I picked up some lunch today. It was snow and rain for the few blocks that I had to walk. A real hell of a walk. On my way back, I saw something going wrong on one of those blocks. A woman had fallen down in the wintery mix. There were a number of people there to help, but I asked if they needed more help. They said yes. Two men were attempting to help this larger woman up, pulling at her sleeves. I can do this part. I picked her up from underneath her arms and instructed myself as I was doing so. She made it to her feet. Good for me, and good for her, I thought. She had a walker. I couldn’t see her face.

She was right side up and back on her walker. Maybe that was it for her host of heroes. The woman proceeded to walk straight, walk straight into the nearby newsstand. I did the only other good thing that I’d do for the remainder of my time with her and the other heroes. I made her turn around and sit on her walker. I finally got a look at her face. It seemed that she had given herself a black eye in the fall. Or had that happened elsewhere? I’m pretty sure it was the fall. How bad had it been? Heroes decide to call for help. 911 is the option we know best, or maybe the option that frees us from responsibility sooner than the others.

I had no umbrella, my leather bag soaking, my lunch getting cold. I was getting cold and wet. And then I saw her eyes. They didn’t make me forget about that other stuff, but I finally saw her eyes. Minutes after noticing a black eye, I actually saw her eyes. She was drunk. Really drunk. She was asking for something, and I couldn’t understand what. I thought I heard her say that she was Indian. We owed her. Wait, what? She’s Latino. Does it matter? I saw her eyes. She was asking for something. I rubbed her back, because in all my ignorance, I could at least tell she needed touch. Why was she waiting there, she wondered? We told her that help was on the way. When she understood, she looked terrified. Those eyes again. They were big. Maybe we were making the wrong call.

There was nothing she could do. The woman settled somewhat in to the inevitable and thanked her “heroes.” She needed something, and continued to ask for it. It sounded like “home” to me. Turns out, the girl next to me knew, asked me to hold the umbrella, and gave her a hug. Of course, she was asking for a hug! I’ve never seen someone more in to receiving a hug. Nor someone more in need. A home means nothing when you have a hug. Or maybe it’s just that a hug is more important. And this woman needed it. I’m glad there was another female there. The eyes turned to gratitude. The two females exchanged names, and I didn’t catch either. We were finally able to figure out that she was staying at the homeless shelter on 48th. We all got to hug her. She was very drunk.

This is one of those moments when you ask yourself, why bother write? Or maybe I just ask myself that because I’m not sure I can capture it well enough, or even if it’s worth it. I’ll try and finish anyway.

The paramedics showed up. One, a short and powerful Latino woman, and the other, a regularly-built white guy who was just there. The Latino paramedic, without translating exactly, described to us the concern we had seen in the eyes of the woman. “OK, so, she’s saying she’s going to lose her bed at the shelter, and it’s a valid concern.” Shit! “Listen,” the paramedic says to the woman as she’s attempting more broken communication, “we have to respond when people make a call like this…” What have we done? Are the paramedics pleading with us to do more for her? Or are they just tired of this shit? No one bites if we’re supposed to do something more than we already have. And I regret that as I write this now.

The next step is to help the paramedics get the woman into the ambulance. We follow behind with the walker to the corner. There’s a struggle to get the woman in, some “Dámes” in there. She’s in. The walker’s the only thing left before we’re free of our responsibility. I say, maybe to no one, “I hope we did the right thing.” The white paramedic systematically takes the walker, folds it up, and tells us “thanks for the help.” I have a moment with the female “hero,” noting that it was good to meet. It’s best to leave quickly though, because it was not good to meet. And we know it.

I’m worried about a soaked leather bag. I have a cold lunch. I walk upstairs and heat it up. All is well.

 

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