That time my brother got shot in Oakland
Come to Oakland, I said. It’s not that bad, I said. Our neighborhood is very safe, I said. It’s really not as bad as everyone says.
My brother got shot.
It was late Saturday night, a few weeks ago, technically Sunday morning. 1:30 am.
My husband David and I had spent the day in Santa Cruz, haven driven down from our home in Oakland. I really wanted to go to Santa Cruz to see the wharf. I wanted to relive the vague happy memories from my childhood, of visiting the wharf and being absolutely delighted by the barking sea lions underneath, the bay facing North, the boardwalk in the distance. The day was happy, breezy and tiring. We got a parking ticket and witnessed a car accident on 880 on the way back.
We pulled over to the side of the road to make sure everyone was fine (they were) and waited for the police to arrive so we could give our account of the events. David was a bit more shaken up about the whole thing than I was. In the passenger seat, I had been too preoccupied with Plants vs. Zombies to fully comprehend how close we had come to hitting the car in front of us when we all had to slam on our brakes.
We had been lucky.
We got home at 11 pm and went straight to bed. The next thing I know, I’m waking up to the light in the bedroom flipping on and the voice of my older brother saying, “I think I’ve been shot. Somebody’s going to need to take me to the hospital.”
My reaction was electric. I half fell, half jumped out of bed. David had heard the shot and was semi-awake already. I had slept right through it and struggled to walk over to my brother, who was gently cradling his right arm. There was very little blood, just a small circle pooling at his wrist.
My brother disappeared, and I tried to figure out what clothes I should put on. I don’t remember where David was. Maybe putting on pants.
I rushed into the bathroom, determined to put in my contacts. If I was going to be in the emergency room all night, I wanted to be able to see. My glasses are about two prescriptions too old. I got the left eye in just fine, but struggled to get the lens into my right eye. It wouldn’t stick. It fell out and I tried again, this time adding a couple of drops of solution to it. As I pulled my lower eyelid down with my left hand, readying my right index finger to slide in the lens, I realized I couldn’t see anything. In either eye. The next thing I knew I was sitting on the floor, having crumpled under my toes.
I sat on the bath mat staring at the bottle of contact solution that I had knocked off the counter. My head was spinning. I simultaneously wanted to stand up and lie down, but it hurt to do either, so I just sat there, sort of paralyzed. My big toe and the two adjacent to it on the left foot were bruised and the skin had been broken.
David came in after he heard the noise. “Oh jeeze,” he said. “Are you okay? What happened?”
“I think I fainted.” He helped me up.
“Okay okay, let’s get you back to bed.”
I lay back down, fully clothed and half blind. From the bedroom I could hear David on the phone again, this time with the ambulance dispatch. He was arguing with the operator about where we lived.
“Look,” he said. “We live in Oakland. Not Berkeley. I don’t care what your computer says. If you transfer me to the Berkeley dispatch, so help me…” he trailed off.
“Okay. Yes. No. Not that much blood. He’s 31. Uh huh. No. Okay. Should I wet it? Oh. You said a dry towel? Okay. Yeah. Yes. We’ll be down there right away.”
I heard the door open, keys shuffling. My brother was insisting that David hold onto his insurance card.
“David, please,” I heard him say. “If you don’t hold onto it, I’m afraid I’ll lose it. It would give me peace of mind.” I couldn’t really hear David’s response, but it sounded like he acquiesced. He had already convinced my brother to let him call an ambulance — he had wanted David to just drive him to the ER. “David, I can’t afford it,” he had argued.
Our bedroom window was open. I heard the ambulance and the police arrive. Everything was bathed in red light. There were lots of voices — police, paramedics, neighbors, David. I could almost make out what he was saying. I was half asleep when David came back in to the bedroom, told me what had happened. How nice all the neighbors were. That the police were canvassing the neighborhood. That they had accidentally written down that he was 21, not 31. David said that he was going to the the hospital now. The ambulance already gone ahead.
“He kept apologizing to the EMTs,” David said. “Like he was sorry to be a bother. They keep looking at me like, what the fuck?”
“Ha! He’s so like that.”
“He told the cops how it happened.”
“Yeah, he said that he was walking up 8th, and saw this car parked one building up. Said that he thought they were just dropping someone off or waiting for someone. Then two guys got out of the car, walked over to him and told him to give them his wallet. He didn’t care; he only had like five bucks in there anyway.”
“Well, yeah. And he’d just cancel all the cards as soon as he got inside.”
David continued: “Right. So one of them had a gun, and he told him to turn around, to put his arms behind his back. He said he was calm and composed, and he complied. He told them he was going to reach in his pocket real carefully and give them the wallet. I guess the kids were nervous or something, and the gun went off. They ran off. Didn’t even take his wallet. Said one of the guys actually tripped over him while he was running away. He said the gun was real small — you saw the the holes?”
“Yeah. Did he see what they looked like? The guys?”
“Kinda. He was able to tell OPD what kind of car it was, and that one of the guys was pretty young, maybe 19 or 20. Kind of looked like one of the guys from Kriss Kross.”
