Monday, November 21, 2005

Of shoes and saints

Maybe it’s the wonky stone and brick pavement on Granville Street, a death-trap surface for high heels, but for sure I’m checking this shoe when I get home. After I buy a bottle of Merlot and do errands.

Up the escalator and out the other side of the Barrington Mall, down the cement steps. La la la.


Suddenly I’m sprawled on the pavement, dazed and not sure how I got there. A few seconds of time are unaccounted for. I take inventory in a disoriented, slow-motion kind of way. My left leg is clearly there stretched in front of me. My right leg is there but bent. I notice that my shoe looks odd. Then I see the 3 inch heel of my right shoe sitting on the step above the shoe.

It’s a busy street, next to where the buses stop, and it’s quitting time on a nice day in May. People are rushing by, some staring at me but most deliberately looking away. A man stops.

“Are you all right?”
“Yes. No. I don’t think so. I need a minute.”
“Okay,” he says, hesitating for a second before he walks away.

My hand is bleeding. My ankle, I notice as I hoist myself off the concrete, is sprained. My tailbone feels like it’s been hit with a blunt instrument, which in fact it has.

I gather my bags and limp painfully towards the entrance of the Delta Barrington hotel. There isn’t a cab in sight. I’m so stunned that it takes me a minute to figure out how to open the door. A doorman appears and looks at me disapprovingly.

“Yes? Can I help you?”
“I’ve just fallen down stairs and I’m hurt. Would you mind calling a cab for me?” He gestures a disgusted looking dismissal.
“There’s one right there.”

“Right there” is a good twenty-five feet up the street and dammit, he wasn’t there a second ago, but this guy is obviously no Sir Galahad, so I hobble to the cab and pitch myself into the back seat. I am not sitting so much as perching on my left hip, trying not to bleed on the upholstery.

The cab driver asks if I want to go to a hospital. No. No. Not unless I’m no longer breathing or in cardiac arrest. I give him my address. He keeps nervously glancing in the mirror and tries not to hit bumps at any great speed, and at a red light, leaps out of the car and pulls a tiny first aid kit from the trunk. He paws through it desperately only to find it contains nothing of any use and helplessly hands me a sheet of clean paper towel from the front seat.

When he drops me off, I have a chance to experiment with limp-hopping up three flights of stairs on one shoe with my lower spine suddenly making its presence known every time I breathe.

The minute I’m in the apartment, I call Weedy.
“I fell and hurt myself. Pretty bad, I think.” Now I'm shaking too.
“Oh my god. I’ll come over.”
“No. No. (I’m completely insane, you see) I think I’ll be okay. I just needed to talk to someone.”
“Well, do you need anything.”
“I was on my way to get wine. I have no wine,” I wail. It’s the only first aid supply I can think of. “I was going to get Merlot.”
“I’ll bring you a bottle of Merlot right after supper.”

And she does. Only a very good friend realizes that Merlot is appropriate for a medical emergency.

Turns out my shoulder is sprained. I figure it wanted to keep my ankle company. My hand is cut and bruised so badly I can hardly touch anything for weeks, and I’m sporting a round bruise in a fetching shade of black, six inches in diameter, on my tailbone. “Boy,” the Scorpio says when he sees it, “you’re lucky you weren’t paralyzed.”

Why am I telling you this?

Because the comments in response to my last blog started me thinking about rescuing strangers.

When something isn’t a dire emergency, I always question my motives for trying to help. Do I picture myself as some sort of St. Joan? Am I doing this to prove my worthiness as a human being? What are my ulterior motives, anyway? I come from a long line of rescuers on my mother’s side. And I know the shadow face of would-be saints too from my own experience and I am suspicious of charitable impulses – particularly my own.

But on the other hand – the one that isn’t bleeding, that is – what does it mean that people walk past a woman who has just hurtled down cement steps and is obviously injured? What does it mean when people pretend not to see a blind man, face down on the pavement – even if he does stink of booze? I don’t understand it.

I do understand it. It’s messy. You might get involved. The person could throw up on you or pull a gun or take you to court for your efforts. It’s none of your business. It’s none of mine.


But. What about these lines of Auden’s? Which I need to believe in order to take even one more step in this world (or several at a time, landing at the bottom)?

There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone….

We must love one another or die.

What about that?

And while you’re about it, if you’re commenting, I’d like to know the meaning of life too? And where the other sock goes when I do laundry. If you have a minute.