Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Double hump

I can be forgiven for my silence, perhaps even thanked, but that aside...

It is Wednesday. Hump day, as they say, meaning it in a good way but not that good way. As it turns out I am humped. Twice. The other way. And the day, considering it starts out at a balmy -18C, starts well enough.

I make it out of bed and do not greet the wall with my lips (steps 9-12). I shower without slipping on the wet porcelain and suffering a concussion. I make coffee without pouring boiling water on my hand. All of this before I am actually conscious. Semi-conscious a short while later, albeit unwillingly, I make it to the bus stop on time, to work on time, all this without freezing to death.

Did you know that there is a very, very narrow range of temperatures in which the human brain can function properly? They say so. And we all know, they are experts.

As a person's body temperature falls, brain activity decreases-a serious problem when body temperature falls below 95o. A person's ability to reason and make logical decisions becomes seriously impaired. For every drop of one degree in Fahrenheit temperature, cerebral metabolism decreases by about 3.5%. Individuals suffering from hypothermia often appear to be drunk. They may be incoherent..."

Imagine then, how my ability to make logical decisions is impaired at -18. And so, I leave the relative warmth of the office to run an errand at the drugstore and a woman steps into my path, blocking it. Her age is hard to determine...40? 50?...She is wearing a thin beige ski jacket and jeans and looks to weigh about 60 pounds. The bones of her face stand out in relief like a death's head and she's shaking from the cold.
"Are you from here?" My brain numbs as I pause in the wind.
And she launches into her story.
"I hitch-hiked here I never hitch-hike but he, my boyfriend, beat me up so bad and he broke my fingers..." she holds her bent, battered fingers up. She isn't wearing gloves and the skin is blue where there aren't bloody scabs." The monologue proceeds. None of the shelters have a place open for her, none except Byrony House and then not until three in the afternoon. She has her period she says, and no Tampax and had to throw her underwear away in a public bathroom and now she has to be careful how she sits and who would expect that after 14 years and...

I'm leading her back to the library and she's talking without pause. I can't stand the cold another second and I can't leave her there. As we walk, I pry twenty bucks out of my wallet and hand it over. I get her inside and tell her not to wander in the cold and to get some food after she's warm. I show her where she can use a free phone. And then I return to my errand at the drugstore, only now I'm picking up Tampax too.

Hurrying back, I trip over nothing. "Individuals suffering hypothermia may appear to be drunk." I crash forward, cleverly breaking my fall with kneecaps and the heels of my hands. One of my ankles decides it's not joining the rest of me and I sprawl on the sidewalk, dazed. A man passing by asks me if I'm ok and I give my habitual answer as I turn very slowly to a sitting position - "I'm not exactly sure yet. I think so." But the brain (poor drunk thing) cannot transmit to my body and I remain seated. He approaches cautiously, as if I might bite, and extends a hand. I take the hand, because I realize I can't get up without help, and I manage after teetering for a moment, to limp inside.

She's gone, of course. She's a junkie. At even -3C I would have known it instantly. Would have said "Sorry" with my face a neutral mask, would have swerved and kept walking. "She went to the drugstore," my student assistant says. Yep. Yep. Bet she did.

The knee of my favorite pair of jeans is ripped and underneath, there is a cut and a large, circular red scrape which is swelling. A bruise is beginning to bloom blue on the heel of my left hand and my ankle, the one I've sprained umpteen times before, is throbbing.

I sew the rip in my jeans up. Neat, even stitches with the frayed threads folded inwards. I sit at my desk doing this as if it was important to get it right. A little later, in the warm office, I'm starting to shiver and so I go home and throw the deadbolt of my apartment into locked position. As if the lock would hold.


jessie said...

And what about TUCK AND ROLL??? Have you learned nothing from me???

Well... brrrzy-wrrrzy. I will attribute your lapse to said sub-zero brain dysfunction. At least you weren't wearing girly clothes...

LJ said...

God no. I would be girly-clothes popsicle. Jeans, sweater, suit jacket, wool coat, thick wool shawl - and still nearly perished in 30 seconds. I think it was the story about having no Tampax that got me.
Maybe she deserved the money for being creative. OK. Don't say it.

