I'm pretty sure that's the most exciting title I've ever given an article of mine. For the record.
Now, this is a story I don't tell very often (and I didn't even tell my family about it until I was back at home, for good reason) but I've had a couple of requests to share it. This was, without a doubt, the second scariest thing I've ever had happen to me. Even scarier when the crazy woman was shooting at us with her shotgun and hit the sign right over our heads.
So, here it is, in all its fetid glory. I'm writing it like it's happening, because I find present-tense narrative so much more driving than past-tense.
Jun 2003. 1:02am.
It had been another long, rewarding day of walking, sharing, and sweating. I love being a missionary - I don't think I've ever felt that my life has quite as much worth as it does right now.
But since we work so hard all day every day, I'm wiped by the time I get home. I'm fast asleep, and nothing can wake me.
Then I hear something. Elder Vargas (my partner at the time) is shaking our bunkbeds, making that annoying squeek-squeek-squeek whenever anyone moves a muscle. But he's not just moving in his sleep. I hear him say, "Jones, wake up. Look out the window."
I groggily shake sleep from my eyes, stretching and banging my hand on the underside of the top bunk. "Ouch. What is it, man?"
He's hanging halfway out of his bunk, peeking inconspicuously out of the blinds down into our parking lot. (We live on the second floor.) He glances down at me and states, "A couple of cholos are fighting over something."
My face contorts, and I reply, "You woke me up because a couple of Mexi-gangbangers are fighting? You suck as an individual, Vargas."
He glares, snapping, "Just listen, Chones."
And that's when I hear it. This is no little fight - this is the for-real deal. I slither out of bed and poke my nose out of the blinds, and I see them - two hardcore gang members, both yelling at each other. I listen, unable to decipher most of the words (I'd only known Spanish for like 5 months), but I can pick out a few gems - "chiva", "hijo de puta", "cabrón" - and I realize that it's a drug deal gone bad.
One of the gangsters has on a wife-beater, with a gaudy bandana on his head. The other is wearing a loose plaid shirt. (I know, I know - totally typical gangbanger paraphernalia, huh? You'd think they would have at least looked more . . . original . . . for the sake of me telling this story some day.) They continue to yell, until wife-beater puts his hands up and shoves plaid, hard. He falls back, into the parked car a couple of feet behind him, and hollers at the top of his lungs, "¡Hijo de PUTA!" and reaches behind his back.
Oh crap, I think to myself. He's reaching for his nine.
Time slows to a crawl. His hand comes out from behind himself, brandishing a heavy, dark handgun, and as he points it at wife-beater, he screams, "¡Vas a morir, pinche!" Wife-beaters hands come up in front of his face, and he cringes - as if that's going to stop the inevitable. That's when I hear it.
"Holy shit!" I hear Vargas exclaim, as he grabs the phone off the desk, punching the numbers in. Plaid takes off running in the other direction, and I dive towards the door, quickly finding my keys to the front door.
Vargas leaps out of the top bunk, hollering into the phone, "There's been a shooting at (address removed), two gangsters. A guy just got shot five times!" I'm out the door and down the steps, and wife-beater is lying there in an increasingly large puddle of blood. Another neighbor from underneath us has her head out the door, apprehensive.
I fall to the ground next to him, and he's coughing up blood. Red is everywhere, and his chest is mangled, riddled with holes like swiss cheese. I pull my t-shirt off, trying to think what to do, as I say, "Está bien, amigo. Estará bien. Quédese acá, no se pierda." (It's okay, friend. You'll be okay. Stay here, don't get lost on me.) I try to put pressure on his wounds with my shirt to lessen the blood flow, but it's useless. I'm coated in it.
He looks at me. His eyes meet mine, and I repeat, "Está bien, estará bien. Está bien, estará bien," over and over again. Vargas appears behind me, still hollering hysterically into the phone, explaining the situation to the dispatcher. I turn to him for a second and his yells, "Dude, what are you doing?"
"I don't know!" I retort. I look back at gangbanger, and he looks at me one more time. In that instant, his eyes go blank and I know he's gone.
Five bullet holes in the chest do that to a person.
I don't know what to do. I'm in panic mode, so I keep putting pressure on his still chest, as the police pull up, pistols drawn. My hands snap up and I step away, completely covered in a thick sheen of wet, warm blood.
Our neighbor comes running out, trying to explain the situation to the police. The EMTs show up at the exact same instant and begin to do their thing, and it's utter chaos.
The police take our statements, and take them again, and then for good measure ask us to tell the story again. Our neighbor's tale corroborates ours, and the police take our info and tell us we can go back home now, but if they need anything they'll give us a call.
The adrenaline has stopped pumping at this point, and I feel more tired than I've ever felt in my life. The blood has all coagulated and dried, and I'm sticky and disgusted. I'm basically in shock as to what happened.
I trudge upstairs, walk into the bathroom, turn on the shower, and stand there in the water, slowly removing my clothes and throwing them in the garbage can, soaking wet. I'm numb; I don't even know where to start processing the night's happenings.
After what feels like a hour in the shower (but was probably just a few minutes), I step out and Vargas is looking at me. "We just saw a murder, man."
"No, Chones, I don't think you've processed this yet. We just witnessed a dude shoot another dude. And then you touched the shot dude. What are we gonna do?"
So, anyway, to keep this from getting any longer, I shorten. We called the President of the Mission (the guy in charge of us) and he wanted us to pack up and he was going to come get us that evening to move us to a new area, and close ours off. Somehow (I don't really remember how) we convinced him to let us stay, and we were there in Albuquerque for the next four months together. It was quite the adventure.