I’m a crappy housekeeper. I’m sure there are women out there who keep a beautiful house throughout the winter. And here’s where my excuses make me quasi-legit: I’ve got two kids, two dogs, and a crafty husband whose artwork involves mounds of sawdust. So, with the weather turning, we’ve begun to spring clean—and that involves a trip to the Giant Wash down the street at Franklin and Clinton.
We sorted, hubby loaded, and I jetted the whole block to the Giant Wash with a carload full of forgotten sweaters, dog-damaged towels, crayon-stained tee shirts … I couldn’t see out of the back of our sedan, I had so much to do. I got three “giant” $7.50 loads done and was back to get three more gigantic ones, when there was excitement outside the laundromat. Before I opened my car, I looked down the strip mall to the store. I could see a semi-circle crowd backing away from what looked like girls fighting. I could see the tugging of a veil or headscarf and heard voices being raised. The door to the Mercado kept opening and closing and people moved away from the store.
I asked the mat’s attendant what’s going on and he said, “I dunno, so long as they keep the mess outside.” I turned back to my car and was again opening my door when I saw two women returning, covered in blood. I spoke up, and asked what happened. I’m an African American woman, I don’t speak another language, and I felt powerless to communicate with these blood-speckled women. One stood in front of the other as if to protect her. I asked them both—“Are you okay?”
The woman in front waved me off, shook her head. But the woman behind her had the stare of someone angry and ready to fight. She pushed her friend aside and made to come back outside where I stood. But she wasn’t looking at me, she was looking down the block toward the store.
I moved back from the lady in the ‘mat and turned to see what she saw: a thin, bloody woman. The other fighter. We watched her together. The sight of so much blood on the other fighter was jarring. Her once-white blouse clung to her lithe frame as she moved quickly in and out of the Mercado. A towel was given to her to staunch the blood streaming from her face. She held it there. Someone handed her a child, whom I guess she was screaming for. A girl no older than three was crying in her arms as she strode determinedly to her car. She put her child in her car seat.
At the ‘mat, the attendant was at the door again—dumbstruck like me. I shouted that she needed medical attention and he shouted back that the police had been called. The woman was moving around inside her car. The little girl, obviously worried, was screaming. Jogging over to her, I asked the woman not to leave because she needed medical attention.
Her thin frame backed out of the car and she turned to face me—with a hammer in her hand. I said, “NO! What is this?!” She shouted to someone in another language and they moved toward her car and retrieved the child. They were shouting back at her. Her gesture to them and to me said, I’m doing this.
I screamed, “No!” She went for the door of the ‘mat. The attendant stepped aside and watched her go. I shouted something like, “Get the f* out of there!” Men were leaving the ‘mat and I followed in after her, screaming.
What would you do? It’s Sunday. You, like your neighbors need to get clothes ready for the week ahead. Maybe you’ve got your kids with you. The family helps get the job done. All I could think about was the plethora of kids ahead of her. And she’s mad, bleeding, and armed.
I ran in after her pleading, chasing. “Don’t DO this! Do the RIGHT thing! Somebody please tell her for me, STOP her!” This chase took less than two minutes, tops. But all I saw were parents shuttling their children away from the melee. All I saw were men walking away from the zig-zag, bloody juggernaut between washers and dryers. All races, all creeds—no men ready to take a stand with a skinny, wounded woman. I was alone.
After my sprints with the hammer-wielding momma, we realized that her intended was not around. She made for the door. I kept pleading, begging her to give me the hammer. She exited the ‘mat. An old woman stood in front of her. I assume she was saying the same as me. The woman with the hammer paused and I reached, touched her shoulder, and took the hammer from her.
After calling the police and begging for them to hurry up; after giving the hammer and statement to them and seeing that she got her care; after returning to my laundry to switch loads; after being besieged by well-wishers and gawkers, people too keen to recount our “relay” to anyone who wished—I became dizzy and unable to focus on the work. When a woman said that I was covered in blood I declared, “That’s it—I’m done washing today!”
My mom drove up to offer me help with the wash. I was almost done reloading my car. When I saw her, my eyes welled up as I told her the horrors I’d seen. I admitted my inability to get the work done. And she countered, “Let’s go out to eat.”
We slowly moved out of the lot. It was still crowded. People, most bunched in groups around cars, were still pointing and discussing the events of the evening.
After parking my car at home, a scant one block down the street, after wiping away the tears, we started for mom’s car to go get dinner.
Two loud gunshots rang out from down the street. From where I’d just left. We went back in the house. Locked the door. And I sat right down, and cried.
I didn’t want to wash my loads anyway. I hope no one got shot. So many kids …