It started out simply enough: the usual and seemingly indestructible routine of my Cheerios, blueberries and vanilla soy milk along with an entire pot of very strong decaf. Then to the cyber room to sort through emails and student papers. Some would say my routine is boring, but I actually love it and pray for many more to come.
On this day, my daughter asked me to pick up her medicines at a pharmacy in an old and re-invented hospital in a lousy part of town – in fact, probably the lousiest if you count the shootings, murders and myriad drug deals gone badly. I’ve been going down there to get her meds for several years and though I keep a keen eye out for everything around me, I have always feel safe in making this trip. Today there were two trips. The first was supposed to be the only, but it turned out that the doc had not called in two of her scripts.
“Please go back, Mom. I don’t have enough to get me through the weekend.”
Ugh – what choice did I have? A mother is a mother is a mother.
Back I went and as I stood in the lobby of this very run-down and dreary place, waiting for her partials to be filled, people began running to the entrance.
“He can’t breathe, he can’t breathe,” someone yelled.
A throng of guards and med techs surrounded the opened door of a car out front. Someone else shouted ‘code’ and then the throng moved into the lobby. Three people carried the body of a man – I couldn’t see how old – and it was clear that he was not responding to their efforts. Someone next to me said he OD’d, but I think he was guessing. Still, in that neighborhood, it seemed plausible. Aghast at what was unfolding before me, I slipped my way past it and made my way to my car.
I left feeling shaken and very, very sad. I thought about the man who woke up that morning, got dressed, maybe ate some Cheerios (stuck himself with a needle?). I thought that perhaps he would never see another day, never eat more Cheerios and never stick himself with another needle.
That afternoon, I picked up a few items in the grocery store and as I left the store, I passed an ATM machine and was struck by the number of people, all men, in line to use it. I looked into their relatively benign faces until I came to the last face. Actually, the smell hit me first – an intense, almost permeable odor of alcohol. Next – his demeanor – slouched, his face — eyes half-shut, and overall: very, very dazed-looking. My first thought was fear: what if he got behind the wheel of a car? What if he was driving on the road with innocent men, women and children? What if he killed himself, someone else, me?
I passed the customer service desk and I agonized over whether I should go and tell someone. Then I thought about privacy laws that are doing more to hurt others than protecting us as individuals. Perhaps I wimped out because I chose not to stop and tell someone about the dazed drunk man who if he got behind the wheel of a car, had a fair chance of doing serious damage.
It was an intense afternoon. Death – maybe; dying — perhaps. Drunk – definitely. All of it so fragile. You just never know when you get up in the morning – well, you just never know …