I Wanted to Do a Good Deed. I Talked Myself Out of It Because I Thought of All the Ways It Might Get Me Killed

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Last night, while heading to drop my daughter off at her mother’s house after her martial arts class, I noticed that the lights on a car in her mother’s neighborhood were blinking on and off. It was fairly windy, so maybe a gust had set off the car alarm, though no sound was coming from the car.

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The car was parked in the driveway of the home, the outdoor Christmas lights were on and I could see that a light on the top floor was on, so I assumed that somebody was home. I thought to myself, “I should hop out of the car and go ring their doorbell and let them know that their car lights are on.” Lord knows, I’d hate to wake up in the morning—it was about 8 p.m. when I saw the car—and find out my car battery was dead because the alarm was going off all night.

I almost pulled up to the house right then, but I decided to drop off my daughter first. Should something go awry, I do not want my daughter there.

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Should something go awry.

That’s literally the first thought that popped into my head. I wanted to let this family know that their car alarm was going off and that they might want to go see about it, and I was worried about what could go wrong.

I dropped off my daughter at her mother’s home, which is farther into the subdivision, so I’d pass the house on my way back out. I told myself that if the alarm was still going off when I drove by again—likely—that I’d get out and go ring their doorbell and let them know. It seemed like such a simple and neighborly thing to do. And here was where all of the true overthinking began.

I pulled up to the side of the house and started to plan how I was going to go about telling them. For one, I had on all black, save for my maroon down jacket, with a black hoodie and black skullcap. It was about 15 degrees outside, so I wasn’t taking any of that off and risking getting myself sick in order to let them know their car lights were blinking.

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Then I thought to myself, “If I go up to this door and ring the doorbell and wait, chances are they’ll turn the light on so they’ll be able to see me, but I’m dressed as I am, and because of the positioning of the garage, they won’t actually be able to see their car from their front door, so they could be suspicious.

“So maybe I’ll just go ring the doorbell, walk back to my car quickly hoping that I beat them answering the door, maybe get into my car or stand there, and when they open the door, yell an entire concession speech about how I wanted to let them know about their car but didn’t want to frighten them as a random stranger dressed in all black at their door at 8 p.m. on a really dark street”—seriously, this street needs streetlights in the worst way—“but didn’t want them to wake up to a car with a dead battery.”

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I didn’t want them to think about having to step outside the door with me there and wondering if I was going to try to force myself into their home, so I walked away from the door.

I was really thinking about saying all of that. Why?

I did not want to end up shot or having the police called on me. Do I know if they had a gun? Or would have answered the door with one? No, I don’t. But do I know that they wouldn’t have? Nope. They didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them and it was dark outside and late enough to wonder who would be stopping by the house unannounced.

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I literally had all of these thoughts as I sat there and tried to strategize how to do them a solid and put myself in the least amount of harm’s way.

And you know what I did? I drove off. I felt bad for driving off. But I also felt like I had to think too hard on how best to make them feel comfortable as I tried to help them out, and how my trying to be nice required me to consider so many factors about myself and how I would present at the door.

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It’s ENTIRELY possible that I totally overthought the whole thing. Maybe I watch too much television or read too much—a police officer told me that once when he pulled me over and I very slowly and deliberately told him what I was doing as I grabbed my wallet. I was pissed that he’d mocked me when I was trying to make sure I made it home safely and he didn’t shoot anybody that night because he feared for his life over a taillight in front of Washington, D.C.’s Union Station.

I recognize there was a time when I wouldn’t have thought twice about walking up to somebody’s door, and if it had been summer and more well-lit outside, I would have without a second thought. But I’ve read too many stories of trivial encounters gone all the way wrong. And I could see all the ways it could have happened in the few minutes I sat there pondering how I’d do this. And it wasn’t lost on me that, ultimately, I had to strategize a good deed so that this one did not go punished.

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Under different circumstances, I’d absolutely walk up to a door and alert somebody. I’ve done it before. I’ve done it in my own neighborhood—one where I’d think people would be more hyperaware of people coming to their door.

Chances are, even last night, nothing would have happened to me. I’d have let them know, they’d have checked out their car, thanked me and turned off the alarm, and we’d all have gone about our lives. But I just don’t know. I don’t know who lived there or what they’ve gone through in life. Or what they’ve seen. Or if it was a cop who is always on high alert, or whatever. I just didn’t know anything.

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And to quote Mobb Deep’s “Trife Life,” “what can kill you is what you don’t know.”

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.

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DISCUSSION

megantj
Dinosaurs and Nachos, Very Legal and Very Cool!

I had an interesting thought yesterday and this article reminded me of it.

I was in the pharmacy and there was a lady there trying to get some pain pills after a C-section. There was some issue with the doctor not calling in the prescription properly and the pharmacist was being a real dick to her about it.

She got upset and started calling him out for being a dick. (She wasn’t wrong.) Some big dude got up in her face, yelling at her to calm down and trying to take her money off the counter that she had to try to pay for her baby’s prescription. This lady was in obvious amounts of pain. And the pharmacist had already been a condescending (and probably racist) prick to her. Now she had some dude who looked like he was going to lay hands on her and she. fucking. panicked.

Long story short, shit got heated and then it got calmed down enough for everyone to walk away uninjured. But like. It was pretty fucking close. And all this started because a van had broken down in the drive-thru and everyone was standing in a long-ass line when some of them clearly did not want to be walking into a pharmacy.

Anyway, it got me wondering. If this lady lived in France, she would have a postpartum nurse who would have handled the prescription thing for her. She wouldn’t have been standing, in excruciating pain, in a fucking pharmacy. If we didn’t have a huge problem with prescription narcotic abuse in this country, maybe she would have just been able to get her meds. If the pharmacist hadn’t been a racist, misogynistic asshole, maybe he would have treated her with enough respect that she didn’t start getting (rightfully) belligerent with him. Maybe if the van hadn’t broken down because whoever was driving it had enough money to buy a better vehicle, maybe, maybe, maybe.....

And here we are, people standing around trying to get our medicine and most everyone keeping their heads down and avoiding trouble. And I start to think, this is the weight we are expected to catch because our society is so broken and the cuts run so deep. This is what we bear because our social safety net is nonexistent and it can’t catch us any more (if it ever could).

And sometimes we just keep our head down and keep moving because there just isn’t a way that a single human being can bear the entire weight that society was supposed to. It breaks people. The lady at the pharmacy was broken. I saw it in her eyes because I have broken like that too. There should be no blame on the individual who tries to keep themselves whole in the face of society shrugging off its obligations to us. Because there is often nobody else there to save us when we break.

The shame should be on the people who broke our society in the first place, and the ones who keep it broken now, not the ones who simply recognize the brokenness and choose to survive it somehow.

Sure, conservatives believe that private charity can take the place of government assistance. Or that we can just wave our hands and say racism is over because most white people don’t say the n-word in public......too often anyway. Or that kids who go to schools that don’t have heat in the middle of a cold-as-fuck winter storm can grow up with as many opportunities to advance as some rich kid a few zip codes over. But they don’t see how interconnected it is, or they do and they are just lying to us (probably that second one, though).

They don’t get the point that for a society to produce generous individuals, society itself must be generous. It’s not a lack of good intentions and it’s not an individual failure when you literally don’t know if you will survive a random act of kindness. Or when you use up your random acts of kindness in situations that never should have needed any.

I wish I was one of those people who could look at the world and not see the dangers that lurk behind my neighbors’ doors. I am not one of those people. I don’t blame anyone else who isn’t one either.