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


Anonymous said...

Hey! I wishes there wuz more grownups of the kind i like, anywayz! Thank you for being you, once again and for sharing all wayz. (also for Ms. Naylor's illustration!) Now I have to go look up how to spell "a while" ; i always spell it "awhile". I'm never sure after I see it spelled the other way. But, you are the published writer, so I'm bankin' on ya.
This story reminds me of something that happened after we were leaving the Tin Fish with our Aussie rellies last month. I saw a man reeling towards the patio. He was wearing jogging gear and stumbled face forward, falling onto the blacktop. Several of us went to help him; he tried to get up and did but then collapsed again and hit his head; appeared unable to speak. By this time, many things happened at once: someone hailed a police car driving by, another one used their c-phone to call 911, and one of the Tin Fish owners flew next to the man and began assessing him using CPR/First Aid protocol--(turns out her dad is a physician). I had recently re-certified for CPR/First Aid, and stayed back with the others now that the Tin Fish woman was on the scene and just watched so I could learn from what I saw her do. She was quite skilled. Police and ambulance arrived within another few seconds.
The "out-there-ness" of the woman you helped, usually does put most people off. I can easily imagine the group's behavior, unfortunately. Recently read an article in Discovery(?) mag, I think, about how some forms of mental illness are probably caused by very ancient latent organisms that lie dormant and are awakened by certain chemical events in our bodies. The general idea/reality being, we all stand some chance of this manifesting in our lives... and, my thoughts on this for years have been along the lines of folks recognizing this on an unconscious level, and becoming freaked out about the "contagion" of mental illness. Being fascinated and repelled by...y'know, then that crowd behavior takes over, which is way less than altruistic.
Fresca, your script is a good one. Thanks for the glue!


momo said...

This story and this image are very moving. Thank you for being present with another person in need.

The young good samaritans may not understand that a woman down might be more frightened of a group that includes men than reassured.

Margaret said...


I think we (I) don't always feel "qualified" to help, and so stand back.
And sometimes the way to help is so simple we (I) overlook it entirely: "being present with another person", like momo said.

Loosely, I'd say your help was childish. "Childish" in the best sense, I mean.
And kindhearted and honest.

"My blood is MINE! It's from my soul life!"
Man. Sob in the spine.

ArtSparker said...

You are a better woman than I am. I'd probably have stayed well back, I have to admit.

Fresca said...

STEF: "Awhile" is an acceptable variation, but then it locks you in so you can't write, "for a little while" etc.

I think that woman at Tin Fish is named Athena. Of course she would know CPR etc. But that reminds me, I have no idea what to do if someone needs physical help...

Good thoughts about the fear of "catching" mental illness. Yeah. We're all holding it together and don't want anything messing with our glue. It just depends what kind of things threaten you.
I'm more afraid of a room full of suits.

MOMO: And thank you. Right, sometime helpers can be scary--that's why I thought of the raccoon.

M'RET: I like "childish." Like your brother saying "I'm going to call spiderman."
When I felt this woman was "one of mine," I meant she was the kind of person I feel I can deal with, but there are many, many others I avoid!

ARTS: Oh, no way am I "better"! I stay well back from people in need all the time. It's just this combo of person and place fit ME, so I was able to step in and also to benefit, in some ways, from hanging out with this woman. I felt some sympathy.

Clowncar said...

you are a good soul.

that your state of mind allowed you to notice that the "evening light bounces pink off the parking lot." so calm and unhurried. I might have helped given the same situation, but would have been in impatient "solve" mode, which would probably made the situation worse.

when I was 20-ish, I once stopped a couple kids from beating up a third kid, just by saying "hey!" and walking toward them. I felt so powerful in my new found adulthood.

Emma J said...

I know the point of what you're telling here is not how you are good, but I can tell by the comments above that I am not alone rin ecognizing something so very Good here in your sitting down beside her. Being with.

Congratulating your goodness seems out of place. But a vicarious gratitude that you got to be there? that you were there to witness a small bright moment of grace and bring it back to us?

Thank you for this post.

Fresca said...

CLOWN: You know what? You're right that noticing the pink light *was* part of the "rightness" of the whole thing, and that my on-the-spot calmness was part of what made me see I really *was* being "grown up." Thanks for noticing that detail.

Sometimes saying "I see you" (or "Hey!") is all it takes.

EMMA: Sometimes I'm nervous about people attributing "goodness" to me, but of course you're right there's Good here. Maybe I feel more comfortable saying I've [finally] learned some skills in letting the Good come forth. Yeah, that sounds right.

"Vicarious gratitude"_--I like that!
Sometimes I feel proud of people or grateful to them, simply because they have acted as representatives of the human race is a way that makes me glad to be a member too.
Thanks for commenting.

The Crow said...

You seem to have what many of us lack in this sort of situation: faith in ourselves and our ability to read the situation correctly.

Whatever this unfortunate woman was experiencing, something you did reached her through the chaos and helped her grab the rope you handed her.

This is the second post I've read today about reaching out to others in their helplessness. Perhaps there is a message for me in them, or maybe I'm just looking for one. Either way, thank you.

Fresca said...

CROW: Handing someone a rope... that's kind of it. "Man Overboard!"
(Thank YOU, and you're welcome.)

Lee said...

great story--thank-you.

you broke through the mask.

rr said...

Yes. What everyone said. True compassion.