Saturday, August 28, 2010
The Grown Up Shows Up
Walking home down an alley, still warm in the evening, I see someone flat on their back ahead.
A handful of people come gather round: a woman fallen off her bicycle.
Great! I think. I don't have to get involved.
But as I approach, I see the dynamics are wrong. The helpers have stepped back. They form a wary circle around the fallen woman.
She's acting like a raccoon might, if you tried to help it: spiky and sideways and spitting out lines about past lives.
Damn, I think. One of mine. This is the third time this summer I've stopped for someone whacked out and down.
The helpers stare at her, visibly dismayed. She obviously isn't working from the same script they are.
They're young and clean, and I suspect their script is the Good Samaritan from Sunday School. (You'll remember, the injured guy in that story is half-dead, and so, we presume, unable to bite.)
I've reached them now, and the woman is accusing her crowd:
"Do I look like I need help? Well? DO I?!?"
She's only scratched up, but, in fact, she looks like she needs a lot of help, of various kinds. So I step up to her and say, "Actually you do. Look, you're bleeding..."
"My blood is MINE!" (all wild-eyed). "It's from my soul life! As a farmer!"
I crouch down, level with the knees of the gathered.
"Yeah, it is," I say, "but I wonder if we should go wash it off so you don't get infected."
"My blood is MINE!" she barks at me.
I note the knees have suddenly disappeared from view. It's like they've been raptured.
I'm on my own here with raccoon lady.
Thanks, guys, I think.
But I know how that goes. They're off the hook because the grown up has shown up.
What I don't know is, when did the grown up become me?
So, OK then. I'll act like I know what to do in this crazy world.
I sit down next to this woman, whose dark hair is mixed with gray, like mine.
The concrete is pleasantly warm on my butt,
and the evening light bounces pink off the parking lot of the laundromat across the street.
I rest my hand behind me. On a bit of broken glass.
I show the woman. "Look, now I'm bleeding."
She's looks at me, ring-eyed. "You won't want to sit with me," she says.
It sounds more like an invitation than a fuck-off, though.
"So, you were a farmer?" I ask.
She tells me about it. About how angry guys in bars are nothing compared to angry farm animals, because the animals are bigger. And about how she wonders, how did we get so distracted and ugly? And how have people lost the ability to do one thing at a time (she doesn't like call waiting), and to wait.
"Wait," she says.
It's really calming to talk to her, after a while.
She looks at me with clarity, after another while, and says, "Why are we sitting here on the concrete?"
I think about that. "Why not?" I say.
"Good answer!" she says.
And after a further while, she says she has to go. She stands up, weaves around, and promises she'll walk her bike home.
Then she thanks me for being with her and gives me a hug,
so it turns out to be a Sunday School script after all.
The sort that reminds you there are stories that glue the cracked world together, even if, god help us, you're the grown up in them.
Painting at top: "The Good Samaritan," by Lucinda Naylor