As I passed, on foot, I could hear - among the many expletives - the reasons for his wrath.
Something about the laundry.
Something about his damned son - whose ass was gonna get kicked because he was riding his Big Wheel too far from the designated mailbox border.
I saw her face, downcast.
I kept walking...
and made it maybe 20 yards or so.
Is THIS who I am?
The one who'd rather slink away than stand and fight?
IS THIS WHO I AM?!?
I cast about for my courage. Where the hell has it gone?
I talk a Gryffindor game but when the time came will it be said that I up and run?
I'd rather die in battle than live a coward. And be damned if I'm gonna flee from the House of the Deathly Hallows.
I turn around.
My steps are steady but my mind is racing.
Do I prepare for a fist fight with this man who's got military signage in his yard and what appear to be service-commemorative tattoos on his arms?
I guess I'm prepared, because my feet keep moving, but my racing mind? Is stilled.
Or, more accurately, moments before my feet hit their yard, my mind hones in on a still - the image of a little boy, only 8 years old, who I never met, but whose story recently filled me with guilt. Guilt that the system failed him. Guilt at the pain he endured. Guilt that I wasn't there to stop it...
The last one, I knew, was an unreasonable guilt.
I mean, I didn't even know Gabriel Fernandez. How could I have saved him?
My feet hit the grass.
"Excuse me!," I yell over the din.
He stops screaming.
They both stare at me.
What. the fuck. do I do now?
I still haven't decided. And all I have in my head is Gabriel Fernandez.
As I scramble for a battle plan that I should've had before I marched myself over, I hear the voice of Gabriel Fernandez's teacher, saying that every time she called child protective services, Gabriels' beatings got worse.
I decide it's safest - for the woman and the son - for me to deescalate.
I tell her I've noticed the Deathly Hallows on her door. I ask if she's a fan.
He's sulky, but silent. She brightens.
"Why yes!," she says, and I register the relief on her face.
As she speaks her fandom, she has her son stand up from his tricycle. He's wearing a Harry Potter shirt, which he shows me.
I ask her if she made the Deathly Hallows (she had). I compliment her work. I ask if I can commission a piece from her.
She's positively beaming now, and runs inside to grab a business card.
I am left with the man.
I don't say anything - but I make eye contact. And I keep it.
He knows I know. And he knows I saw.
She comes bouncing - has she never received a compliment on her work before? - back, card in hand. Apparently she makes art for military families.
I introduce myself.
She introduces everyone, and tries to introduce little Eli - the tot on the trike - but he insists on introducing himself.
I've heard of God speaking through burning bushes. I've heard of a Still, Small Voice. I've heard tales of whales, and of promises written in rainbows.
But in the few times in my life where I can be sure God spoke to me, it's felt like a sneaky gut punch. Like I'm looking left and someone, from out of nowhere, lands a body-shot from the right.
The name Eli is special to me. It's my nephew's name.
"I also have a brother!," Eli says, expectantly. He has little kid gaps in his teeth.
"Yes," she gestures. "He's in the house."
I look to Eli, with his "I like to play outside" scratches on his knees.
I look to Eli, and I ask: "Oh? And what's your brother's name?"
I'm looking left.