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