Just before moving to San Francisco, I saw something happen in Hayes Valley over lunch. A jittery-looking man darted along the sidewalk, pulling leaves off of a tree across the street. I mentioned it to my friends, so they didn’t think I was ignoring them. But I was ignoring them. I was mesmerized. Our food took a while and I couldn’t help but watch this guy freaking out on a tree. I like trees.
The man swung his arms ferociously with his elbows bent, ready to churn butter or wash clothes like they did in the old days. He kind of looked like a computerized gorilla from my childhood. Back and forth, back and forth, arms going as swiftly as legs in the light of the day. He stripped the whole tree down to a spike of a trunk and threw its refuse down a staircase around the corner. He looked like a tiger pacing in his pen. I wanted to stop him, but I was afraid to do anything but watch.
My friends laughed at him dismissively. One said, “Must be on meth!” Another said, “Oh my god. What is he doing?” We sat there and discussed what he could be thinking about. “Have you ever seen anything like this before in your life?“ I asked. “Should we call the police?” The locals shook their head. “Lots of weird people here, who knows.” I wondered if he hated trees. He seemed to be muttering something to himself.
A few minutes later, the man smirked, came out from around the corner again, picked up a bike that was locked to the tree, held it over his head, and walked away.
Just before moving to New York, I saw something happen in Greenpoint after dinner. We were heading up Metropolitan Ave to my boyfriend’s apartment. The snow was biting our feet. We huddled into each other, shuffling and wiggling across the sidewalk. Somewhere between the J named street and the G named street, I gasped and came to a halt. From the shop to our right to the curb on our left, a thin trail of blood streamed like ants toward the dirt. It was red. Dark red. Darker than in the movies. I refused to step in it.
I looked up and tried to understand what was happening. To my right, there was a young man, the source, the victim, shaking and in shock. I looked at his eyes and wished him a warm, safe night. In front of us, a police officer asked questions with a flat voice like on TV. “Was it anyone you recognized?” I looked back at my boyfriend and he held me tighter as if to say, it’s okay, you don’t need to look at that.
I wasn’t a witness to a crime; I was only a witness to a victim, a passerby, an onlooker. “Have you ever seen anything like this before in your life?” I asked. And then we were back on our merry way, heading home to sleep, a bit colder than before.