This is from an undated journal entry I found while cleaning up my old laptop.
On my way to catch a bus, I saw a woman kneeling on the ground. She was crying, staring at her hands, palms up, splayed fingers. There was a policeman patting her on the shoulder and telling her to calm down. Her hands were grey, chalky. Had she fallen? Was she having a heart attack? First time on acid? Heroin withdrawal? I was walking right towards them. I made a quick survey of the situation. Would it be OK to walk by or should I cross the street? I decided to walk by. The woman was crying, incoherent, hysterical. She was shaking her upturned hands and seemingly directing her choking words directly at them. The policeman was simply kneeling down next to her, patting her shoulder, telling her to calm down. I walked by. I wondered briefly why policemen are always telling people to calm down. I noticed that he wasn't saying, “You'll be alright. It's going to be ok,” only, “Calm down.”
I saw the EMT first response firetruck and turned to look to make sure it was going to the woman on the ground who was crying. Then, I went on walking. I walked 3 miles because there wasn't a bus. All the way down the hill, I thought about the woman on the ground, crying, and the way she stared at her grey palms, fingers splayed, as if they had done something horrible to her.
It reminded me of looking out the passenger window of the 4Runner one day. I saw a woman sitting, propped against a corner in the doorway of some defunct business downtown. She was grey. She sat there, mouth gaping open, eyes open, not moving. There were a couple of policemen and EMTs standing around, not looking at her. I could see EMT paraphernalia, but none of it was connected to the grey lady. An ambulance was pulling up as we drove by. I wondered why no one was doing anything. Why did they just stand there, not looking at her. Then I had a queasy, cold-sweat-trickling-down-the-back-of-your-neck kind of thought. Perhaps the woman was dead. Maybe she had passed beyond the EMT's ability to intervene. She had moved out of the realm of”my job” and into the realm of “somebody else's problem.”
I can't help wonder now about that grey woman. In the intervening time between when she figured out she had a problem and when it was all over, was there anyone there with her? Was the policeman patting her shoulder, telling her to calm down? Or, did she simply slump down there and leave this world quietly?