I always hear that life is so short, but it seems to me that my own life has been a very long one. I'm smack in the middle of my fifth decade on this pile of mud, and I feel like I have led several lives. Memories are sometimes lost, and sometimes stored away for later reflection.
I was at work today, and someone brought up a visit to Charleston, West Virginia. I felt a stab of emotional memory at the very name of the town, for I have a vivid memory of a morning there that has haunted me for years. I had not given it a thought in a long time.
The year was 1985. I was penniless and on a Greyhound trip from Seattle, Washington to Newport News, Virginia. A very long and hungry ride. I had been on various buses for four days, and I had consumed nothing but water for three of them.
I was less than delighted when I learned that I would have an unscheduled and very unwelcome layover of around ten hours. Disgusted, but resigned, I dealt with it.
So, it was just before dawn. The sun wasn't quite up, but there was visibility. I was walking around the streets near the bus station, looking forward to reuniting with old friends, and caging a meal from them until I got back on my feet. I had gone from famished to a kind of numbness.
Ahead of me I heard a car screeching to a stop, and I saw the passenger door open. Then a woman was thrown from the car just as it tore off at a highly illegal speed. I ran to the woman, and she was convulsing and literally foaming at the mouth. I was in shock, and froze for a moment or two. The woman looked up at me with anguished, tortured eyes. I blurted out something about going for help, and I ran off in the direction of the station.
I burst through the door, and raced to the window, scaring a sleepy clerk. I screamed at her to call for help. "CALL AN AMBULANCE! CALL THE POLICE! A WOMAN MAY BE DYING OUTSIDE!" To her credit, she wasted no time. I ran back out the door, and back to the woman lying at the curb.
I stood there, looking at her. I was choked up, and I was saying things like, "Help is on the way. You're going to be all right. Hang in there. Help will be here soon..."
The poor woman looked kind of like Sissy Spacek as Carrie after the dreadful prom, but instead of blood, she was covered in vomit and foamy saliva. The convulsions had stopped, and she seemed to be frozen stiff, with tortured eyes locked upon my own.
I stood there like a helpless idiot, mumbling words of encouragement. I have no idea of whether she was hearing them, or comprehending them, or if she was too far gone for that. But her eyes...her eyes remained locked on mine. I held the gaze, urging her with words and my will to hang on.
Soon, an ambulance came to the buss station, and greatly relieved, I waved them over to where we were. The two guys were efficient, and they had her on a stretcher in no time and loaded the woman into the ambulance. Her eyes and mine remained locked the entire time.
A squad car came, and an officer asked me some questions. Did I know the woman? No. Did I know the car? No. Did I catch the license number? No. Could I identify it? No, no, no. It all happened so quickly, and I was much more concerned about the woman than the car.
I showed the policeman my ID and my bus ticket, which satisfied him. He thanked me, and got into his car and left. End of story.
Sort of. As I stated earlier, the incident haunted me, just as I am pretty sure it would have haunted you. I had to wait all day for the bus, and the delirium caused by hunger intensified the effects of the encounter.
I wondered how she had gotten to that point. And, more importantly, I wondered what would happen next. Would her family be notified, and be tearfully relieved at finding their baby? This was a young woman. Had she run away from an abusive home situation, and have nowhere to go? Would she end up in the gutter again? There were, of course, no answers to these questions.
I thought that if I lived in the same town, I would try to locate which hospital she ended up in. I don't think it would have been too difficult. I thought that I might have tried to visit her.
But my bus finally showed up that afternoon, and I made it back to Newport News. Where I went about my life. I remember feasting on homemade tacos that night at a buddy's place, and that is was possibly the best meal I have ever had. I was seriously hungry.
As the years passed, I thought about the poor, lost woman, and I wondered--hoped--that the ugly situation was bad enough for her to change her life. I am uncomfortable in the role of Samaritan, and I think most anyone would have done as much as I did. Still, that ten or fifteen minutes where I stared into this nameless woman's eyes, pleading with her with my words and my own eyes, may well have saved her life. The streets were deserted that morning, and she could have choked to death, or simply lost the will to continue to breathe and to circulate blood through her body.
I wonder if she made out all right, and if she ever thinks of the nameless guy who watched over her, teary-eyed, willing her to keep fighting. I'm sure I'll never know.
One thing is certain: There is no Hell hot enough for the scum who almost certainly gave her too many drugs, and who dumped her like a piece of garbage.