staying safe

She opened the stairwell and was blasted with a cloud of smoke. Her sister was with her. I followed about 5 or 6 feet behind. When I got up to them, I grabbed them, and said, “come back here.” The first guy was already up and heading down the stairs. Before the door closed, the second guy turned his head slowly and said, “Oh, shit” and started getting up.
Fifteen years ago I was familiar with the aromas of lots of different kinds of drugs. This wasn’t pot, opium, or hash. It smelled like evergreen, I thought, or household cleaner. I’ve been saying it was crack, though I suppose it could’ve been meth. As I mentioned, I’m not up on the drugs these days.

A sign my daughter made and hung on our door: "This is a G rated home" (gun in a circle with a slash through it).
To say this has been a learning experience is one thing, and it has, for me and my 8-year-old, is one thing. Unfortunately, it has also been an awakening. Weeks ago I started with plans to “organize” the tenants in our apartment complex. I want to know who my neighbors are. The people I’ve talked to have, for the most part, seemed similarly interested. I had visions of a community garden, a newsletter, volunteers from each building communicating with each other to help keep the place clean and safe. I contacted Hour Exchange Portland to discuss the possibility this could be a time credits project for me and those involved, and they were interested.
What I am doing now is reminding myself that nothing has really changed. My older daughter plays outside with the neighborhood children after school. She still will. We love it here, and we mostly will continue loving it. But, we’re going to move. She doesn’t know that, and I won’t be discussing it with her until next spring when we begin getting ready to go.
There is a police officer I’ve become familiar with who works in our area. I saw him in the corner Starbucks a few days after he had been at our neighbor’s apartment. He had put our neighbor in the back of his car and my daughter saw him get “patted down.” I asked the officer if there was something I needed to worry about with that guy and he said no, he was getting a ride to the hospital. He patted him down because “nobody gets in back there unless I check ’em.”
Last night I saw the same cop at a different Starbucks and I started talking with him about the stairwell drug users. Earlier that evening, I posted a note on each of the doors of our building saying that I had no interest in getting into anyone else’s business but if it affected my children, things were different. I said if I found someone using in the stairwell or hallway or laundry room again, I wouldn’t hesitate calling the police. After a good and in-depth conversation with this cop, I made the decision last night that we will move. Examining all our options (he suggested forgetting the security deposit and moving immediately), I’ve decided I have to be pragmatic. If I were to pack up and go now it would cost too much, financially and emotionally. Mostly financially.
I told him how I hated that good people couldn’t stay. I told him that I wanted to help the place be a better place. He understood and agreed that knowing neighbors, invested tenants, people who care are all important. He even seemed to agree that in some cases ideas like mine were good. The fact was, though, he knows our apartment complex and our building in particular. He pointed out our landlord has known about the lockless (door knob-less) back door for months and hasn’t fixed it. “He hasn’t shown signs that he is doing anything about it [the drugs],” he said of the landlord. “It’s a transient population. There’s no one who has been there for 15 years, for example. Even if you have a bunch of good people in a building, you get a few who are bringing in really bad characters and it’s not a good thing.” Of my idea to get to know my neighbors, he said, “Most of them just really don’t care. It would be an uphill battle.”

Hearing efforts to improve the lives of our community would be an uphill battle normally would inspire me to do it. I’d kick that uphill’s ass. But, that’s just me. And as much as I feel like “they win” when I realized this, I have to think of my daughters. Of course I always think of my daughters, and the idea that they could learn living in less-than-lovely places was worthwhile was something I was glad to show them. But, as the officer pointed out,once drug users are high, they are unpredictable. He forced the image on me of my daughter coming up the stairs, running into two guys who were high, and them “pulling her into the laundry room.” It was probably at that moment, when he made me “see” and, worse, feel that imagined scene, that I decided we had to move.
Bad things could happen to my children anywhere. No matter where we live, my children will need to learn that going with a stranger (even one who claims to know me) is never okay. How to stay safe is something I need to teach them. In the six months we have lived there I have felt safe enough. I have enjoyed my daughter running around outside, and I will continue to let her do that. She won’t use the back door anymore, she’ll have her own key, and I’ll always be able to see her from my window. The world of high-crime areas—and the officer told me this particular complex is one—brings with it risks I won’t subject my children to. I’m sad about it, though. Sad because if people like me aren’t willing to stick around, the cycle will just continue. Sad because I was glad my children were going to see what it was like getting people to work together. My babies must be safer, though. We will move in the spring. We will find a place where the police don’t spend much time (the cop recommended a few places to me), where my daughters can come and go from the building with only the “regular” level of caution. We’ll be as safe as we can be.