In my hood

For the first time in couple weeks, I purchased gas at the convenience mart down the road from my home. I’d been avoiding my neighborhood Ameri-Mart since June 14, 2007 when a 22-year old woman, a newspaper carrier for USA Today, was found dead. This mother of two, who was also 8-months pregnant, had been murdered during the wee hours of the morning, when the store was closed, probably as she made her first stop on the morning paper route. Violent crime seems to occur more and more frequently in my small city, but never had something as brutal and random happened so close to home. This was my local mini-mart, the place I’d frequented every week since moving into the neighborhood two years ago.

Daybreak of the murder, I woke to the sounds of helicopters flying above. It was an unusually loud and bothersome noise, so I knew that the aircraft was right over my building. Although it was odd to be awakened by a helicopter, I gave it little notice, assuming it was a Sky5 copter reporting on traffic. As is usually my routine, I flipped on the local news to check road congestion and, instead, learned of the brutal discovery. The helicopters flying above carried either police searching the lake and forest behind my building, or television reporters trying to get a bird’s eye view of the scene. Either way, it was unnerving.

On this unusual morning, my protectorate Max was away on business. My being alone only added to a strong sense of insecurity. I grabbed Charlie, a poor excuse of a watchdog, before double checking to make sure all the doors were locked. Only then did I feel safe enough to take my morning shower and get ready for work. Thirty minutes later, I drove past the murder scene on my way to the office. The mini mart remained closed, its parking lot covered in yellow crimes scene tape, which would have looked like bright yellow party streamers on any other day. Twenty police cars filled the property; reporters and cameramen dotted the perimeter.

At that hour, details about the murder and victim were scarce. And as I caught sight of the store, I realized how silly I’d been to have turned those uneasy feelings inward, making it all about me. Someone had been killed at this location. Who? Was it either of the store’s owners I greeted each week? I tried to picture both men-- the younger (about my age), foreign, friendly, and the other man, possible an older relative, who sometimes worked the deli counter. Even though I didn’t know either man’s name or remember a single, meaningful conversation between us, I grew very sad. Those feelings only intensified when I drove by the scene at lunch, and again on the way home from work.

Learning the details of who had been murdered didn’t relieve my stress. The business remained closed the next day as investigators worked to find clues. And despite the fact that USA Today offered reward money for information leading to the killer, the murder remains unsolved to this day.

But life goes on, even after horrible things happen. Ameri-Mart reopened for business two days later. And for the next several days after, the store seemed like any other business with only the occasional newsperson reporting “from the scene.” Still, I couldn’t bring myself to fill the car’s tank at its pumps. To do so felt disrespectful somehow, as though I’d be traipsing on a gravesite. And even though I had worried about the fate of the men who worked inside, I didn’t want to see their faces anymore. I didn’t want to happen to overhear gruesome details of the two lives cut short outside the market’s doors, or see any evidence of what had transpired on that fateful morning.

But then I wondered how many other regular customers felt like me. The owners weren’t responsible for what had happened outside the doors, yet my guess was their business suffered nonetheless.

So when my gas gauge neared E and despite some creepy feelings, I finally made a pit stop at the store. I walked inside to pay before pumping, and spotted the older man, who caught my glance and smiled in return.

“I need $20 at pump one, please.” I said, handing the cash over to him.

The older man continued to smile as he rang in my order.

“Thank you very much for your business,” he said quietly.

I could tell he meant it.


kenju said...

Someone told me just today that she would no longer be going to the farmer's market on that road, because of the murder. I thought that was a bit extreme, but I do understand any reticence to go to that mart.

David said...

I think what you felt was normal ecspecially soon after what happened. The store people had to know that would be the reaction even though they had nothing to do with it. But I bet they are super glad to have you back as a customer or just stopping by, it helps put their life back to normal too I bet. I mean you stop there a few days out of the week maybe? They are there everyday, it has to be difficult for them as well.

Love your dogs new name btw!

Netty said...

I often stop there on the way out of downtown in the afternoons to get a coke for my 1 hour drive. But I too admit it took me about a week or so to stop there after that, it just felt weird.

AmyD said...

How tragic...I teared up at the end, only being able to imagine how tough it must be for the worker and for you as a scared and compromised citizen. I hope they are able to close this case (which sounds domestic in nature to me...) soon so you can all find some peace of mind. :o(