It is a cold November night, and a 17-year-old girl is explaining how her boyfriend punched in her face, forced her out of his car and drove away.
Melba and I are there with David, whose house is across the street and one over from ours, which is on the northwest corner. We’d all heard the girl wailing, and from parted blinds and drapes we had watched her pacing aimlessly back and forth on the street. The three of us could not have been the only ones who heard the racket, but we were the only ones concerned enough (foolish enough?) to venture out.
Getting her to stand still is easy. Getting her to dial down the sobs and moans takes longer. On the way there she shares her name: Tyesha. Of course.
She has stuffed her short, thick frame into jeans and a waist-length jacket. We cannot read her face because the street light that should be providing illumination is out again.
We are all standing at the foot of David’s driveway. Tyesha says her parents are dead. She lives with her 16-year-old sister and an aunt on the far east side of town. David hands her his cell phone. Tyesha punches some numbers but there is no response. She tries a different number or two: same result. She hands the phone back to David and cups her right hand to her right cheek, trying to ease the pain.
Over Tyesha’s shoulder I see three men walking slowly to the southeast corner of the intersection. They stop and face us. They are silent.
“We should call the police,” I say, fearing that this is Tyesha’s boyfriend and his mates. There is a moment of silence as we ponder the absurdity of that comment.
“I called the police three times not long ago about a problem and they never came out,” David says.
I do not tell David that about a week earlier, at around nine in the morning, I watched two men enter an uninhabited house in back of ours and leave with a water heater. They glanced at me as I watched them from my back porch but witnessing their crime did not concern them. We all knew they’d be gone before the Detroit Police arrived. Sure enough, I called twice and the cops never showed.
David calls the police anyway, using serious words: “assault,” “boyfriend hit her,” “she’s afraid.” He gives the intersection, hangs up.
I mention the three men standing on the corner and this time Tyesha takes a look.
“That’s not them,” she says.
We cannot stand in the dark and the cold forever. About that time the three men reach the same conclusion. As slowly and silently as they came, they disappear through the back door of the house they’d been standing in front of.
“Do you want to come inside our house?” Melba asks Tyesha. It is too dark to see the relief on David’s face, but I know it is there.
Once inside Melba invites Tyesha to sit at the dining room table. She is wearing a fake hairpiece. It is not long enough to cover the butt crack peeking over the top of her jeans. The right side of her face is swollen. Melba fetches ice cubes from the refrigerator freezer and puts them in a plastic food storage bag that Tyesha applies to her face.
I stand at the front storm door, ready to flag down the police patrol car that I’m pretending is on its way.
More calls are made, this time with Melba’s cell phone. Tyesha reaches someone, says, “I don’t know where I’m at,” then the call is dropped. This happens three or four times. People on the other line call Tyesha back on Melba’s phone. She tells someone that she doesn’t have enough money for a cab. Eventually Tyesha arrives at another option, someone who lives much closer.
Her mild hysteria has turned to anger. She blurts out “baby daddy,” “take him to court,” “go to the police station.” There is no way of knowing whether this talk of revenge is genuine or just that: talk.
Then, some good news. Someone is home at a house off 6 Mile Road, which is only about a mile away.
I drive. Melba is up front, Tyesha in back. The trip is mostly silent.
I stop where I’m told. There is a car parked in the driveway, the nose pointed toward the street. The headlights blink on then off.
“Could I have a dollar to get some Tylenol?”
I retrieve a dollar from my pocket. Tyesha takes it, opens the door and gets out. Without a word of thanks she disappears into the darkness of the driveway as I turn the car around and drive back to 6 Mile Road.
This incident occurred in 2010. We have not seen Tyesha since.