Updated: Jan 17, 2020
Loud foot falls slapping the pavement.
The terrified scream, “Get away from me!”
I shot straight up in bed.
The sounds of desperately fast running feet continued.
“Leave me alone!”
I stumbled for my glasses.
I stumbled for my shoes.
I grabbed my keys and unlocked the door.
I still wasn’t fully awake as I struggled to open the door. In my fog I struggled against a sliding deadbolt that I hadn’t fully opened.
It wasn’t the screams that knocked me fully awake, it was fumbling with that lock.
Finally liberated from the door, I ran downstairs, across the courtyard and out the front gate.
I looked around but saw no one.
Through a nearby open window I heard voices debating whether to call 911.
I stood frozen in place trying to listen for anymore cries.
Through the dimly lit dawn I could barely make out the shadowy outlines of the drug dealers down the street. Unperturbed by the ruckus, they leaned casually against the corner building waiting for customers.
I reached up to push my hair out of my eyes when I discovered my sleeping mask still tangled in my hair. I felt foolish and for a brief moment cared what the drug dealers would think of me standing there confused and disheveled. I raked the mask off of my head and grasped it tightly in my hand.
I looked around one last time listening for any more clues as to what had happened.
I turned around to courtyard gate that had slammed shut behind me. I was shocked that I had the presence of mind to grab my keys or I would have been locked out.
I came back upstairs where Brian was getting himself together.
“Did you hear that?” I asked now no longer sure the screams I had heard were real.
But he heard them too. We talked for a bit about how quick and sudden it was – no build up to the woman’s terror that we could hear. I think that’s what made it all so compelling.
In the eight years of living in Hollywood just a block and half off the main party and tourist area – we’ve heard it all and in countless languages from around the world:
Happy drunks, angry drunks, sad drunks.
Arguments and violent fights.
Squealing bachelorette parties and uproarious laughter.
Gunshots and fireworks.
The giggles of children in the playground next door and swimmers splashing in the courtyard pool.
Mental freak outs, breakdowns and bad drug trips.
Bad karaoke and stunningly talented opera singing neighbors.
Through it all we’ve heard plenty of other women scream. But all the ones I can recall were either shrieks of laughter or angry arguments. I know it sounds terrible, but I usually slept through most of them.
But this one was different. It was sudden. It was primal. And it woke me from my usually deep sleep.
For some reason, I was unconsciously drawn to it. To me it felt like forever that I got out the door, but Brian said I was gone like a shot. I didn’t have a plan once I got outside, but something compelled me towards this woman’s terror.
Uneasily I went back to bed. A notification on my phone had sent an alert about it so the cops had been called. But what became of her I will never know. Some hours later I heard a man yelling, “Irina, I’m sorry! Come back!” over and over. I comforted myself in thinking it was her and this meant she got away.
It’s been a few days since this happened and I’m curious about my unconscious reaction and how different it was to most of the late night/ early morning party noise we hear coming off of Hollywood Blvd.
The most pointed difference was the sheer terror in the woman’s voice. It’s not anything that I can describe with words. But I felt it way down to my core.
The rawness of her scream reminded me of an experience I had at a self-defense instructors training a few years back. It was an instructor’s training class that included defending against a Red Man suit. During my turn to beat on him I grunted, “fuck” over and over with each strike. I didn't curse because I felt angry – in fact the whole thing was totally fun and punching things makes me happy. But I can be something of a curser – I once made a Russian cabbie blush trying to impress him with the vocabulary I had picked up when I was in his home country. And so an F-bomb popping out during physical exertion has no real meaning for me.
After the exercise and during the debrief the woman running the training chastised me for cursing. I think her point was that she didn’t want me to teach that way. I just nodded and shrugged it off knowing I was going to teach how I was going to teach the second I walked out the door.
That experience got me curious. I posted about it on Facebook where some seasoned self-defense instructors weighed in. A significant point in that discussion was how important choice of language can be in how others perceive what was happening and how they decide whether to intervene or not. Cursing and mere anger can sound like a fight or argument and are less likely to elicit help. From my own experience that rang true; when I’d hear an argument with anger, accusations and cursing, even if was between a man and woman, that’s when I’d just roll over and go back to sleep. I might respond differently in a more low key neighborhood, but in such a chaotic environment, you've got to be more discerning.
I also know that I’ve impulsively cursed and have effectively shut down men heading at me with violent intent. And those weren’t arguments but attempted assaults by strangers. I may have sounded stern (thanks to lots of karate ki-hop practice) but on the inside I was terrified.
I should have a good, solid concluding paragraph here… but the thing is, I have no idea where I’m going with this. I’m just writing because I can’t get that woman’s terrified screams out of my head… I guess my point is that you just know terror when you hear it.