Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Thinness of a Once Thick and Muscled Arm

[Typically, I write fiction. This is a rare personal experience piece.]

Running late. On foot and approaching the BART station near my home, I saw a 20-something lady of the Silicon Valley tech bus riding variety wearing bright colored skinny jeans of some bright hue (pink? blue? purple? bright), a brightly colored sweater contrasting her jeans, a gray scarf circled loosely around her neck several times, cat-eye sunglasses, and her blonde in an asymmetrical razor cut bob. I saw the back side of a 30-something young man, wearing a gray over-sized sweatshirt, jeans, dirty sneaks and tan baseball cap, who watched the scene in front of him. I saw a man lying on the ground at the top of the stairs, beseeching the brightly clad young lady.

As I approached, and took in the scene, the lady was torn between hurrying on her way or trying to help the man on the ground. The young man watched, at some points obscuring my view of the young lady as she waffled back and forth in her steps unsure how to or whether to respond to the man on the ground.

As I approached, I was able to see more of the man lying on the ground. He wasn't a regular I had seen around in the past four years. He was older, maybe over 60, homeless, mentally ill, or a combination of both. He had a metal cane with a gray rubber covered handle–-the kind we see in medical supply stores or hospital emergency rooms. He was crying. He was pleading with the young woman to help him. It appeared as if he had tripped at the top of the stairs.

As I approached, I recalled what it is like to regret. And, here it was. Life presenting. I did what I learned from firemen who helped me when I panicked from an injury in my past–-a particularly bloody, seeing your own bone, altering your mind about the fragility of the human structure kind of injury from which, yes, I did recover rather well.

He didn't seem injured in any other way, there was no blood and he wasn't clutching at anything or focused on a particular area of his body. He didn't seem imminently dangerous. He didn't seem unpredictable.

I summoned gentle authority, crouched next to him, and asked, "What do you need?"
He gasped through his tears, "I just wanted ice cream."
I said, "Ok. The first step is getting you up."
He replied with a broken, "m-m" that indicated uncertainty.
I said, "I'm right here. Let's get you up. Ready?"

I reached out my left arm so he could balance on me, and gently put my right hand under his tricep in an effort to prop him up without squeezing. His thick tan and black plaid coat belied the thinness of a once thick and muscled arm.

I noticed his fingernails were overgrown and dirty, his skin rough and peeling, and his hand shook. He clutched several neatly folded bills, among them a $10 bill visible, thick enough to hold several more bills inside.

He hesitated to rest his hand on my left arm, but eventually stopped crying, decided I would not rob him, and began to focus. He braced himself, and tentatively hopped the foot closest to me underneath himself. Success on one side!

On his other side, he could not get his balance. The brightly colored young lady rushed there and copied my stance and hand positioning.

- "You're almost there," said the bright young woman.
- "You're almost there. You can do it. Take your time," I encouraged.
- The younger man in the gray sweater watched on, but couldn't, wouldn't, didn't move.

The man hesitated for his balance, gathering the tremendous effort it took to heave himself up, like a novice fallen skier straightening out skies and poles and legs akimbo. And, up he finally came. Success!

The three of us, younger man, tech lady, and myself, side by side, facing the same direction, watched him. Hobbling away with his cane and what looked like severe plantar fasciitis, or some other thing that kept him on tip toe on one foot, he pulled out a handkerchief from the pocket of his black and tan plaid coat to wipe his face, and glanced a determined smile upward from under his cap. 
A man renewed, a man empowered... 
somewhat renewed... 
maybe not very empowered...

1 comment:

Mike Carson said...

But did he get ice cream perhaps?