“All I know is that you’re going to jail!” My wife and I hear outside our condo window late last night. Not the typical thing you hear yelled in our sleepy condo complex made up of young families and retirees.
We step outside on our back balcony. Diagonally above us and to our left, our neighbor is standing on his balcony railing that is as narrow as a balance beam. He’s trying unsuccessfully to pull himself onto the roof.
If he falls, he’s at a distance that will either kill him or break every bone in his body.
Two police officers below. A police officer at the opening of the door to the balcony he’s now trapped on. I can’t see that police officer, but I can hear him. From what our neighbor standing on the railing is yelling, the police officer has his gun drawn. And our neighbor is threatening to jump if the officer takes one step onto his balcony.
Thus begins one of the most intense nights of our lives.
The Next Hour…
From the shouts going back and forth, the police are there because there’s been a 911 call for domestic violence.
Our neighbor says he’s done nothing wrong.
The shouts and screams escalate as our neighbor yells that he’s not carrying a weapon so the police officer should lower his gun. Then our neighbor, quite amazingly, while balancing on the railing, takes off all his clothes down to his underwear to show he’s not carrying a weapon. He throws everything down to the street below.
He’s almost naked. Is it so he can leave this world the same way he came in? It’s what I start fearing.
I don’t think he’s going to jump. But as the madness and desperation come in bigger, successive waves, there’s moments my heart leaps into my throat as his feet hang off the edge. There’s moments he stares down and gets very quiet. Those are the moments that feel like eternity.
There I am. About 20 feet away. I can see my neighbor and he can see me. We’ve said hi a few times in the past as he walks his dog, but I don’t know his name. The cops have blocked off the whole area. Other than the police, I’m the only other person he can talk to.
The back and forth negotiations are not going well. I wonder if I should just tuck away inside. I’m guessing the official stance is that I shouldn’t be interfering in police business. I wonder if I’m going to make things worse. But the police standing below don’t motion me in. So I stay. I don’t know how I can not be there. How can I go inside and do anything else? I feel like I need to be there. To at least be someone he can talk to that is not the police.
I pray my two girls don’t wake up to witness this. I pray for my neighbor standing on that railing. I pray for something to say.
I’ve been trying to formulate some answer, some magical phrase in my head for the last hour in case he brings me into the conversation. But nothing is coming to mind.
Then he yells down to me. It’s my time. And all I can think to say is that I care about him. As his neighbor, I’m here for him. I don’t wait to see him get hurt. And I care about him.
He calms down and gets quiet. I don’t think I’ve magically saved the day. I don’t know if I’ve changed anything. But maybe just someone else being there not in uniform means something to him.
The back and forth shouts and screams continue. He tells the police to call a phone number and ask the person on the other line to pray for him. I shout up to him that I’m praying for him. “I’m praying for you,” I say again.
He looks at me and stays quiet.
Then an officer with a K-9 dog pulls up on the street below and starts yelling at our neighbor to get off the railing. And if he jumps, the K-9 dog is going to bite him. The ridiculous threat. The dog barking. The noise. Everything gets escalated in a flash. It’s not helping the situation at all. Our neighbor becomes more enraged, more furious, more hysterical. I wonder what the heck that officer is doing. I’m angry at him too.
After 15 minutes the officer with the K-9 leaves and they clear the street of other officers. Things calm down a little. I say a prayer of thanks.
The Range of Emotions…
Experiencing the range of emotions he’s showing is intense.
From rage — pounding a wall as he cusses out anyone in sight or in memory.
To madness — taking down huge wind chimes and furiously shaking them so loudly that they ring across the condo complex like church is now in session. Grabbing his head and screaming for the officer to just shut up!
To fear and desperation — as he frantically searches for any escape. For any way out of this.
To deep sorrow, regret, and the full realization — He crouches on the railing, sobbing and saying over and over again, “I’m f*cked.”
My neck, shoulders, and legs throb as they’ve been in a permanent state of tension for hours. I can only imagine how his legs must be feeling. And even if he doesn’t jump, at some point is he going to lose his balance and fall.
Then it Happens…
The neighbor asks the officers to call his brother so that he can say his last goodbye. The police officers get his brother’s voicemail and put it on speaker phone. He hears the line go to voicemail. Then he simply steps down. Not to the cement below, but to the police officers.
Unceremoniously and in an instant.
The four-hour stand-off is over. He’s cuffed. We see the woman who called the police covered in ice bags. The night is finished.
What I Learned and am Still Processing…
- Consequences for our actions are all too real. Sometimes there’s absolutely no way to escape them.
- When you’re with someone in an intense situation and you don’t know what to say, I think just your presence within the hurricane can be a little safe space from the howling winds.
- Threats don’t work. The police officers on the job did outstanding. Especially the one talking to the man for hours. The officer never raised his voice or threatened him. The officer kept giving the man options to get off the ledge. But when the officer down below turned to force and threats, it only made things worse.
- When it feels like there’s no way out and you have no other options, there’s always another option. There’s tomorrow morning. You can choose it. It might not feel like the easy choice, but you can choose tomorrow morning. You’re never too far gone.
- Taking immediate ownership for our own problems is wiser than blaming others for them.
- God’s love doesn’t diminish. What our neighbor appeared to have done was horrific. But I had this strong feeling as I watched our neighbor that God’s love for him and God’s love for me was the exact same.