(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

I tried to muscle my way into the ambulance because I didn’t want to leave Jeanette alone but the paramedics held me off, suggesting I follow behind in my car so I would have a means of getting home. It sounded perfectly logical at the time but as soon as they’d shut the doors and jetted off toward the emergency room I realized that my ability to operate a motorized vehicle was nothing short of impossible. I was on the verge of vomiting, jumpy and shaking and sweating like a crack addict in detox. And someone was calling my name.

My neighbor Amy had arrived home from work but the cops wouldn’t let her into the backyard. One of them propped me up and moved me toward her so I could explain to her why a cavalry of black-and-whites were blocking off our street, lights flashing and bouncing across the front of the houses, flashlights darting into the garbage bins and alleys. I have no idea what I told her. It was all so nonsensical anyway.

Jeanette has been assaulted. No, I don’t know why. I don’t know who did it. I don’t know if she’s going to be okay. I don’t know anything anymore. People don’t just get attacked like this for no reason. At least that’s what all these cops keep saying. They’re saying it was a boyfriend. A coworker. An enemy. They’re saying she knew this person. I’m telling them she didn’t. She lived here for fifteen days. She doesn’t know anyone.

Amy called her husband Rob who was supposed to be working late but promptly came home to escort us to UCLA Medical Center. We stopped by In-n-Out Burger on the way, and the smell of takeout only added to my sense of nausea. Rob phoned their friend Mary who lived in the valley and had gone to college with Jeanette. Mary would know how to contact Jeanette’s family.

When we arrived at the hospital, we were told that the police thought it was possible Jeanette had been a victim of gang violence. As a precautionary measure, she’d been admitted under an alias: Kandy (with a K) Diaz.

I paced the waiting room for hours like a caged animal, regretting that I’d let the ambulance leave without me, imagining that if I hadn’t I’d be with her now. A social worker kept coming back to tell us that we should go home. None of us budged. Finally, a sympathetic female doctor appeared and explained that Jeanette had been put on a ventilator because she was vomiting blood and because they weren’t yet sure about the extent of her head injuries. She said that a doctor would be working through the night to sew up her face and that it was unlikely Jeanette would be conscious for a long while. That darkened the mood considerably. Mary arrived. She’d spoken with Jeanette’s sister Karen who would be coming out from DC with their brother David on the first flight in the morning.

Somewhere after midnight, the social worker relented and said that we could visit Jeanette, but she warned us that her appearance was gruesome. I stood up, “I’ve already seen what she looks like.” Mary followed me toward the door, but Rob and Amy wisely decided against it.

As we walked the endless hallway toward the ER, I started babbling instructions to Mary: No matter how bad it looks, we can’t react. No gasping, no crying, no acting horrified. That would prove far more difficult in reality. I pulled the curtain to find what was clearly Jeanette’s body draped in a thin cotton gown, laying prone on the bed. But she was wholly unrecognizable. Her face was swollen to twice its size, and the blood had been cleaned so I could see the enormity of the wounds, which had not yet been sewn up.

I held her hand and put my face next to hers. Mary stood behind me, mute. I told her that I was there and she squeezed my hand. I told her that Mary was there, too, and she lifted her arm to be touched. There was a gaping stab wound on her cheek and a deep cut running across her eyebrow and down the length of her nose. Both were hanging open but not bleeding. I struggled to make normal conversation as I stared at her face. I assured her that I’d taped Ally McBeal. I told her that she’d been given a new name. I talked nonstop, lobbying useless banter, right up until the moment the doctor came to sew her up.

After we left the room and were retracing our steps back to the waiting room, Mary buckled like a ragdoll and screamed. We lay huddled together in the hallway, she was sobbing but I was blank as stone.

Rob and Amy made a bed for me in their TV room where I would live for the next few weeks, too afraid to go home. I sat there all night, drawn in, holding myself. Sometime that night, while I was not sleeping, Jeanette faltered in the ICU and was put back on the ventilator. It would take a few days for doctors to rule out brain damage.

When I did sleep, the nightmares were relentless. In one of them, Jeanette came to me and told me that she’d been stalked.

…go to Part 5