Just Passing By

Erin tended to mind her own business. What went on in other people’s lives and homes was their business and she certainly appreciated people staying out of her business. Anytime anyone tried to enter into her life, things pretty much went sideways and she almost always ended up regretting opening the door just that wee crack and inviting them in. So, when she drove through the upscale neighborhood that she drove through every day on her way to work, she tended to drive with blinders to anything that was not driving safety related.

Until something caught her attention – just a little something – out of the corner of her eye. She shook her head slightly and looked quickly back over her shoulder, unable to believe what she was seeing. A very large man had a hold of a child possibly no more than preschool age and was violently shaking the child, his face flushed with rage and contorted.

Erin kept driving. Probably there was nothing she could do and more than likely the child was being punished for some misbehavior that she knew nothing about. It wasn’t like man was beating the child with his fist or a stick. He wasn’t shaking an infant. And what did she know about parenting, anyhow?

But the scene stayed vividly in her mind all the way to work, playing monotonously over and over again, stuck on continuous replay. And then sped further into a gloomy, despairing future. Her mind was filled with horrifying “what if’s” and invented all sorts of possibilities, generally ending in the child’s permanent damage or death. Consequently, the day lagged and she ended up redoing several tasks over. By the end of the day, she was feeling wrung out with worry and constantly berating herself for not stopping and checking on the situation, offering to help, seeing what was wrong, seeing if the child needed protection and the adult needed a cooling off period.

Erin clocked out and hurried back to her car, nearly in tears. She would never forgive herself if anything had happened to the child, and had decided to drive slowly by the house and if the adult and child were outside, stop and chat – make up some pretext, pretend her car was having a problem or ask about a flower in their yard – anything to strike up a conversation , to just get a sense of the situation, sniff out what was perhaps – or perhaps not – going on. Erin had no idea what she would do even if what she feared were true. What did someone do in those instances?

The late afternoon sun slanted across her windshield as she drove slowly through the neighborhood. Erin’s window was rolled down, and she had the local country radio station at a low volume. She took deep, calming breaths, planning to coast to a slow stop as though her car had run out of gas. Then she could ask to use their phone to call someone to bring her gas. She was feeling pretty confident about her plan, when she rounded the final corner and gasping slammed on her brakes.

The flashing lights of an ambulance and several police cars filled her vision. Erin felt her heart stop, and gasping she pulled over to the side of the road and joined the crowd of watching neighbors.

“What happened?” she heard herself say to the woman standing next to her. “Is everyone okay?”

The woman looked fixedly at the ground and muttered, “Wife shot the husband just a little bit ago.”

“Why?” Erin asked, appalled.

“To stop him from killing their four year old,” the old woman grimly muttered.

“We’ve reported DV to the police and child abuse to CPS I don’t know how many times – but they wouldn’t believe us. I guess now they will. And that poor baby will be put into foster care with a dead daddy and a mama looking at a long prison term for murder – even if it was to protect her baby.” The old woman sighed and clutched her purse tighter, then looked suspiciously up at Erin.

“And just who are you? You don’t live around here.” The accusatory glare was more than Erin could bear.

“No one,” she replied, “just passing by,” and turned and walked back to her car.