Sunday, August 24, 2008

Leaving Normal

This piece was written for the Group Writing Project, under the August theme, "The New Normal". I couldn't resist.

A couple of months after my mom died, we saw a small, independent film called “Leaving Normal”. Surreal. Little did we know how leaving normal we really were. We were in our car, heading east out of Century City toward our little house in the ‘hood, when we heard the news: All Four Officers Acquitted in the Rodney King Beating. We joked, “Hope our house is still there.” Surreal. Little did we know how not there our home would soon be.

We walked in the door, fired up the computers, put the baby in the swing. And assumed all was normal. Until the phone rang. It was one of our clients.

Are you guys okay?

Yeah, sure. Why?

Haven’t you seen the news?

No. We hardly ever watch t.v. What’s going on?

They’re rioting. In your neighborhood.
Some guy just got pulled out of a truck and nearly beaten to death. Turn on the news. You’ll see. Let me know if you need a place to go.

Okay, thanks.

We turned on the t.v. There was our neighborhood. The small, family-owned grocery store where we shopped. The dry-cleaner. The bank. All broken, looted, going up in flames. We could smell the smoke. Looters were running up and down the street with shopping carts balancing cases of liquor, television sets, shoes, clocks, anything they could get their hands on. It was as bad looking out the window as it was on the news.

We hung blankets in all the windows, like the London blackouts. As the only caucasians on our street, we were like sitting ducks, and we didn’t want to make it easy for anyone to find us there.

We called our parents to let them know we were okay. They hadn’t seen the news yet. Jeff’s mom turned on the t.v. and when she saw all the burning and looting and rioting she started to cry.

Suddenly Jeff -- still on the phone -- started speaking in hushed tones. “We have to be quiet now, there’s a group of them coming up our driveway,” he told his mom. We waited in silence, terrified. Fearing for our lives, I tiptoed into the bedroom. I prayed out loud, pleading: Heavenly Father, I really miss my mom, but I’m not ready to see her yet. Not like this. Please help us. Save us. Please...

I have no idea how long I was on my knees. But when I went back out to the dining room where Jeff was, he said, “The strangest thing happened. That group of rioters was about halfway down the driveway, making their way toward our house, and then all of the sudden they just turned around and left.”

I have no idea what God sent to deter them, but it must have been pretty ferocious. Because fearlessness and lawlessness and heartlessness were all running rampant that night. But we were protected. We woke up the next morning to an inch of soot and ash on our cars that looked strangely like snowfall. We were able to escape to Orange County for a few days (in an urgent but clandestine trip that felt like The Sound Of Music), and when we got back, it was like coming home to Beirut. There was rubble from burned-down buildings everywhere. National Guard army tanks maintained some semblance of order in the streets day and night.

Lawlessness, fearlessness, and heartlessness became “the new normal” in that area for quite awhile. Jeff’s car was egged and run off the road a couple of times. I used to hold my breath at red lights, hoping they’d turn green before I had to stop, making me an easy target. We received violent death threats from an intoxicated neighbor. And 911 failed to respond without us filing a complete police report. It was so frightening to think THIS had become the new normal.

Then, three months later, we poured out our lives’ savings and moved to Pasadena. There we were introduced to a completely NEW kind of normal. We lived without the constant roar of the police helicopter overhead. We lived where it was safe enough to play and eat outside without dodging gunfire. We had no drug-dealing ice cream truck that roamed the streets playing Strangers In The Night after dark. Here the streets were lined with gracious, older homes and a canopy of full-grown trees. Children walked safely to and from school. The collective focus of the community was one of restoration, of building up rather than tearing down. And this new Normal felt for all the world like Paradise.

. . . . . . .

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Brillig said...

Oh my gosh, how horrifying. This is the stuff you just don't get over. My heart was pounding as I read through it. Wow, wow, wow. So glad you were protected that night. So glad you got out before such a thing would no longer be an option. Again, wow.

Heather of the EO said...

I'm so glad you're back!
When will I stop saying that?
Such a great (and horrifying) post. I too am so glad you were protected.

Jordan (MamaBlogga) said...

How scary--but how wonderful to see that God was really watching over you!

Thanks for participating.

Kimberly said...

My reaction is the same as Brillig', hun. I can't imagine experiencing that level of terror! So glad that Heavenly Father kept you safe. ~Hugs~

breckster said...

I hope I never have to experience anything close to that! Not only because I don't think I have the emotional valor necessary, but because we already diminished our life's savings by moving to Harlem... we are stuck.

Kazzy said...

I remember when the cops would stop us out on Vernon to see our ID and then would ask why we lived there. LOL But in the middle of the rough stuff we sure had a lot of fun!

Heather of the EO said...

Hi lady,
You've been awarded! Because I heart your blog :)
Come check it out sometime (on my blog, silly)

Lisa said...

Oh Charrette! I remember this so well. I remember watching it all unfold on the news. I remember feeling sick to my stomach. I remember after school my long time crush asked if I wanted to go looting with some of his friends (apparently he didn't know me AT ALL). I remember having no respect (aside from that which I grant to all mankind) for him after that.

What a frightening tale from right in the middle of it! I'm from Burbank, where we felt fairly safe, fortunately. Sounds like you moved right next door!

Eowyn said...

I'm glad you are back.

That was an amazing post. Thanks for letting me peak into that moment in your life.

Melanie J said...

I remember this time well. I was a junior in high school and the fear crept out even into the inland (Riverside) where we lived. Our SAT's were cancelled and we had to stay home. It gives it a whole different feeling when hearing about it from an eyewitness instead of a pundit. That vague discomfort we all felt, eyeing our neighbors slightly askance, was nothing compared to this. Well told!

GrumpyAngel said...

You are back! I'm so glad! This post is amazing. But how horrible that night must have been for you. I'm glad you were protected through all that. I remember watching the riot unfold on TV. I was scared and I was living hundreds of miles from it. I can only imagine being in the middle of all that.