“Wait, what?” I asked. “You mean like those rappers from the 90s that, like, wore their pants backwards?”
“Ha. Yeah. I guess he had his hair short, like that one guy — in the same kind of braids. Pants were on the right way though. I think. Oh, and apparently the neighbors across the street, you know the ones on the corner with the awning?”
“Mm. The ones that get all mad if you block the driveway?”
“Yeah. I guess they have video cameras outside their building. The cops asked them if they could look at the footage. They were so nice. Totally offered to help in any way they could.”
“Oh wow. That’s awesome. I don’t think the angle is right though.”
“Huh. Yeah. Maybe, I guess. We’ll see.”
David got up and walked over to the closet. He picked up my discarded pajamas.
“Why don’t you put on your pajamas?” David asked. “Get some sleep. When I told the paramedics that my wife had fainted, they asked if they should come up too.”
I laughed. “What did you tell them?”
“That you’d be fine. Just sleep it off.”
“It’s never happened to me before,” I said. “I’m always, like, really good in these kinds of situations. Logical, practical. I only feel emotions like three days later. I don’t understand why this happened.”
“I know,” David said. “I know.” He kissed my forehead. “Get some rest. I’ll have my phone on, yeah? I love you.”
“I love you.”
I changed out of my clothes and into my pajamas. I lay in the now dark, quiet room. I tried to sleep, but mostly I just imagined all the worst case scenarios I could conjure up. I got up and went into the bathroom. I peeled the contact lens out of my left eye and threw it in the trash. I washed my face, pulled my hair back.
I walked through the living room to the kitchen, making a mental note of the spots of blood on the couch. My brother’s keys lay next to the kitchen sink, coated in blood. I poured myself a glass of water. Maybe I was just dehydrated from the day at the beach? I don’t faint. That’s not a thing I do.
I washed all the dirty dishes in the sink, and then the keys. I set them out to dry on a dish towel. I wet a cleaning rag and walked over to the hall closet to retrieve the stain remover. I got to work on cleaning the couch cushions. My phone buzzed, back in the bedroom.
A message from David.
David: I’m heading home. He’s going to need surgery on his arm. Nothing serious. Just relieving the pressure.
Me: Ok. How long will he be in?
David: An hour or two, then recovery.
Me: Ok. When should we come back?
David: They’ll call you. Visiting hours are at 8 though.
Me: Ok. We’ll need to call my parents.
Me: Is he ok emotionally?
Me: Yeah. He knows we support him and have his back and all that?
Me: Also I cleaned the blood from his keys and the couch no problem.
We spent the next day in the hospital hanging out with my brother. His arm was wrapped in gauze, still stained with blood. No major nerve or skeletal damage. Just a little nerve trauma, from when the bullet went through, and some swelling. His hand still felt partly numb. David and I had picked up some coffee from Blue Bottle. If I were ever in the hospital, the thing I’d want is a coffee. Forget flowers.
We talked about it, but we didn’t.
Mom and Dad are flying in on Tuesday. Grandma would like you to call her. I wish you hadn’t posted a picture of it on Facebook before I called Mom. Yes, I told them that it could have happened anywhere.
We talked about how if this had happened back in Colorado, that our neighbors probably wouldn’t have been as kind or as helpful. About how amazing our neighbors in Oakland were, how they offered their help and support. Said they’d be there if we needed anything.
“Yeah, if it happened on our old street, our neighbors would probably just peek out through the blinds and shut off all their lights,” I said. “Plus, like Dad said, people there have better aim. And also manifestos. At least here it’s simple and stupid. Just property crime.”
Some small consolation, I suppose.
We alternated between talking and looking at our phones. Playing games or browsing Reddit. Texting and checking Facebook. David and I picked up some Zachary’s pizza and we all drank fancy sodas together. David accidentally dropped his last piece of pizza on the ground, and I almost cried. I got a root beer from the vending machine, but it was so sweet, that I couldn’t drink it.
We went home, promising to be back at noon tomorrow, when the hospital expected to release him.
And so the days went by. And then the weeks. My parents came and went. We went back to work. A few friends in the Bay Area stopped by with flowers and coffee and snacks. Everything was fine again, but ever so slightly fucked up. We’re all just fine.
A few days after it had happened, David and I were talking about it and talking about how weird it was that I had fainted.
“This has never happened to me before,” I said. “I’m usually so calm and composed when these kinds of things happened.”
“I know. When I told Aaron about that, he said that he would have expected that from me, not you,” he laughed. “But seriously, I think I know why it happened.”
“Yeah. I think it was because you had told him to come out to Oakland — we both did. You told him about how nice everyone in our neighborhood is, how our neighborhood is pretty safe. How all that stuff about Oakland isn’t really true. And when he came in that night, I think you were so overwhelmed with that. Overwhelmed with the guilt.”
“Yeah. Maybe so.”
“Oh, and that he got shot.”
“The funny thing is,” I said, “is that he says he wants to stay out here. His job promoted him to manager after six weeks. He felt like he was spinning his wheels back in Colorado. That if he had to do it all over again, he’d still move to Oakland.”