Soap Opera in the Neighborhood
by By Peter Shelton
Mar 07, 2008 | 330 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The other day Cloe told us that it was OK to spread the word that she is pregnant. She’s a doctor, and for better or worse she knows all the things that can go wrong. In fact, when she first discovered she was pregnant, about eight weeks ago, her residency mates at University Hospital in Albuquerque were studying the many sad anomalies that can afflict fetuses.

She handled that irony with her usual aplomb, but decided to keep her own status quiet through the first trimester. Except for Mom and Dad, of course, and her sister and a few other intimates. Now it’s been 12 weeks, and Cloe’s latest ultrasound shows a perfectly-formed two-inch being (“with fingers!”) doing back flips in utero. Just like its mom, at age 8, when we got the trampoline for the backyard in Ridgway.

Cloe is still a little nervous, understandably. When she called the other day, there was a manic cast to her voice I couldn’t figure out right away.

She was tired, she said. She’d been on “night float,” where residents work nights and try to sleep during the day. She’d come home about 9 a.m. and fallen, exhausted, into bed in the room Adam has darkened so she can sleep.

Adam went out to his job trailer to get tools for work that day, and while he was out there he heard yelling from up the street. At first he thought it was “just some construction guys shouting to one another,” but then he heard a lot of “F-bombs” and saw a man hanging out an upper window of his house yelling, clearly now: “I’ll f--king break another window if I have to! I’ll kill them all! I’ll burn the house down! I’ll kill everybody! I don’t care!”

This was an unkempt, tan, one-and-a-half story bungalow with a psychotic dog who barked and ran a worn groove inside of the fence every time you drove by. In two years Cloe and Adam had only seen the man once out cutting his grass, “a tall, thin, blond guy with a limp.”

Adam thought, what if he’s got a gun? What if he’s really unhinged? He thought, I can’t leave my pregnant wife here alone and go to work. So he called the sheriff’s office in Tijeras and reported a domestic disturbance. Two deputies arrived about 10 minutes later and called to the man to come out. He just leaned out the window again and screamed, “Yeah, come on up. I’ll f--king kill you, too!”

Next thing Adam knew “there were about eight Bernalillo County cops with M16s in the yard trying to get him to come out. ‘Vernon. Come on out the garage door, Vernon. Come out with nothing in your hands and your hands down at your sides.’” But Vernon wouldn’t come out.

Now the street was filled with police vehicles. Adam approached a deputy talking with two middle-aged women. They were Vernon’s sisters. They thanked Adam for making the call. Their brother was a paranoid schizophrenic, and he had been off his meds. He needed help. One of the women had brought along her husband, who was wandering around taking pictures.

At about 3:30 p.m. Adam heard a phalanx of doors slamming and went outside to see military vehicles down the road disgorging men in camouflage “with fully automatic assault rifles and helmets with night vision goggles on top and big packs moving up the street. The cops were just standing around, but these guys ran bush to bush and house to house seeking cover. I woke Cloe up to see these two GI Joes coming into our yard, including one guy with a sniper rifle. They told us to get back inside the house as they went over our fence and behind the trailer next door.”

A couple of SWAT trucks arrived, including “a big, armored Suburban.” They cut through Vernon’s wire fence and drove the armored vehicle into the yard. At this point, Cloe had to get ready for her work night. It was way too late to try and get someone to cover for her. But cops with bullhorns were broadcasting: “All residents of the area, stay inside now!” And there began to be loud booms that Adam and Cloe assumed were tear gas canisters being shot into Vernon’s house.

It was 6:30 p.m. The subdivision was completely sealed off. But Adam and Cloe got permission to drive around the blocking vehicles, toward the freeway and downtown. Adam drove her to work unsure if he would be allowed back in. But when he got back at about 8 p.m., the drama was over. Desperate to breathe in his tear gas filled rooms, Vernon had broken another window. Whereupon the SWAT team burst in and grabbed him. The only weapon they found in the house was a machete.

With Cloe safely home the next morning, the whole 11-hour standoff seemed like a dream. “It seemed like overkill,” Adam told me later. “But you have no idea what that guy has behind the wall. If nobody’d done anything, he might have slept it off. Or he might have killed the whole neighborhood.”

Listening to Cloe tell the tale I felt surges of adrenaline flood my body, two pulses. One was the slightly queasy, faintly exhilarating epiphany that risk can rise up from anywhere in real-life, tabloid, 21st century America. And the second – the first, actually, overlaying the rest – was a rush of pure joy at being a grandpa – that my firstborn (was this really happening?!) was incubating her firstborn, and all was well.
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