It’s an Ugly Day in This Neighborhood

The dead remains of autumn crunched beneath my feet, and I could hear the sound of laughter and screams ahead. I walked at the pace of a woman being followed by a creepy man in a parking lot late at night. The purpose of this was to break a sweat and burn calories without resorting to jogging, or worst of all, running. I never understood people who were into hardcore running. As a fitness professional, believe me I have tried running programs both on the treadmill and out in nature. Somehow, despite a proper warmup beforehand and stretching afterwards, I would find myself with shin splints, angry feet, and a renewed hatred for long distance running. I much preferred power walking, shorter bursts of high intensity cardio, and weight lifting.

So I continued power walking, always keenly aware of my surroundings for my safety and for writing fodder. I liked walking to the east, where my humble neighborhood transitioned into historic, stately homes. Up ahead in front of a large colonial style house with grand white columns, a little girl cruised around on her scooter. A young boy who I presumed to be her brother was hiding behind a pickup truck ahead. Their father was doing yardwork out front.

“Grrrowwrrrrrr!” The boy roared, running out towards his sister as her scooter rolled by, arms stretched and fingers curled. The girl screamed in that high pitched way that almost sounds like a whistle. The boy laughed and called after her, “I got you, I got you!” A few houses down, past a secluded Frank Lloyd Wright architectural masterpiece, the road began to descend, and woods emerged on both sides. At the bottom of the hill was a park with swings, a merry-go-round, a wild looking rope apparatus, a giant xylophone near a sandpit, and a zipline. To the right, the road curved up, still surrounded by woods on both sides, and that was where a small group of women who took walks around the neighborhood discovered the blood, and the body of Tabitha Birdsong. It could have been me who discovered her. Tabitha Birdsong had been stabbed to death by her husband.

A dark-haired beauty, she was described by her best friend as a sweet woman and a poet. She’d been a victim of domestic abuse for almost a decade and had an order of protection against her estranged husband, but he had tracked her down that fateful evening before the women found her remains early the next morning. I used to take a right and walk up that hill all the time just to take a glimpse of the castle-like gated estate at the top, but I cannot bring myself to any longer, at least not by that sorrowful and tainted route, where I imagine the birds’ songs now have a haunting quality about them after what they’ve seen. Instead, on this day, I took a left and trudged onward, past the bright eyes and shrieks of innocent children on the playground, hoping they would never be victims, though three women are killed every day in the United States by their partner, and 40-50% of women murdered are due to partner abuse.



12 thoughts on “It’s an Ugly Day in This Neighborhood

  1. Horrific – really, its exasperating. Something in the male psyche, or a percentage of them perhaps, its frightening. We had a psycho murder down the riverside where I grew up, I knew the victim (by sight only) she used to work in the record store, she was highly visible on the local music scene with her peroxide hair. I wondered where she’d got to cos I’d not seen her for a yr or 2, turned out she was killed by this freak. What shook me all the more, I’d been working as a postman around that time, I’d seen some guy laying exposed in his front room, curtains open – I just thought he’d made a mistake, but then I got to thinking what if he was doing it deliberately? School-kids were passing by, so I thought I shall look out for him and report it, but I never saw him again. The killer was caught, and it was a guy from that area, possibly the same street and house – I felt involved – especially as I would walk down there regular.

    • There are a lot of jealous, possessive, and controlling men out there, and the idea that men have to be in control is still present in a lot of pop culture. What you described is terribly sad, too. My mother and her sister were walking to school when they were about 11 or 12 and saw a man flashing them from his upstairs window in their neighborhood.

      • Well yes, you did write that up very well, I was quite drawn in – I’m sorry to read that its quite a recent case, its really dreadful when something like this happens, I don’t know which is worse, the random psycho, or the wife beating hater. I actually wonder if they’re both of the same cloth, as it were? That guy exposing himself, what is even the purpose? Perhaps they think they have some score to make. Who is to know how people get so messed up and wrong.

