Friday, August 15, 2008

My "Bruce Wayne" Moment

The following story is not for the squeamish. It might not be good breakfast reading, either.

I was watching a special the other night on "the psychology of Batman" or something like that. It went into detail on the key event that shaped young Bruce Wayne's life, and how it shaped him in a conscious and unconscious way, going down each layer and influencing how he decided to live his life. There was the event itself -- the murder of his parents -- and the details surrounding the event -- the Zorro movie, bats, etc.

Watching that program brought to mind the following memory from my childhood, one I both consciously and unconsciously recall every once in a while, in different ways. It's about something very terrible that happened not to me, but to someone I didn't even know.

One night when I was around eight years old I woke up to hear loud banging on the front door of our apartment. My mom answered the door, I heard some murmurs, and then the door closed again. I went back to sleep.

Later on that night, woken up by the sound of men who weren't my dad talking, I found two policemen talking to my mom by the front door. The policemen had pads out, and at least one was wearing gloves.

On my front door was lots and lots of smeared blood, and pooled blood soaked into our welcome mat.

So this is what happened:

A young woman who lived two doors down from us was attacked by her live-in boyfriend with a machete. Yes, a fucking machete:

She was cut up all over the place, her hair soaked in blood, some of her scalp hanging off. In a panic, she ran to a number of neighbor's apartments, including that of my family, and banged on their doors to let her in. After this proved to be unsuccessful, she limped down to the next floor, to try those apartments. That's when another woman let her in, tried to calm her down, and called the police.

My mom explained to the police that she was just really frightened by the sight of this woman, didn't know what was going on, and feared for her kids. That's why she didn't let her in.

Now I must explain to you what my front door looked like. I'm not talking a little stain of blood, a hand print. I'm talking about Nightmare On Elm Street level blood. You know the scene where the blond chick is attacked by an invisible Freddy and is writhing on the ceiling? Remember how much bleeding? That's how much we are talking about. Even as a child, I marveled at the news that she was still alive, that a woman could bleed so much and not die.

And I distinctly remember our door handle, and how it was stained. It was a brass door handle. The woman had gripped it, trying to get in. I remember how red the blood was -- still fresh -- against that brass door handle.

As for the doormat, as I said, that was just soaked. And a trail of red footprints led from the mat to the head of the stairs leading to the next floor.

By this time my dad, who worked at night, had just come home. He started talking to the police, and my mom used the opportunity to grab some Ajax powder and sprinkle the blood with it, to disinfect it. She poured the powder on the mat, the door, and the door handle, and I remember that white stuff just sticking to the blood, getting soaked in it.

And by THIS time -- it was time for me and my little sister to go to school. So we got dressed and my mom helped us step over the bloody welcome mat to go to the elevator. And I distinctly remember stepping over that mat.

I played that night back in my mind for a long time afterwards. It was the first time I witnessed anything that I could label The Horror. So there was the visceral visual impact of it. But then there was the other impact, questions...

So this woman was bleeding to death, obviously in serious distress, and nobody on my floor opened the fucking door for her and let her in? Did anybody call 911?

The story went that this woman and her boyfriend were allegedly drug addicts -- and in a way, there was the insinuation that this was sort of "coming to her." That because of that lifestyle, this was going to happen sooner or later.

But when you have somebody half out of their mind in fear on your doorstep, all cut up, how do you make these judgments? This woman could die -- she could die on your fucking doorstep!

Was race/nationality a factor? The woman was Hispanic. At that time, most of the people on my floor were white. The woman downstairs who eventually opened the door for her was Hispanic as well -- and also had kids. The woman not only opened the door for her but sat her down on her couch and made her coffee. If the victim had been "white," would she have gotten more help earlier?

And I can make judgments on those who didn't help her -- but how can I make judgments on my mom? Weren't her fears legitimate? Finding a bloody woman at her front door in the middle of the night, with a crazy boyfriend still around with a machete? Three small children still asleep in the apartment, my dad still away at work?

But still, no matter how many times I turned the story around in my head, examined it from different angles -- it stuck with me, and it was messy. There were no comforting, clear answers. It stuck in the back of my subconscious, sphinx-like. I even felt guilty at times for it, about her, though there was obviously nothing I could have done at the time.

