We live on a quiet little street in south Flint. Our small bungalow is nestled into the shadow of the now-defunct McKinley Academy. The neighbors are working-class and quiet, the lawns are well-kept, and most of the houses have at least a few perfunctory tiger lilies gracing the front steps. There are only two rental houses on our block, and we reside in one of them, my fiancé and I. The other house is on the opposite side of my next-door neighbor’s place.
Until last week, the only neighbors we were acquainted with were the guy across the street, Jeff, and our neighborhood watch guy, Joe, who lives on the corner of our street and Camden Avenue. We pay Joe’s son to mow our lawn – in fact, most of our block does the same – and my fiancé Zach has been known to stand in the driveway talking to Joe for a couple hours. We’re from Up North, after all, and we believe in community. For the most part, however, the people on our block mostly kept to themselves, and we did the same.
It’s strange the way an isolated incident can change things, is it not?
At 7:30 one night last week, I was sitting in my living room. My feet were up on the coffee table, my fat old diva of a Norwegian Forest Cat was embedded in her usual spot on my lap, and I was sipping a coffee and studying for my abnormal psych final the next day. It was a balmy, warm afternoon, and I had the windows open. Zach’s cat, a tuxedo-print Maine Coon, likes to lie in the windows and survey the neighborhood. When I heard a tearing sound coming from our bathroom, I assumed it was Leonard sharpening his claws on something and paid no mind.
A few minutes later, a series of random rapid thumps started coming from the bathroom. My first thought was that the cat had somehow gotten stuck in the bathtub, despite the fact that he can leap into the windows with ease. I stood up, placed my cat on the chair, and went to investigate. Leonard was nowhere to be seen.
I’m only five feet tall, and the bathroom window is level with my forehead. The thumps sounded as though they were coming from directly outside the window, so naturally, I stood on the edge of the bathtub and peeped out to see what was up. I looked to the right first; my next-door neighbor’s screen over her kitchen window was torn and flapping. I looked to the left. Her air conditioner usually rests in her living room window. However, it was gone. It had been replaced by broken glass and a pair of men’s legs sticking out the window.
Maybe Ashley locked her keys in the house and this is one of her friends trying to help her out, I thought. Wait, if he’s a friend, why would he shove her air conditioner through the window? Wouldn’t he have gone through the back? And when did that screen get ripped? My mind immediately answered itself.
“Hey, can I help you?” I called through the window.
The man immediately began wiggling back through the window. His feet made contact with Ashley’s trash cans, crushing them. He maneuvered his way back to the ground, and turned to grin at me, dead teeth leering in his mouth like rotten fenceposts. “Hey, I live here,” he responded.
I recognized this guy as the creepy guy on our block – and every block in Flint seems to have one these days. This particular creeper lived in the other rental house, the Section 8 property on the other side of Ashley’s.
“No, you don’t live there!” I yelled, making my voice as loud and aggressive as I could.
“I live here,” he repeated, still grinning at me, and stepping toward my fence and my face in the bathroom window.
This guy had been acting strange since he moved in. I didn’t know Ashley, except to nod at her, but I was fairly certain she hadn’t given this guy permission to be in her house, and if she had, well then, fuck it, I’d apologize later.
“You don't fucking live there!” I screamed, full-force. I darted back through my house, checking to make sure my ¾” steel pipe, about the length of a Louisville Slugger, was in its place by the front door, then flew out the front.
By now, two other guys I recognized as living down the block had heard me and come running. They had the guy cornered, and as I ran up to them, Joe the neighborhood watch guy came jogging across the street, yelling to us that he’d called the cops already. The intruder started mumbling that he’d thought Ashley had stolen his air conditioner, so he was going into her house to get it back. One of the neighbors, an older gentleman named Paul, immediately “called bullshit” and told the guy his air conditioner was still in his window and he needed to get gone now. Joe repeated that he’d called the police, and told the guy we didn’t want that shit in our neighborhood. The guy staggered off.
