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To Fall As I Do
The frailty of the human body is so often overlooked. We are young, and well built. We are taught to stay healthy, to avoid drugs and gambling, shy from promiscuity and be the good children that God intended. We are taught these things by the gospel of society. The voice of the successful, the proud. Those who value the respectable citizen, and offer only glares to the struggling single mother, the alcoholic homeless man choking on liquor, or the Heroin addicted skeleton of a woman, passing out on a bench in front of me.
At first she just seemed tired. Her eyes would appear to weigh down, as her shoulders slumped. She sat on a bench in downtown Brattleboro, with nothing by a tattered brown purse draped from her throat like a necklace, and a black and broken suitcase lying on her feet. Her eyes opened and she stared straight ahead. She was roughly sixty years by the looks of it, but when you have been poisoning your blood stream for the last few decades, looks can be deceiving. Her eyes were trampled with crow’s-feet that followed her cheek line. She grabbed for her bag as once again, her eyes shut and her body crumpled, as if someone had cut the strings of a marionette.
There were three of us watching the woman. Zoe, Isaiah and I sat in metal-meshed chairs outside of a downtown café. The woman sat a few feet away, on a tan bench. Her eyes opened again, and she stood up. “Excuse me.” Her voice was faint, only a cricket chirp against the backdrop of cars. She coughed, and gave it another try “Excuse me.” Now realizing it was us she that was addressing, we turned to her.
“Yes? Are you alright?”
She had gotten someone to notice her. She was no longer a piece of scenery, and her confidence grew.
“I need help… could you please help me?”
I was always taught to stand up for those in need. My father had given me the name ‘Rustin’; it reminded him of the name of a knight. I was to be that knight, that shining crusader. Otherwise, as he had taught me, what is the purpose in life?
“Of course,” I replied, “what can we help you with?”
“I was wondering if you have the phone number for the help center for women?”
Her voice began to shake.
“My... my husband… He… I… I had to leave…. I had to… otherwise I’d… die.. the number?”
I didn’t have it. But I knew someone who did. With a phone call, and a few minutes wasted, I had the woman in contact with the support house. Sentences and words floated by, overheard by the three of us.
“…Was going to die…”
She hung up the phone and gave it back to me.
“Thank you so much. God Bless you. They are going to help me. Put me up in a hotel for the night. “
The hotel was on the side of town.
“I’ll just walk.” The old woman stated, “Thanks for everything.”
We watched quietly as she turned her back, and began pulling the suitcase behind her, limping to one side and moving a foot every few seconds.
She turned her head.
“Would you like a ride?” I didn’t have a choice. I was the shining knight, riding the stallion that was my red Ford Taurus.
The four of us walked across the road and down the street.
“You children are wonderful… really.”
We began talking. I mentioned my theory… on how if something bad happens to one person, something good happens to someone else. She stopped.
“I… I need to believe that’s true. I… I was addicted to heroin for years. I have HIV. And the only thing that got me through it was the thought that I was going through all of this hell so that some poor kid wouldn’t wake up crying and terrified of what was happening to him. I… need to believe that. I just need to.”
We talked more, floating theories of philosophy around like paper airplanes.
She continued. “We cannot spend time worrying about what might have been. I went to private school. My best friend, Betsy would throw spitballs. We both would… we… we got into trouble. God, I loved Betsy. I love Betsy. Even if she’s dead. So there’s no point worrying about the past. All things come and go. As Shakespeare said in Henry VIII: / ‘This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth
The tender leaves of hopes, to-morrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honors thick upon him;
The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,
And when he thinks, good easy man, full surely
His greatness is a-ripening, nips his root,
And then he falls as I do.’ ”
We all fell silent. Here was this woman, a frail, husk of a person. Her teeth were decayed. A few strands of gray sat on her ears. She was a heroin addict… most likely narcoleptic, dying of AIDS, and she is quoting Shakespearian proverbs. We drove her to the hotel. My friend grabbed her bags, and they were brought inside. She hugged us, and turned to a leave. Before she entered the lobby, she turned back her head.
“You know you saved my life today? I now have so much faith in the world. Right when I was about to lose it all.”
And with that, she went inside. And we drove away.
It wasn’t that she was a genius, although she informed us that her father taught at Yale. And she wasn’t saying something that had yet to be said. It was just that she… got it. She understood the world. She expected great things out of the three of us. This was a year ago. In her state, I don’t expect her to still be around. I never found out what happened after we left her. I’d like to think she found the help she needed. But for her, no help was enough. It is my only hope that our talk… our helping hands… did change the way she saw things, because I know that she changed how I see things. She left us with the wisdom to let things be and to never regret, to never judge a person based on how they look, even if they seem like a homeless drug addict creeping by; And she left us with a name. Her name was Cynthia.