Monday, July 06, 2009

Life on the Periphery

Henry called to share a strange incident with me. His voice sounded dark and concerned on the voicemail message. A mutual friend of ours had just introduced him to her new friend Charles, a mortician. When Henry met Charles, he instantly recognized him as the man who has been serving him coffee every Saturday morning in the local cafe for the past three years. When Henry smiled and told him of course he knew him, how could he forget this face, 'Charles' excused himself and politely denied having any former acquaintance with Henry. Henry was extremely perplexed, and upon his arrival home, was able to ascertain the name of the man in question. It was not Charles. It was Andrew Gibb, and he was no mortician. Now I started questioning this man's identity, as that name was familiar to me in an entirely different context: two years ago I had sold my treadmill to an Andrew Gibb, and we had developed an email friendship upon discovering our mutual interest in parasitology. Reminiscing upon that period of my life, I re-read some of the two year old emails we had exchanged. This man seemed perfectly sane, I wondered what would lead him to this false representation of his identity? Why was I spending the better part of a beautiful day trying to figure this all out? With the few hours of sunlight left, I gathered some reading material and headed for the park. I spend too much time alone, I'd finally decided. As much as I cherish my independence and crave my freedom, it's just not healthy to spend so much time alone. Although at times, it looks as though the majority of New Yorkers are most comfortable in their seemingly solitary existences, I think it's mostly a facade. As I wait for the light to change to cross over to Riverside Park, there is an FDNY ambulance and a police van parked across the street, and a group of uniformed men standing around a man sitting on a bench, holding a white cloth to his face. The light changes to green, and if I cross in a straight line, I will be deposited right in front of the injured gentleman. I can see from his posture that he is elderly; he is also African-American. His clothing looks a little worn, and it is hard to tell if he is a homeless man, as he looks like many homeless men that I have seen sleeping on those benches. As I cross, I try to casually walk to the side, so as not to intrude on the moment. I also want to make sure that the man is being attended to properly, so I make subtle eye-contact with him. He looks at me for a second, and he looks like he is going to cry. His lip is swollen badly, and blood is pouring down freely. I feel like I'm going to completely break down and cry too now, so I walk behind the scene. I see a woman with a Jamaican baseball cap staring at all the action. She has dark skin, and her eyes are very attentive and wide. I know she has been following everything that has transpired. I ask her what happened, as I try to steady my voice. She tells me he was running across the street to catch a bus, and he had all these heavy bags. Why was he carrying such heavy bags, she wanted to know. He fell, and that's when he started bleeding. The bus stopped and then it left. I averted my eyes to keep from breaking down, and prodded her to tell me more. At that moment, some men brought the man on a stretcher into the ambulance. I asked her how long he had been waiting for the ambulance, and she said about an hour. I remembered this story my friend had told me recently about a man who had diabetes but was not yet diagnosed. One day his energy plummeted, and he suddenly became very disoriented. He somehow got himself to the emergency room of a hospital in the city. He had been waiting for so many hours for someone to see him, that his condition deteriorated to the point where he looked like a typical dishevelled and distraught street person. He was somehow able to walk to the check-in desk to see if someone could tend to him, but they assumed he was another homeless person, and told him he needed to wait. He ended up dying in the waiting room. This was a man who had a regular job, lived in his own apartment, and was completely functioning and independent. The ambulance pulled away. It seemed to be going very slowly. Dianna and I talked for a while. We wondered what would become of this man. After a while, she packed up her special edition Time magazine with the Michael Jackson tribute, and said she had to get going. She didn't leave for another five minutes. I saw my neighbor from upstairs who always walks her yellow lab mix dog with black leather doggie shoes on his feet. We never talk to each other, but I noticed she was hanging around longer than necessary to cross the street when she was near us. The sun was setting, and I said good-bye to my new friend. She got up to go home, apparently waiting for me to leave before doing so. I walked down the stone steps to be closer to the river. I read some newspapers for a while, and then headed back. When I returned to my previous spot, I noticed my Grenada friend had only moved to the bench across the way. I guess in the end, she really just wanted to be alone.

3 comments:

Just_because_today said...

Life in the big city is full of surprises, not all of them pleasant. Glad that man finally was taken care of.
Hope you are doing well

tamar said...

just~ yeah, um- this was a depressing post, huh? Do you think I ought to put a dislaimer warning people not to stand to close to a window while reading it?
thanks for visiting

paz13 said...

tamar: I found this to be an interesting post....kind of like "A day in the life of Tamar" and enjoyed reading it.

Interesting that you mention spending time alone. It's nice that you enjoy your alone time but also realize it's good to be with other people.

Kevin