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.