Now, under normal circumstances, I could understand if the man was drunk and somehow got his house confused with Ashley’s. They’re the same color, with similar trim. Both places have tiger lilies at the front, and the man had only been living on our street for two months. However, as Paul and Joe and I stood there talking, it came out that only that morning, Paul’s son Eric had caught the same guy in their back yard trying to boost the air compressor over the fence. Eric had had to threaten the guy with physical force, and when that didn’t work, he’d had to use that CCW permit of his and draw down on the guy to get him to quit advancing on him.
Jeff across the street came outside to see what was going on. Joe filled him in, then called Ashley at work. She came flying home, and since we were still waiting for the police to show up, we all ended up hanging out in Ashley’s front yard. We remained there, getting more bits and pieces of the story from each other. The same guy had tried to get into Jeff’s and Joe’s houses the same day. I can only assume he ignored my house due to the ugly purple Saturn with the ungodly-loud motor that I take to school every day. What’s more, he’d knocked on Ashley’s door the previous night, in the midst of a horrific storm, to “borrow” her phone, then pushed his way inside the house and looked around. He tried coming back again later, but that time, she refused to let him in, since it was well past one in the morning.
So after four more calls to 911, Flint’s finest finally sent an officer to take a report. He arrived around 1:30 am, five hours after the break-in, took our statements, told Ashley that the most they could charge him with was unlawful entry, and left.
The next day, we assumed it was back to normal. The car was extremely low on gas, so Zach caught a ride to his cooking job down in Fenton, and I shouldered my backpack and caught the bus over by Kings’ Lane Apartments. I went to school, sat for my exam (96%), and caught the bus back home. It was another gorgeous day, so I got off a few stops early, up by Fenton and Atherton roads, and walked home. I cut across Fenton, walked a block down Campbell, and turned onto Brunswick. My earbuds were in, I was listening to my favorite song by Buffalo Springfield, and I had nothing more in my head than going home and putting the final touches on my Creative Writing class portfolio.
As I got to the street just north of my own, Ashley and her boyfriend Ken came driving up and flagged me down. They informed me that they’d found the guy’s wallet in their backyard, with all of his personal information and a few other people’s names and driver’s license numbers as well. They dropped it off to the police, but we have yet to hear back.
I tell this story not in search of praise, but to comment on the aftermath. Since the break-in, I’ve taken to sitting on my front steps every day. I have severe general anxiety disorder, and the woman who lives behind me is a screamer. I can’t sit in my back yard; she gives me panic attacks. So I sit in the front. I write, or I work on my little craft projects, or I tend to my flower and herb garden. And without fail, Jeff across the street will come out to his front steps. He places his hands on his hips and surveys the neighborhood like a contented monarch looking over his kingdom, then will wave or yell, “Hey, baby girl, how you doin’?” Larry from the end of the block will walk by with his little pug dog, wave, and ask me what I’m working on today. Paul will wander over and talk for a few minutes, or Joe will come across the street to see if I want some cuttings from his wife’s flower bed. Ashley or Ken will lean over the fence that separates my yard from their driveway, and we’ll swap stories about life in the restaurant industry or plants we’re growing or whatever.
Our neighborhood was serene before this incident, and it has gone back to its status quo. We watch each other’s houses, we know each other’s routines. Things have gone back to normal on the surface. The difference is now, we’re invested in our neighborhood. Those roots have sunk a little deeper into Flint soil, and our street feels to me like any of the hundred different small-town streets I lived on before I moved to Genesee County. The police response time might be terrible, but our neighbors have our backs, and we have theirs. The people on my block are good people, hard-working, quiet homeowners who are just as invested in keeping our neighborhood safe as we are. We live in a small oasis of tranquility in the midst of one of the rowdier south-side neighborhoods, and we’re okay with that.
This is our neighborhood, and we refuse to give up.
— Megan Crane
— Megan Crane