I dream when I can.
I convert the worst part of my job into the best part by allowing myself to daydream or write in my head. I was doing that very thing when someone crept inside and killed it for me, as well as for someone else.
South Central Los Angeles has its green patches. The neighborhood stands out, but not with extravagance like Beverly Hills or uber charm like West LA. It stands out because it is clean, free of graffiti, and not littered by trash.
I drove through the gang-infested, trash-strewn sprawl and arrived at a green patch with clean lawns and fresh paint on the houses. I reached the perimeter marked with police tape and an officer directed me to a great place to park. I checked in and began talking to a detective about the scene. I was informed there would be a delay since the investigators were not ready to lay out numbers or letters, so I waited across the street and got ready to shoot some overalls.
I was standing, facing the crime scene, when I heard a young voice behind me. The voice seemed excited. I turned enough to catch a glimpse of a boy resting his head on crossed forearms that were draped over the top of a short chain link fence.
He talked about the lake his dad was taking him to. He was excited with anticipation of the kinds of fish they would catch and the kind of place it would be. He looked past the scene across the street and well into the next day.
A young, adult male also overheard the boy. He was on the same side of the fence. He began to dispute and shoot down everything the boy imagined, stating he’d been to that same lake and it was a dump with no fish to boot. It was nothing but verbal poison. In that moment, I wished I could have said something.
It was time to work. There was a black SUV parked on a sharply sloped driveway at a corner lot home. It was, save for the dead man in the truck, a really nice place. The driver had fled from someone who caught up to him. The murderer shot him through the driver’s side window, opened the door, and shot him several times more in the face and chest. Although disturbing, it truly is an act of intimacy watching someone die up close.
Across the street where the boy lived, houses showed less care. Whole neighborhoods can go from safe and nice to dangerous and run-down in just a few blocks. I noticed the boy’s eyes had lost some of their life. They stopped dreaming of the future, his hopes for catching some fish and being in a nice place with his dad gone. His eyes had been affixed on the trash blown in from a few blocks away and the spray painted gang signs on the sidewalk. The days of anticipation disappeared from his expression. I noticed it the moment I finished my shot and moved down the sidewalk to another position. He was forced to retreat into the oasis of his mind. It was better to dream by yourself than allow others a glimpse only to have them rip it apart and drag you down. I hope that is what he thought.
If I were able to say at least one thing to that embittered man who scoffed at the boy’s wistfulness, I would have urged him to just let the boy dream.