Koru's Daughter said...

You done good, my dear... but no good deed goes unpunished.

That $20 gave her a couple of hours of well being (if she was lucky).

I bet that it was the best short term investment she could imagine... but no "light speed" go unpunished.

Oh my gosh... I sound like a Puritian.

Hope you are healing quickly, hon.

zhoen said...

I've given unearned cash for a good story a couple of times, figured I was being scammed, but I wasn't sure, so it goes.

I've been wearing silk long johns, wool stretchy pants (I think they were supposed to be pjs) then heavy sweats. This has kept my legs warm when the wind chills are so negative. (-27 C yesterday) Not to mention parka, ear wrap, wool scarf, shearling gloves, thermal socks, and assorted sweaters. My face still gets windburnt, and my brain still slows considerably.

Sorry about your injury. Take care. Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate.

Darkmind said...

WOW. I keep forgetting you're in Canada. Yesterday it got down to a chilly 55 degrees with a high of 70(notice, no negative sign). It snowed here once back in 1992, and then before that in 1977. If it dropped down to -18, they would close down the roads, ice or not. I'm not kidding! But I guess the drawback is we have 100+ degree weather every summer. And junkie stories are so much fun aren't they? BWA HA HA HA!!!

Edvard Moonke said...

beautifully written, LJ. I have been 'done over' time and again, always falling for any trick, however ludicrous they may sound. but I feel the trickery is their problem, it shouldn't turn me into someone else. you have your heart in the right place. :-)

herhimnbryn said...

Dear Saint Joan,
You are a goodly person, truely you are.

Cosset yourself now, do like Z. said and then tuck yourself up with a hot water bottle and some pain killers.

LJ said...

KD - I am a little lumpier than usual this morning and one leg has a weird stuck-on-slightly-sideways feel, but other than that, still upright, thanks!
Z - Trice. (Take care-Rest-Ice-Compress-Elevate). Yes'm.
D - Sure wish I could forget I'm in Canada. At least until the temperature rises. Perhaps I could torture you with our moderate summer temps later, when you are in the plus 100s?
EM - Yeah. That's kind of my theory, too. Really, I figure it all evens out somehow - and I know she walked away feeling like she won one. And she didn't. I can't even feel pissed off.
H - At my desk at work. Wearing boots that lace loosely and have very flat soles. Chugging down Ibuprofen. Iced the mess this morning. Have a fabulous skinned, bruised and cut knee that would make me the envy of ANY 10 year old. I should have worn a skirt so I could show it off. (Were it not for the frostbite danger.)

Teri said...

Edvard said it so nicely. The junkie thing happened to me recently, but with a twist.

I was driving in my car in the city and this woman flagged me down. She was well dressed and had a kind, normal face. (Whatever that means.) She gave me a long, convoluted story (abuse, no open shelters...) and when finally I started digging in my purse for money, honestly believing her, she even topped off the performance with real tears and a fevered rendition of "Oh THANK ya Jesus...Good Lord be praised...etc."

Well wouldn't you know I had not one dime in my purse or anywhere in the car. She had also asked me for a ride, which I refused out of self-preservation, and when I broke it to her that I had no money, sorry, she burst into tears. I drove away feeling HORRIBLE. You know me, you know what a care taker I am.

I got to my destination and woefully told me friends (who live in that neighborhood) the story and they asked "Was it around 26th and Girard?" Yes. "Junkie. They're there all the time. I think I've encountered the woman you're talking to."

So - what are you gonna do.

Teri said...

P.S. Sorry about your fall. xo

phlegmfatale said...

*sharp intake of breath here*

You take care of yourself, honey.

Ariel said...

Oh gosh! Poor you. I've had something similar happen to me before, have ran to the grocer's to get a homeless person a nourishing meal after having given them a little money only to go back to the spot where they had been standing 5 minutes before and find they had gone. And I had a similar fall to yours once, only I passed out altogether and was found by a bemused neighbour. It was in Switzerland, in the winter, and my brain was clearly in suspended animation. Do look after yourself.