I went to bed at 10:05 Monday night, but was wakened a little after 11 to a woman protesting and moaning. At first it started out as complaining, heavily seasoned with swearing. “Get the f—away from me. F—you.”
Two thoughts entered my mind; there was a mentally confused person roaming around our complex, or somebody was instigating a conflict. Either way, I considered intervening. I was prepared to either steer her away from our quiet apartment complex or act on her behalf.
I let thirty seconds pass, just to make sure this was not the drunken ramblings of a party-goer on her way to bed. The swearing and anger continued, so I walked out my door, climbed up the stairs, and followed the noise.
In the parking lot I found the source of the complaints. A body was laying, unwillingly, on a gurney. Surrounding her were at least seven EMTs and officers. I thought I heard the clicking of handcuffs as they restrained her.
Seeing that my presence was not needed, I made my way back down the stairs. But I could not bring myself to go back inside. The woman was still crying out for help. I crouched down and sat outside my door. If she was going to yell this loudly, the least I could do was provide a captive audience.
“Leave me alone. F—you. That hurts! Will you take that off my leg! That f—ing hurts! F—you! This is why I don’t ask for help. You’re hurting me! Stop! Get that off my leg! F—you! I need my phone. Mom! I’m sorry. That really really hurts. Will you please take it off? F—you. You like hurting people! Leave me alone!”
I had never heard a person go through that kind of agony before. I kept praying for peace. I kept hoping that she would find relief at some point. She clearly did not want the kind of help that the medics and police were offering.
Between the ranting, the attendees asking if she had any needles on her, I have to assume that drug use was involved.
I am around people that are drunk, people that are homeless, and people that are mentally disabled on a regular basis. This was something more. This was a full-on melt-down. It was something like one would see on ER. With the notable exception being that this was happening right in my parking lot.
We do not live the rough life of the gritty city. We have roofs over our heads. We have raccoons, beavers, and herons in our backyards. Free parking, fire hydrants, bus stops, local parks; with our situation, what do we have to suffer?
I wondered about the mom. The mom who was not in the parking lot. The mom who did not bring out her cell phone. The mom who probably called the police on her own daughter. The mom who was tired of fighting with her child.
She had to know that the neighbors heard. She had to wonder if she will get the reputation as “that resident”. Does her daughter really hate her? How is she going to pay for all this? Does she feel responsible for the situation her daughter is in?
I do not envy that mother one bit. My heart goes out to her.
Where was the group of people gathered in a circle praying for the troubled girl? (We see it in the movies, so where are they?) If there is any cause to ask for God’s help, surely this is it. So why were there no neighbors checking in? Or, like me, were they huddled in their doorway, trying not to make things worse. (I cannot imagine that the EMTs’ job is made any easier by busy-bodies crowding around.)
If I did not think EMTs and police officers were heroic before… They took it. All the cursing. The yelling. The rage that seemed to ceaselessly pour out of this woman. I did not hear any of them whisper soothing phrases of comfort. I doubt the woman would have heard it if they did. I would guess that the workers have to desensitize themselves in these instances; numb themselves to the patient’s pain. As a counselor friend of mine once told me, “You can’t take on the other person’s baggage. You can offer an ear, but you can’t live it yourself.” Or, as a Superman comic told me, “Their pain isn’t actually yours. That’s why you’re in a position to help.”
I heard the back doors of the ambulance close. The woman never stopped protesting. Her voice never stopped, it only dimmed until the car drove away.
I told myself that it was “over”. That the incident had passed. Back to your routines, people. However I could not let myself return to my life just yet. I went upstairs, and walked towards the four policemen that were still in the parking lot by their squad cars.
As I approached, they looked up, acknowledging my presence. Here comes a concerned neighbor, wondering what’s up. Sandals, shorts, t-shirt covered in… what is that, cat hair?
There were plenty of questions I wanted to ask them.
“What, drugs?” “Dude, what the sam hill?” “What apartment was she from?” “Am I supposed to be concerned or…?” “Did you guys make an arrest or were you just here to keep the peace?” “I did hear handcuffs, right? Was that the EMTs or you?”
Instead, I asked the only thing that felt appropriate. The only phrase that I knew needed an answer, even if they could not respond.
“I know it’s none of my business, but is she going to be okay?”
“Oh yeah”, one of them replied nonchalantly. “She’s on her way to the hospital.”
It still throws me that a guy, probably younger than me, is already unstartled by this sort of activity. As though this scene has played out before him dozens of times and he is already used to it.
He was not alone. While this scene was playing out, my upstairs neighbor was having sex with his girlfriend. Because, you know, you can attend to the madness outside or you can enjoy your favorite Monday night routine. Besides, if a woman is going to writhe about, moan, and use the “f” word, he might as well be the cause of it (and get his mattress squeaking too).
That theory about cats sensing your emotional needs? A load of crap. I came back to my cat lying on her spot on the couch. I tried to hug her, tried to take some sort of comfort from my feline acquaintance. She would have none of it. She wanted to go back to sleep. Or be fed. Then go back to sleep. No need for sentimentality.
Days later and the woman’s cries are still in my ears. That night offered no break from the instant replay in my mind. The rest of the world kept moving. The upstairs neighbor took his shower. The plumbing works at it is supposed to. My cat is back on her couch, sleeping like she is supposed to. The last bus of the night drove by, just as scheduled. And the neon clock in my bedroom keeps scrolling through the minutes, passing time as it designed to.
Hopefully the woman’s life can get back to normal soon. Not her kind of normal, but the kind of normal that the rest of us fight for day after day. A life where there is hope and purpose and healthy relationships.
Wriggling and screaming, calling out for help and not feeling heard, thinking that people are torturing her and taking her where she does not want to go; essentially stripping her of her freedom. To me that sounds like the very definition of damned.
I typed this at two o’clock in the morning. My bus was set to go three hours later. I was supposed to go back to sleep and let it all slip into yesterday. I should not absorb on her pain. Let life resume its course.
Life has never made less sense to me.