Trigger warning: Domestic violence

Friday, January 22, 2016

I remember in a psychology class in college my professor had the class read a fable and then write a the fable again, getting as close as we could to the original without referencing it. When we went back and compared our story to the original, we had done hilariously badly. There were changed characters, different settings, and many of the details were either wrong or completely absent. This led to a discussion about eye witnesses, and how, despite the best intentions, human memory is malleable. We alter our perceptions of events based on past experiences and bias, and our memories are really bad at playing back an event exactly how it really happened.

Last Monday morning around 4:30am, George and I both woke up to what sounded like furniture being moved in the apartment above us (we live in an old house that has been converted to a 3-flat). We then heard yelling, some cursing, and lots of crying. We gathered that there were two voices, one male and one female, and it sounded like our upstairs neighbors, who also happen to be our landlords. The fight went on for the next two hours (it ended just in time for us to get ready for work) and the entire time it was happening, we couldn’t decide if we should call the police. It was an awful feeling – we felt torn between giving them space and privacy in their relationship, yet worrying for their safety.

Throughout the rest of the day, I sought advice from my parents and my coworkers, and the general consensus was that if it happened again we should call the police. I texted my female landlord that morning asking if everything was okay and she completely denied any noises coming from their apartment. That denial made me so afraid that we were dealing with more just an overly heated fight between spouses, but that domestic violence could be going on in our home.

We got back to a normal routine until Thursday morning at 2:30 when we heard the fighting again. This time we could make out more of the conversation, and we decided to call the police. As soon as we called, however, doubts started to creep in. What if the sounds weren’t coming from upstairs? George went to porch to see if he could see lights on in one of the units, and when he came back inside he saw a man leaving from the front gate. Our landlords usually use the back gate because they have a garage back there, so then we started to piece together a different story. We’d seen our female downstairs neighbor leave early on Monday morning and our landlord completely denied anything having happened. When the police arrived, we directed them downstairs instead of up, and it turned out that’s where the fighting was taking place. We’d completely convinced ourselves that the sounds were coming from upstairs – we thought of all this evidence to support it – we were wrong.

We weren’t wrong to call, however. When waiting for the police, George was worried that we’d told the police the wrong thing. My response was that someone in our house could be in danger. Whether they’re upstairs or downstairs, it doesn’t matter. Looking back, I wish now that we had called when we first heard the fighting. We should have gone with our gut instead of worrying about privacy and the implications of our relationship with our neighbors. But, you know what they say about hindsight.

As far as we know, everyone is safe now, and we’ll keep thinking and talking about the situation as we move forward.