Wednesday, June 16, 2010

day 24: i developed a healthy fear of midtown

It was dark and pouring down rain, and I had just gotten home from work to the apartment I shared with my boyfriend on the corner of 39th and Wyoming, an arrangement about which my parents were none too thrilled. The parking lot behind the building was full – "fucking neighbors must be having a party again," I thought – so I parked along the curb.

As I got out of my car, a man waved from across the street and started approaching casually, as though he knew me. Because of the rain, I couldn’t tell who he was. Not wanting to be rude, I waved back. I might've said "hey" or asked him what was up.

Then he pulled out what looked like a crowbar, and I almost started laughing, skeptical of what I was seeing. "Surely he’s joking," I thought.

But without a word he raised his arm, and terror surged through my veins like ice water. I closed my eyes as cold metal pressed into the side of my neck, forcing me to the curb. He grabbed my purse and jumped into a truck that had pulled up to collect him, and the tires screeched as they sped away. The whole thing took only a few seconds.

I paced around in the rain for several minutes, unable to breathe or process what had just happened. Eventually I wandered into the convenience store across the street and called the police, who arrived several minutes later and said they couldn’t do anything, which pretty much sums up my entire relationship with the cops when I’ve actually needed their help.

For the next month or so I had my boyfriend walk me inside if I got home after dark, but soon I was back to being fearless; I was, after all, a newly-minted 21-year-old, and there were drinking establishments I needed to frequent.

Even after my car was stolen from behind my house; even after I heard reports of a blood-soaked man carrying a sawed-off shotgun roaming my neighborhood; even after I heard stories of friends being beaten, robbed and held up at gunpoint, I still didn’t process that the area of KC where I have lived for the past seven years can be a scary and dangerous place until I saw a Facebook post about a recent conviction for a 2008 murder on 42nd and Pennsylvania, only six blocks from where I live.

The 24-year-old victim had been enjoying an evening out in Westport when two teenage boys shot and killed her in her car because they needed gas money.

Similar to what I experienced when that asshole lifted the crowbar over my head, this young woman must have had a crystalline moment of horrific clarity when those boys aimed their gun at her face, and she knew they wanted to hurt her. Like me, she had been raised in a Johnson County suburb where bad things always happen to someone else somewhere else and are related only on the 10 o'clock news. Like me, she probably thought she was safe, and it's a tragedy that she - and so many others like her - was wrong.

For all its flaws, I secretly kind of love Midtown and have no plans to move. But every now and then we all need to be reminded to watch our asses, because it is a place where bad things can and do happen randomly and for the most petty reasons.

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