Do two wrongs end up making one right?

by Brian Clarey

Here’s what I heard:

I heard it happened downtown, outside one of the newer bars on the periphery of the action.

And I heard it happened at night ‘— not a weekend, when the streets these days teem with a human tide of scenesters in varying stages of inebriation, but a steamy midweek evening that offered no respite from the wave of heat that finally broke with this weekend’s storms.

She was a bartender, or so I heard’… one of that particular ilk of female bartender who always seems to have a boyfriend, and more often than not he’s the kind of boyfriend who doesn’t treat her right.

This was like that.

The boyfriend was in the bar that night, or so I heard, and it was most likely one of those weeknight sleeper shifts with a sparse, scattered crowd and a few dependable drunks who sit at the bar all night long, the kind of night where you’re not gonna make your rent but you might be able to knock out a bill or two with the take from the tip jar.

It was business as usual, in other words.

I heard they had a disagreement that night, a spat that started inside the bar and then moved out onto the streets of the city, where their angry words echoed in the caverns.

It happens all the time ‘— a simple miscommunication, a little misunderstanding, the kind of rift that comes between lovers from time to time and generally winds up with a promise, a tearful embrace, a hungry kiss’… that sort of thing.

But this one didn’t go down that way, or so I heard.

I heard the boyfriend hit her. And not just hit her ‘— I heard he clocked her pretty good, right on the side of the head, and I heard she suffered some damage to the inside of her ear as a result. I heard some speculation that maybe this wasn’t the first time he had laid his hands on her like that, that she sometimes skipped work the day after one of their ‘spats,’ but that if there was indeed a violent underpinning to their relationship, she never said a word about it to anybody.

And that’s not all I heard.

I heard someone saw it happen’… and not just a single someone, but a group of someones. I heard there were four of them; I heard they acted quickly and brutally.

From what I heard, the second encounter was even more one-sided than the first, a beat-down worthy of a prison yard or something delivered by the bristling fists of a cadre of Scottish soccer thugs, one that culminated with the boyfriend’s head lying in the gutter against the curb and the group of vigilante witnesses absconding into the darkening night.

I heard they left him for dead, is what I heard.

And like a lot of things I hear, I take the tale with more than a sprinkle of salt.

My first instinct as a journalist was to check the story out, to call the police and hospitals in a search for a paper trail of the incident, to get over to the bar and get some names and possibly a firsthand account.

But I pulled back and responded to the story as a person ‘— one with a wife, a daughter and two sisters; one who has known women in physically oppressive relationships over the years and seen the various ways these unions can culminate, none of them good.

And I realized that this is not a news story ‘— if, in fact, it even happened at all then the only witnesses to the acts were party to them, and as such their testimony would be questionable at best.

No, this is not a news story but a cautionary tale’… a fable’… and one, I’m afraid, with little to offer in the way of resolution or moral.

It’s wrong to hit people, most especially the ones you love. It’s wrong to take the law into your own hands and it’s wrong to let someone get away with physical abuse.

It is also inadvisable to get involved in other peoples’ relationship, or so I’ve heard.

And in the retelling, the incident made me think. What’s the proper way to react if you see something like this happening on the street? Should you interfere? Should you call the police and hope they get there in time to help? Should you mind your own business and shuffle on down the road?

What would I have done, were I to see an episode of domestic violence played out on the sidewalk?

I’ve heard it’s wise to tend your own garden and let others do the same. I’ve heard it’s righteous to defend those who can’t defend themselves. And I’ve heard that violence begets violence, no matter how you cut the deck.