born observer, I map the night, checking off the things I know are normal, and note anything out of the ordinary. It’s not invasive or lascivious–rather a search for answers to the question, “What happens when no one is watching?” Under my blanket, my binoculars peeking out, I try to mask any sign of active observance. I’m twelve, but I have this kind of unobserved observation down to a science. I’ve seen things I never thought I’d see, but I still haven’t seen sex–at least between people. Not that I’m looking for it. Over the course of a few years, I’ve seen dogs and cats humping, and I saw two raccoons begin some sort of mating ritual only to be run off by an irate homeowner. I’ve also seen birds and cats catch small rodents, and watched possums and raccoons rifle through garbage cans. I’ve watched a dozen different people make late-night pasta, lift weights, do aerobics, and drink beer in front of the television. I’ve watched fights go from bad to worse, and from bad to good. I’ve watched males and females of varying ages leave for and come back from trips to the store, dog walks, and clandestine romances. I’ve watched a man sit on his front porch, smoking a pack of cigarettes and crying until stubbing the last one out on the concrete. In comparison, sex doesn’t seem that interesting because all these things are typical.
I have made a mental checklist of things that are out of the ordinary, however. A car slowly cruising down our and neighboring streets, headlights off, raises some questions. A police cruiser stopping in front of a house down the block is troubling; even in East Oakland, our neighborhood is considered fairly safe. One small kitchen grease fire, quickly extinguished, was interesting to note.
And when the power goes out–if a drunk driver takes out an electricity pole, or during summer blackouts–the dynamic changes. People who might ordinarily be asleep wake up and light candles until the power comes back on. Small animals, now shrouded in darkness, take the opportunity to move about. Larger predators follow suit.
Rarely is the noteworthy stuff happening on our street. One night however, I note a set of headlights as a pickup truck turns a corner a few blocks away. I follow it as it rolls steadily toward our street. It’s one of those extended cab deals, large enough to put a family up front and a couch in back. It turns on to our block and stops in front of the first house from the corner on the other side of the street. Out of the truck climbs a man I’ve seen before, so I begin to file the observation away under “usual,” but then two girls, maybe a year younger than I am, follow him. I know there’s a boy who lives across the street, but we don’t talk much. I make a mental note to ask him about his cute cousins. They never return, though, and the thought fades. Like the small grease fire, I write the whole thing off as a one-time observance.
Years later, home from my first year of college, blue dye still fading from my hair, I ask why the house across the street seems so empty. I’m told that the FBI showed up one day and hauled off a bunch of their possessions, and that the mother and son had moved away when the father went to prison. I didn’t even get to ask what for. Child pornography, I’m told–and not just possession. The long-stored, but not forgotten memory comes crashing back onto me, and I feel like I’m going to loose my bowels. Maybe my memory and this revelation are connected. Maybe not. The worst possible conclusion is the easiest to make, though, and it grips onto me like a vise.
Eventually, I got tired of asking myself what I could have done differently. These are those tortured moments, when we ask ourselves why we didn’t do something, anything, when we could have made a difference–why our skepticism faded away in the moment when we needed it most. So I crammed this unpleasant episode into one of those sealed mental compartments, where it ages like wine–or vinegar.