Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday (non) fiction: Life saving story

Stories save our lives in all kinds of ways. Sometimes you hear the story you need at exactly the right moment to realize you’re not alone, to find the solution to a problem, to feel comforted in the midst of darkness. Sometimes you tell a story that gets you out of trouble, connects you to a solution or a person, helps you understand who you are. And sometimes it’s somewhere in the middle, the right story, the right time, the right life.

About 15 years ago I was dating a guy who, while sweet, had a little bit of a macho problem. He wasn’t a very large man and I think that bothered him, so he moved through the world with some attitude, a swagger. I’m sure some of you know people like that. Maybe even you are like that. And maybe, like me, you sometimes find that kind of attractive.

One night we went out to dinner in Chinatown, before Chinatown was neat and tidy, back then it was still known as the Combat Zone. You were much more likely to see people selling drugs or themselves than you are now. My date kept glancing around as though daring bad guys to leap out at us; I just kept an eye open and walked towards our destination. We stopped off at a convenience store ATM and it was as we were walking out into the night that it happened.

A fellow who looked pretty down on his luck barreled into my date. They bounced off of one another and became puffer fish, bigger and spikier by the moment. My date, knowing I hated this stuff, stayed quiet, but wouldn’t back down when the other man loomed over him and yelled.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing? You think you own this place? Huh? Well?”

The man’s face got redder and redder and he accused my date of things he couldn’t possibly have done. Soon my date’s face was turning red as he heard his mother insulted, as he was accused of planning to be in this man’s way on this very night, as he heard his own manhood demeaned.

And then the angry man pulled out a hungry knife.

“What, you want me to cut you? Huh? Is that what you want?”

I don’t remember doing it. I just know that I found myself standing in between these two men without thinking about it, planning or even being aware of my own movement. I was facing the yelling man. He looked as surprised as I was.

“Hey,” I said, “What’s wrong?”

He blustered. “This asshole got in my way.”

“I’m sure he didn’t mean to, I think he just bumped into you by accident, nothing to get mad about. What’s going on, why are you so upset? What happened?”

He deflated, all of the air gushing out of him. And he told me his story.

“Lady, I’m really tired of people walking all over me. I work construction, been doing it since high school. I got laid off and I can’t find a job, I’m doing day work when I can get it. You every do day work? It’s hard and ugly. You shovel shit or plant trees or build walls, whatever they tell you to and you don’t get breaks. There isn’t any union, that’s for sure.
“I’ve been looking for work every day for months and can’t find a damn thing. My wife got fed up with it, she was working two jobs, so she took the kids and left. She’s staying with her parents but says I can’t see the kids until things are more stable. That’s what she says, stable. Since she left I can’t pay all the bills and the electricity got turned off yesterday, so it’s not like stable is happening any time soon.
“I got a message today that my dad got sick, but he’s in Arizona and I can’t get out to see him. So I don’t have my kids, my wife, a comfortable home and I’m not gonna have a chance to say goodbye to my father.
“I’ve been sober for over 2 years, but it seems to me like this is a damned fine time to have a drink, because, hell, it’s not like I have anything left to lose, so when this guy got in my way, yeah, something happened.”

He stopped talking and glared at me for a moment, then just looked uncomfortable.

“I’m sorry, that sucks.”

“Yeah, it does.”

I wish I could tell you I talked him into going to a meeting or helped him find a job. But that wouldn’t be true. I can tell you he shrugged his shoulders as if he were feeling his skin again, fitting back into his own body. “I guess you people are going someplace. I guess I don’t need to go in there right now. Mister, I’m sorry I knocked you over. Lady, I’m glad you got in the way. Thanks for asking.”

He walked off. My date and I had dinner, but I just couldn’t see him the same way after that; he had been looking for a fight and I found a story.

I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t asked. If I hadn’t found myself stepping in. I do know that knife curved into a wicked grin. I do hope that telling his story helped and maybe gave him enough of himself back to maybe save his life.

(c)2011 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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