Monday, March 23, 2015

The Mean Streets of Portsmouth

Not once during my 7 years in NYC-metro, 3 of those in Harlem, did I ever run from gun fire, but only 6 months into living in Portsmouth, New Hampshire did I have that experience.

Here's how it happened:

Friday a bit after 5p.m. I was nursing Grayson on our sofa. It had been a long week, and I was thankful the week was coming to a close and Nia was happily playing an app on my tablet at the kitchen table that's nestled in our fishbowl windows. 

As I often do during nursing sessions, I was scrolling through social media and saw this: 

I realized the building in the image looked very familiar and clicked on the news story only to realize it was a standoff that was happening at a hotel by us, literally a straight view out our bedroom window. I couldn't even make it down the brief story before there was a loud pounding on our door causing me to jump and Grayson to unlatch, startled. "Who is it?" I called out, but there was no answer.

Our doors don't have peepholes, a feature I bemoaned when we moved into our apartment, but was reassured it was hardly necessary here in docile New Hampshire. 

I went ahead and opened the door, with Grayson looking about curiously, to see an officer. I asked if it was regarding the current situation across the way and he said yes, advised that there was an armed individual and that we should stay away from the windows and walls. 

He took down our info and gave me his card indicating that he'd give us the all clear. 

My immediate reaction was to close the blinds, remove Nia from the fishbowl windows then call Uka on both his personal and work cell phones, but he didn't answer so I texted as well as texted my entire family in the interest of time so I could gather the kids and head to the basement. Uka called and I let him know we were OK and that we were heading to the basement and while on the phone with my him, my sister was trying to call then as soon as I got off the phone with him, my mom called. While speaking to her I heard a loud POP that sounded extremely close and yelled for Nia and told my mom I was immediately heading to the basement. My mom could tell things were serious and got pretty emotional, and I was resolved to stay calm for the kids, but I soon realized I didn't know how long we'd be in the basement so I turned and grabbed my Jackery for cell phone power. I probably should've grabbed the diaper bag and snacks as I was about to prepare dinner anyway, but I just figured my phone for communication was most important. 

I got off the phone with my mom and got the kids settled in the basement. Our basement is finished with heat, a couch, TV and blankets so we snuggled in to watch Frozen while my phone was blowing up with people checking in on us. Our basement is also fully sealed without a walk-out to the outdoors so I felt protected. It's hard to hear much above ground from the basement, but I was keeping an ear out for a knock or additional gun fire.

Grayson cuddled up to finish nursing and fell asleep while Nia played happily. When she heard the gun, she asked me what it was, and I explained it was a bad person with a gun and to be safe we needed to stay in the basement. She didn't appear scared but repeated to me that a bad man had a gun a couple times. 

While sitting in the basement, I started thinking about where we used to live in Greenville (I blogged about it here) and while it was a high crime area, everyone had always treated us well, and I never encountered any direct threats or the need to run for cover as I did that day. I also considered many back handed comments I've come across about living in the "ghetto" of Harlem or too far north in Manhattan and how interesting it was that here in the pristine town of Portsmouth I had my first gun fire experience. 

Just after 7p.m. the police officer knocked on our door giving us the all clear and I realized how emotionally drained I felt after the situation. There was no explanation yet of what had actually transpired (it was later explained here), but Uka was still at his work event and I figured the entire area would be closed off (it turned out it had been) so even if he wanted to get back to be with us, he couldn't have. If something had happened to any of us I couldn't possibly imagine what I would've done. In all of the emotions, I also realized I was pretty hungry and knew Nia would be too. She asked for pizza so I ordered it, and we enjoyed ourselves on the rug, sharing a root beer. 

After dinner snuggled in bed, I hugged the kids and told them how much I loved them. 

Local friends texted after everything died down that this experience was definitely atypical of Portsmouth and that we shouldn't be scared off. 

We just so happened to move here during one of the most epic winters ever and apparently, one of the most violent.