It plays back in my mind, this woman screaming, though I never really saw her -- but I see her in my mind, screaming for help, banging on doors, hysterical, the man she loved and trusted having just tried to kill her.

In the end, regardless if the woman was into drugs or not, regardless if race was a factor or not, regardless if my mom and the other tenants were justified or not -- in the end, this is the story about a severely injured woman who was looking frantically for help and found doors slammed in her face as she was possibly dying from her wounds.

And while this story still stays with me, it was only until watching that special on Batman that I was persuaded to take a second look at art and writing I had made years ago and realize what my unconscious was trying to remind me:


  1. Horrendous. I'm particularly fascinated by "Bruce Wayne moments" (in the manner of, "this shaped the direction your life takes forever"). Mentioning the machete is notable for me, because I had something of a "machete moment" too that contributed to a much bigger picture.

    I don't want to thread jack, but I thought it might be relevant to the "Bruce Wayne moment" idea so I hope it's appropriate.

    When I started out, I was doing an art degree and I painted pictures and (sometimes) waved sticks at something approaching an orchestra. That was my big plan, and I really wanted to get into comics in a vague sort of fashion. While at uni, I made a really good female friend who happened to live in Australia. Not the nice part - a part swamped by drug dealers coming in from Vietnam and flooding it with all sorts, many of whom would get off on their own gear and go nuts.

    Well, she'd had a bad drug problem years before, and (unknown to me) fell in with one of these guys who slowly got her hooked on the hard stuff. He basically moved into her place, took over her life, took her along to (really freaking dangerous) drug deals.

    The only way i could keep her out of trouble was talking to her on msn (I'd pretend to be her friend "sophie" and we had keywords so I so knew if he was around or not). the incidents got worse (car doors being flung open by insane prostitutes on the motorway with her hanging out the door), junked up loonies attacking them, so i resolved to take up teaching english in japan and get her out of there with some stupid ass elaborate plan, doomed to failure.

    one time he appeared outside her flat going crazy with a machete, trying to smash the door down..while shes freaking out to me on msn (call the damn police!!) then she goes offline for 12 hours - turned out he'd cut the power then gone off.

    long story short, japan fell through and when i was talking to her on msn (he was around), all this "secret" chat text started coming up on screen. he saw it, worked out what was going on, and beat her bad - put her in hospital. eventually she stopped answering calls, writing letters, emails, msn....she just vanished. before i lost contact altogether, her friend told me it looked like her PC was hacked and someone popped up the "secret text" for a gag. great gag, kids.

    so that suddenly took me from bad paintings to computers. now i hunt down hackers, pedo groups and other scumbags full time, get them shut down, save peoples money from being taken away etc. And I have to ask myself, if someone could offer me my friend back in one piece at the cost of all the people i've potentially saved from a similar situation happening to them, or their life savings being stolen or God knows what, would I?

    I'm not sure that's something for me to answer.

    Again, sorry to ramble, but I thought it might be (sort of) relevant to the title of the post.

  2. Val, as you know I live in São Paulo city, Brazil.

    It has, in these past twenty, twenty five, years, become a VERY violent city.

    It is not uncommon for people to be mugged in broad daylight and people around do NOTHING, for fear of getting shot or dying.

    I'm not saying it is great, but it is a defense mechanism.

    I don't have any kids, but if I did I would be EVEN MORE inclined not to help... I WOULD feel like CRAP afterwards, but it is at those times that our survival instinct kicks in... HARD.

    I once witnessed a carjacking where the guys blocked the other car's passage with their car, three guys got out gun-in-hand as I was passing by them with MY car, RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, they forced, at gunpoint, two girls out of the car they wanted to steal and just drove off. At the time I was without a cell phone, so I couldn't call the cops, absolutely NOTHING I could do... And to this day I feel horrible about it. Even MORE so, because when I was passing by with my car and I saw the guys getting out of theirs with guns on their hands, I GOT THE F*CK OUT OF THERE.

