Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

The Fear

Published in Strays.

As soon as the words came out of my mouth I regretted saying them. A few times a week there’s a police cruiser or private security making a visit to my strip of apartments. But did I really feel like I was beginning to paintbrush all my neighbors as trash, because some refuse to clean up after themselves? I felt resolved to defeat. The situation isn’t great, but it’s all I’ve got. Whether aimless venting or honest anger, the words had to come from somewhere.

A few days prior I had received a call from my neighbor across the hall. He told me the lights were out and it was pitch black in our hallway. I was in a restaurant having dinner with friends and couldn’t hear that well, but I did catch a reference to him being safe because he had his gun. Humor doesn’t always translate over the phone, but either way I was sure he was actually armed.

Yesterday I was sitting at my desk when a loud knock came across the hall. Our doors let a lot of sound in, and someone was pounding on my neighbor’s door. It was an old lady, at least in her fifties who looked at least in her sixties. She was drunk. This wasn’t her first visit of the day. My neighbor wasn’t interested in answering the door so she shouted at him.

After she left I readied my things for the gym, and when I was leaving my neighbor asked how my friend was, the one he’d met. He hadn’t seen her in a while and wanted to make sure she was alright. It was a kind gesture. Then he noticed that I didn’t have a light bulb in the fixture outside of my door. He went inside his apartment and got a bulb as he’d been given extras following the “blackout.” He joked again about having his gun to protect him.

When I left children were laying on my car, with who looked to be parents and another man also hovering over it. My neighbor was talking to another old man with a grey beard and as I walked past him I thanked him and he patted me on the shoulder. He was nice today, but my mind was now in paintbrush-mode. I stood for a second in front of the car before I motioned and said I had to get in. The men walked slowly, making me wait. The woman barked orders for her kids to get off the car. At that moment I wished they were all gone. Not dead, just gone.

I drove away and when I was at the gym I grew concerned that my neighbor had seen me leave. He knew I was going to the gym, because he had asked if I was working nights and I’d told him, but now he knew my apartment was empty. Who had he been speaking to? Who else was around? What if they broke in? My gut reaction was fear.

I don’t have many things though, I thought, peddling away on the stationary bike. And I don’t. My computer is about all I have, though I have a camera and television that would probably also disappear in a robbery. Beyond that, all I have of value is me. And no one had threatened me. And no one had harmed me. And while the group with the kids had made me feel uncomfortable, they were there, doing that regardless of whether I was around. The kids just happened to be putting their greasy hands on my car, though it could have been anyone’s car. Now it’s coming to me that I was getting in their way of life, and not the other way around.

It’s not that I don’t belong here, it’s that I’m different. I don’t understand. My neighbor from across the hall has a loud alarm that starts going off every time he opens his door. Our doors let a lot of sound in. I wanted to file a complaint the day the alarm went off over 20 times. A friend talked me off of the idea. Who do you think he’s going to think made the complaint?, she said. My gut reaction is to see the kid hitting rocks with a baseball bat in the parking lot and call security. My gut reaction is to see the clumps of hair trimmings in the hallway and make a complaint. I’m still new here.