The Scream

 I remember very few details from that night, not even recalling the exact year of the incident.  I do recall it being a snowy evening on a Sunday the day before President’s Day in February.  At the time, I was living in Manhattan on the 1st floor of a high-rise building on the Upper West Side so it had to have occurred sometime in the mid ‘70’s.  My brother, Andrew, and I were dating two sisters living in the Bronx.  Andrew met us at my apartment before we all headed out to the Bronx where friends of our dates were throwing a party.

Together at my apartment, I cracked open a few bottles of wine that we all drank along with some assorted crackers and cheese.  Although my brother was working the next day, the three of us were off on Monday putting us all in a celebratory mood.  As we imbibed, our voices grew loud and, having been warmed by the alcohol, we grabbed our winter coats; with much cheer, perhaps bordering on the obnoxious, we departed.  Across the street, a woman in a high-rise, in a disturbed voice, told us to quiet down, upon which I impulsively yelled an expletive, instantaneously, causing her to slam her window down with a resounding crash.

At the party, I recall little more than having a good time and that my girl friend appreciated the fact that I could mix with her friends without hanging on to her.  Because my brother had to leave and the sisters already had made plans the following day, we said good-bye to them and returned to my apartment by subway.  From here, all I can remember was saying good-night to Andrew, and being pleasantly, but not overly intoxicated, immediately falling in bed, noticing it was already past 1 a.m.

Both physically and mentally exhausted from all the activities of the day and evening, in conjunction with the food and drink, I rapidly started falling asleep.  Suddenly, a loud shrieking sound jarred my senses throwing me into a confused state.

In this half-awake state, I thought I must be dreaming, but when the noise continued at the same loud pitch, as I began to regain consciousness, I knew I was not dreaming.  My jumbled mind shuffled through all sorts of conjectures in trying to piece together what was happening.  No longer believing it to be a dream, I thought and hoped it might be an animal, perhaps a feral cat, letting out a screech either attacking its prey or defending itself.  But as my brain defogged, it became clear it was a human voice that I now hoped was coming from outside the building. “Go away,” I said to myself, but it refused to do so.  It was a piercing unending scream, worse than anything I had ever heard, and I suddenly knew I no longer could question the inevitable:  A woman in the building was being attacked.

I was terrified. Not knowing what to do, I started toward my wine collection with the thought of picking up a bottle and running toward whomever, I met, outside to free this woman.  But then my fear took over:  When I reassessed the situation, I stopped and decided better to call 911 and let them handle it.  The dispatcher, in her effort to verify that the call was real, asked me to identify myself and, I angrily said it’s happening now.  After what seemed forever, she said that help would be on the way as soon as possible.

I then had to make a decision:  To stay safe in my apartment or to go out and be of assistance.  The screaming had at last stopped.  Having abandoned my Rambo moment, I moved cautiously with no rush to go out into the unknown.  Still wavering on what to do, I determined to venture out of my apartment to see what had happened and, perhaps be of some help.  As I opened my door, a trembling trepidation seized my body not knowing what awaited me.  To my relief, I saw a live woman, trail of blood behind her, standing in the middle of the lobby holding a wad of tissue in the back of her bleeding head.  When I asked her what had happened, she told me she had let a male in, who she thought was locked out, and as soon as she had entered the elevator, he had attacked her and pistol whipped her in the head.  Almost reflexively, I started to ask her why she would let a stranger in at such a late hour, but my good sense steered me from interrogating her, realizing any criticism would not help her.  Soon someone from upstairs came down with a towel, and shortly afterwards the police arrived at which point I returned to my apartment still in utter shock at what had transpired.

Because the level of crime in the ‘70’s in the City was pretty high, and, especially, after what I had been exposed to, I contemplated purchasing a gun.  But before doing something like that, and having no experience with a firearm, I decided to consult the police.  When I called a neighboring precinct and told the officer what I had experienced, he indicated that possession of a gun in a private residence is more dangerous to the owner than its value as a defensive weapon.  I chose not to buy a gun when he stated that accidental injuries and/or deaths occur with no infrequency with people that keep loaded guns in their homes.

A few days later that same woman who had been assaulted, knocked on my door and thanked me for what I had done.  She stated she had been in the hospital overnight where she received 18 stitches for her wound letting me see the back of her head.  Because her long hair covered the injury, she told me that the scar it left could not be seen. We both agreed that she had been extremely fortunate with my letting her know that her scream may have saved her. 

When a special meeting for the tenants was held to discuss what had occurred, one of them said they did not come out because earlier they had heard some frolicking and noise at a party.  I chuckled thinking they were referring to the little gathering of my brother and me with our dates.  That they could not distinguish the noise of laughter, be it loud, from a cry of terror, suggested to me that they were unwilling to accept or admit to their own fears.

Although I was living in one of four apartments on the first floor, I was the only one to come out.  Someone later told me the Super, who lived on the 1st floor, did not want to get involved because he had children.  Even though Monday was President’s day and some residents might have been away, it still surprised me that I was the first one to offer aid with a resident from upstairs coming down with a towel soon afterwards.  My delayed reaction at responding to the screams had annoyed me and caused some guilt.  However, when the victim told me the assailant had a gun, I knew that any “heroic” act such as my idea of madly running after him with wine bottle in hand, could have resulted in disaster.  If the mugger had been on drugs, he may not have given too much thought to pulling the trigger very possibly resulting in my death.   Emergency situations calling for split second decisions are never easy to make.  When it was happening, I thought I should have done more, but when it was over I felt relieved in how I had acted.