    Our survival instinct is a powerful force. It OVERRIDES our morality, our sense of right and wrong. It's only AFTER the danger has passed that we take stock of our actions and, more often than not, beat ourselves up about it.

    Have you ever asked your mom how SHE feels about her actions that day?

  3. Oh my crap! That's horrifying. Imagine bleeding to death in an apartment building full of people with no one willing to help. God, how terrifying.

    Regardless of what kind of shit she was into, certainly a woman bleeding to death deserves some help. At the very least a 911 call.

    I really hope that if I'm ever faced with someone bleeding at my door that I will have the courage to let them in and call an ambulance. But honestly, how can you really know unless you've faced that situation? What goes on in the mind of someone who answers the door? Can they think rationally?

    Man, this is going to sit with me for a while.

  4. Wow.

    Sadly, the prevailent myth about NYers not coming to anyone's aid is mostly true. Not everyone is willing to put themselves out for someone they never met.

  5. "Val, as you know I live in São Paulo city, Brazil."

    my mom was born/grew up in Sao Paulo, too. I wonder if she had witnessed that sort of stuff there, too.

    There was another time a few years later when a screaming bloody shirtless man with a shovel burst into the candy store I was in with my mom. I don't think anybody really batted an eye much in the store, he just ran in and screamed "rahhhhhhhhhh!!!!" and then ran out.

    Growing up in Ditmas Park was fun.

  6. "Mentioning the machete is notable for me, because I had something of a "machete moment" too that contributed to a much bigger picture."

    thanks for sharing that story, paperghost.

    I really have to wonder who invited machetes and what they were thinking. But I think they were originally a tool for clearing brush/farming, right?

  7. This is pretty awesome.

  8. Oh my God what a terrible story. The poor woman. Do you know the result of ordeal? Did she heal? Was the boyfriend arrested or charged? (I'm guessing you'd have had no way of knowing about any of that).

    I have kids, and I can't say for sure what I would have done.

    But since you maybe aren't inclined to think this way, one other thing struck me: I feel terrible for your mother, having to make that decision, and then live with the decision she made.

    I'm sure she's been wracked with regrets and second guessing, and probably would be second guessing her decision had she let the woman in, wondering how badly things could have gone in that event.

    That sucks.

  9. "my mom was born/grew up in Sao Paulo, too. I wonder if she had witnessed that sort of stuff there, too."

    Well, if my math is right, your mom must be a LOT younger than mine would be if she was alive today (68). I say this because you are (I gather) a middle or oldest child, and you are in your mid thirties, while I´m the youngest and I'll be 31 next month.

    ALthough I don't know how old your mom was when she left Brazil, based on your statement that she GREW UP here, I think it is a pretty safe bet to say she must have witnessed some nasty stuff, considering I was mugged when I was 11 years old(!)... on MY STREET(!!!).

    That too might have played some part on her reaction on that day.

    "Growing up in Ditmas Park was fun."

    So was growing up on São Paulo's East region. Beeing poor sucks.

    "I really have to wonder who invited machetes and what they were thinking. But I think they were originally a tool for clearing brush/farming, right?"

    Preety much, yeah. But I have a theory that at some point the human race will find a way turn BUNNIES into deadly weapons.

  10. In answer to your machete question, machete's are perfect for cutting down sugarcane, and still the clearing tool of choice for that occupation.

  11. Anonymous1:52 PM

    Great Googily Moogily. I can't even imagine.

    On a lighter note, are we to infer now that you secretly dress up in spandex and fight crime with a machete?

  12. Thank you for sharing that kind of story, Val. My sympathies to you and your mom.

  13. Almost a Kitty Genovese moment, as well as a Bruce Wayne moment. That she lived...I'll give thanks for that, too.

    Disturbing in several senses, no argument there. Several of those sense have already been named and the rest are of no consequence to anyone but me at this point.

    I'd be interested to know where that lady is now as well. I hope she's well, or at least well enough to be content with.

  14. Val, you must have lived in the worst neighborhood ever growing up.

    Holy fucking shit.

    Wonder if I would be too freaked out to open the door for someone covered in blood...brr?

  15. this is why you are so amazing as a woman to have in comics. you tell stories from real life that make us think.