"I'm never going to feel safe. Don't take it personally, and don't try to change it."
I said that sometime last year in a workshop I was taking at The Actor's Fund, a place that supported me tremendously during the depths of my "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" phase from 2014 to 2015—not only financially, but also in terms of personal and career development and emotional support. I still rely on them for that, even though my situation has improved somewhat.
At the time, I was being a bit hyperbolic. I just wanted to manage their expectations. I didn't want to become a project for them. Just let me be paranoid and all PTSD-ed out, and I'll be fine.
But now that I have a little bit of distance from that time—and have managed my depression and anxiety a bit better and haven't be retraumatized all that recently—I'm starting to think that my overstatement might actually be true.
And it's not just that I may never feel safe. It's that I may never actually be safe.
I've lived in my building for over five years now, and although it's in a pretty nice neighborhood, I still find reason to worry. After all, my car did get broken into the first year I lived here, while it was parked directly out front. And I've seen some sketchy people hanging out in the alley when I've gone to take out my trash.
We don't have a doorman, but there is a secured entry to our building. You need a key or a code, or you need to call somebody to let you in. It's understood that you shouldn't let strangers in; that all delivery people must wait outside and be met by the tenants; and that you should report any suspicious activity to the management office.
One night, I was out and my neighbor across the hall txted me that some guy had been knocking on my door for a while, claiming that he'd left his phone inside. My neighbor was worried, so she kept an eye on him and shooed him away.
She did the right thing.
But now, of course, I'm freaked out that that guy is going to come back one night—or, if not him, then some other drunk guy who's lost his way and has my door mistaken for somebody else's.
Over the past five years, I've encountered various delivery people, handymen, and other lost souls hanging around the front door—either inside or out—and have tried to help them. I haven't let them in, but I'd go knock on somebody's door to tell the their food is here, or I'd call the office to make sure they were expecting someone to come fix something.
I expect my neighbors to do the same.
But this week, something has shifted in the energy of this building, and my attempts to help people have blown up in my face—twice.
The first was Monday night, when a delivery guy who had my dinner called me from the front door (because that's what he's supposed to do). When I looked out the door, there were two people standing there: one with my food, and one with a bottle in her hand.
"Can I help you? Are you looking for someone?" I asked her as she tried to squeeze past me through the front door.
I blocked her. "Can I help you?"
"I have a delivery," she said, and I could tell she was already getting defensive.
"Hmmm you kind of have to call up..." I said, in a way that I thought was apologetic.
"Uck fine," she said as she looked at the buzzer.
"Um, it doesn't work. What's the unit number?" I asked, thinking I'd go knock on their door, as I have in the past.
"I don't have it," she said, balancing her weight on one hip and tsk-ing and sighing. "What, do you think I'm trying to break in or something?"
"No, but then you have to call their cell, sorry..."
"I don't have her number! I'm going in," she said, as she muscled her way in.
And so it began.
She started muttering to herself that she couldn't wait to get out of this building, stomping around trying to find the right apartment, and then calling out to me from the other end of the hallway that I was being very rude to her.
To my own surprise, I kept my cool and just told her that she was the one being rude and that I didn't understand why she was being so aggressive. I could see the anger rising in her, and I could tell that I'd triggered something in her. (After all, the worst thing you can tell an upset person is that they're upset.) The more time that went on and the less control she had over it, the more scared I got.
Fortunately, she left without further incident—though decidedly in a huff, leaving a trail of misunderstanding and probable racial unrest behind her.
I wondered if I'd done the wrong thing. I was just trying to help. I was just trying to keep our building safe and secure, the way it's supposed to be.
And then tonight, I came home shortly after the sun had set and saw an unfamiliar guy talking on his phone by our mailboxes (which, by the way, aren't locked, even though state regulations require them to be).
"Hi," I said, "Are you looking for somebody? Can I help?"
And it was like Monday night all over again.
"I'm on the phone."
"Oh, sorry to interrupt, but are you here to see someone?"
"I'm on the phone. What, do you think I'm here to rob the place?"
"No, I'm just trying to help if you're looking for somebody, that's all. I'm just trying to help."
"Well, it's none of your business!" he said, in that same defensive tone I'd heard just two nights before.
"You know," I said, as I was walking up the stairs to my own apartment, "I wasn't suspicious before, but by the way you're acting, now I am."
Of course, that was the nail in the coffin, because he went on about how he's on the phone with his mother, and how his mother was now offended at how rude I was being.
Again, I said, "I'm sorry—I'm just trying to help!"
Shame on me, I guess.
It turns out that he was at the building to see one of our tenants, and when she heard the scuffle happening, she came out into the hallway to see if everything was OK.
"He's my guest," she said.
Relieved—especially because I was on the verge of calling the police on this combative dude—I explained that he had just outright refused to tell me that, and had gotten immediately offended the moment I asked him if I could help.
I apologized to her up and down, because obviously I'm not trying to offend any well-intentioned visitors or people just trying to do their job.
Afterwards, I came into my apartment, locked the door, plunked down on the couch next to my cat, and cried.
I've tried rationalizing with myself. After all, I've delivered food on the side to make a little bit of money. You're supposed to be easily identifiable. You're supposed to wear a branded t-shirt. You're supposed to carry a delivery bag. You're supposed to be courteous and respect the security of the building. You are there to serve, not to pick fights.
I don't know what company that girl worked for (because she wasn't wearing her t-shirt and she wasn't carrying a bag), but I don't think she'll last long.
What makes a person feel so entitled to be in any place at any time for any reason—on the other side of a locked door—and not be expected to be nicely asked what they're doing there? If we had an "open door policy," there wouldn't be a coded entry. You'd be able to just walk right in.
Why wouldn't you just say—as I have said many times—"I'm here to see Person X in Apartment # X"?
Why jump down my throat, as though I were jumping down your throat?
In both cases, it seemed like the person had probably been a victim of some kind of racial profiling in the past, and were probably feeling somewhat sensitive about being in a "Beverly Hills" building. Of course, little did either of them know that our building is not fancy; that our residents are generally not wealthy; and that our 16 units are occupied by a hodgepodge of white, black, Asian, Latino, gay, and straight men and women.
Somehow, they didn't feel safe here. And, in turn, they made me feel incredibly unsafe in my own building—that they were both strangers to, and should've respected.
Was I interrogating them? Not at first, at least.
Could I have turned a blind eye to them? Yes, but then when somebody gets a package stolen from outside of their door, or is missing a piece of mail, the first question that would be asked would be, "Did anyone let somebody they didn't know into the building?"
It's not just about protecting myself, although certainly that's part of it. But as the tenant with the most tenure in the building—and probably the oldest one, too—I feel a certain responsibility to protect everybody here.
And honestly, no matter how long somebody has lived here, I'd like to think that they'd do the same. I'd like to think that it's a team effort, and that the next time some shady character is knocking on my door, I can count on my neighbor across the way to help me out, whether I'm out somewhere, or inside my apartment, shaking in my boots.
But something tells me that I'm all alone in this.
And I don't know what I could've done to make either of these situations less volatile, and less upsetting—both to me, and to them.
Living With the Terror
A Narrow Escape
Don't Blame It On Me