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

Jeanette’s surgery was a success but her forehead had become infected so the doctors inserted a drain. The new device, in addition to the stitches, the wired jaw and the swelling, made her appear like a wounded alien. Jeanette had not yet gotten out of bed since she’d arrived—which meant she hadn’t seen herself. But that was about to change. Her nurses were eager to get her on her feet the following day, and her doctors were expecting to release her the day after that.

I had wanted Jeanette to stay with me in my spare bedroom during her recovery but I knew how unrealistic that was. Not only was I unable to spend a night at home myself but my spare room was just steps from the scene of the crime and her sister Karen would never allow it. Instead, Jeanette would begin her healing at her friend Mary’s home in the valley.

As the days wore on, I was eager to find some sense of normalcy but I knew that was still too big a word. Instead, I’d reach for equilibrium and settle for moments of stillness. They were fleeting at best.

I went to the gym to work out and discovered the anger I’d been holding below the surface. I pushed weights and pulled at pieces of equipment with increasing aggression. Would I have been powerful enough to ward off that attack? I daydreamed scenarios of walking in on that man, pulling him off of Jeanette and beating him to oblivion. With one, I used the frying pan. With another, it was a baseball bat. I ran through in my mind what I knew about self-defense tactics, and I imagined kicking my foot into the side of his knee and hearing his cartilage tear. He fell to the floor, screaming. I held a knife to his throat as Jeanette called the cops, and we waited for the handcuffs to ratchet around his wrists.

I’d drive the dark alleys in the seediest parts of Venice with Cagney where I was introduced to the most unsavory people and the most desperate lifestyles I never had the capacity to imagine before. During the night, at Rob and Amy’s, I’d meet them again in my dreams. At least once every night, someone was being hurt and maimed in my mind. Sometimes it was me. And when it was, those dreams would coincide with an unfortunate event that happened far too frequently: Rob and Amy’s cat would pounce on me in the dead of sleep and send me into a tailspin. Much as I longed for uninterrupted hours of restful sleep, I was too afraid to close my eyes.

Once, on my way home from the gym, I came upon the young neighbor boy and his friend standing in the middle of the street with super-soaker water guns aimed at my car. They were grinning and poised to unload their weapons on me. These boys were both African American. One of them I knew lived three doors down. I’d seen them enjoy this prank before, and I thought it was funny then, but it wasn’t funny now.

I slowed my car to a stop, rolled down my window and leaned out. “Don’t even think about it,” I said, my eyes narrowing.

The one boy, my neighbor, giggled and moved closer. He pumped the plastic gun like an automatic rifle.

“I mean it,” I told him, the force of my anger rising like a bonfire.

He kept coming closer. He was laughing. We locked eyes. He moved the toy toward my face. And then he shot.

I slammed my car into park and jumped from it. He tore off toward home, laughing, clearly not understanding the depth of this act for me. I tailed him like a rocket, leapt over the low fence surrounding his property and tackled him in the front yard. He lay back as if surrendering and I straddled him. He was laughing so hard he could barely breathe. And I suddenly became aware that members of his family were sitting in lawn chairs on the porch watching—a mother, a grandmother, a father perhaps. They were clapping and hooting.

I looked down at the boy again. His laugh was boyish not menacing. His face was round and sweet. His teeth were ridged like a child’s.

“That was goooood,” he said, catching his breath. “Man, girl, you fast!”

Adrenalin-fueled blood had surged into my head so quickly I felt as though veins would burst. It took me a moment but I managed to smile and move off the boy. He sat up and gave me a high-five. I waved at the spectators on the porch, forcing a laugh so they’d think it was a joke to me, too.

Then I walked back toward my car, idling, door open, blocking traffic in the middle of the street. I was shaking.

…go to Part 11