        That guy I saw, he was laid spreadeagled on a bed, so I just thought, ah, funny! He doesn’t realise – but then later I thought who lays on top of a bed spreadeagled like that? It was ground floor, I don’t know if kids would have seen, I only saw cos I had to go to the door, but it was most likely deliberate and that same guy. A couple of years later I met her old friend at art college, I knew al the haunts we al went to, cos its not a big town, but big enough.

        I have a friend on FB who has just got out of a bad relationship, she said she was beaten throughout, she says its really strange how it was only when she got grandkids she realised she didn’t have to put up with it – perhaps like pricking a bubble, and feeling able to take a walk outside or something.

      • Thank you my friend. I’m sure it comes down to a mix of primal aggressive instincts and the need for attention, the adrenaline rush, and other psychological factors I know not of.
        Nasty stuff!

        I’m glad your friend escaped from that horror. Having little ones around can really change your perspective sometimes.

  2. Thank you Lauren for having the courage to write this. Instead of a blast across the bow with vitriol and blame, you tell us about a young woman struggling with the system and desire for a new life. You let us know how it has affected you. I read the article and there is no way for me to avoid the tears in such an unnecessary tragedy. You know abuse is a special concern of mine especially when women and children are victims. There are so many, “if only’s” that it becomes mind numbing. One can see the long list of failures that marched Tabitha to her brutal end. Thank you for caring and reminding us in such a kind way that we all play a part and the destruction of domestic violence reaches much further than the victim.

    • These kinds of incidents happen all the time, it just hit me harder being so close to home, and feeling connected as a fellow poet. It’s tragic how the system has failed so many. And yes your writing reflects some of these unspeakable acts, and the strong women that over come them. ❤ If only Tabatha were so lucky. Thanks for reading the article and your thoughtful response.

      • Thank you Lauren. I really thought hard about how this is endemic to my writing and I realize a lot of it has to do with my experiences. I resolve a lot of my own trauma at witnessing such horrific things on a grand scale by creating female characters that face it and overcome it but not without consequences. I questioned whether what I’m doing is right. Certainly there is the risk of sending a wrong message. But, there are so many faces in my nightmares begging me to do something. I have a granddaughter who struggles with self esteem and I have enrolled her in martial arts, she is learning to play flute, and I teach her the art of fighting with knives and archery in the ancient Korean style. In those moments her struggle pays off and she hits a perfect note, a well placed kick, an effortless cut, or a bullseye, she is momentarily transformed. A flicker of confidence and self assurance lifts her chin and I feel she has a chance. Most of all, I have helped her become an accomplished artist, far better than I could ever be and she is only 11. She will be a warrioress balanced in the soft art as well as the hard. Maybe those faces will fade in time. But for those of us left here, there is much work to do.

      • Writing is a great form of therapy. It’s for YOU first and foremost, so I wouldn’t worry about how it’s received, though you certainly have appreciative readers who admire your talent to weave a hell of a great story. What a great grandfather you are, suggesting she enroll in martial arts and teaching her all these cool things to make her feel like a confident lil’ badass, and encouraging her creative side, too. I wish both of my grandfathers were still around, but one in particular would I think be very proud of my fitness endeavors. He was a gymnast and majored in Phys Ed. He would have been a great coach for me.

      • That is so wonderful that your grandfather was a gymnast. You must have his spirit guiding you as you develop your own personal fitness and teaching skills too. And you are right, finding a useful outlet for those powerful desires to right wrongs by changing the outcomes through writing has been a great tonic. I do enjoy the hope my little Starship Trooper connects well with the spirit of steel. She pumped her fist and gave me her battle cry the other day, “Girl Power”. I melted into a silly gelatinous mess.

      • I like to think he’s guiding me, too. 🙂

        She’s going to turn into one badass babe as she grows older. I can only imagine how excited (and proud) you are to see her grow and transform. And it’s perfect timing now as women all over are rising up. She’ll have some good role models outside the home to look up to.

      • Whoops, hit the go button too soon. I was going to say I am thrilled she will have plenty of positive role models. My prayers would be answered then.

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