I was so excited to get done with work a few minutes early today. The sun has been shining for the past few days. As I stepped out of the building and into the alley, I caught a little chill in the air. I decided to throw my hoodie on. I looked around first. The alley is a popular tourist destination. In the morning, the sides of the buildings are supported by the bodies of those souls hoping to get a spot in treatment for the day. When the gate gets flung open promptly at 8:00am, there is never a shortage of folk hoping today will be the first day they spend searching for a hit. There are limited spots for detox, bupe, and even rehab for a lucky few that arrived at JUST the right moment when the universe aligned to provide a rare opening. Mostly, people are told to return, shuffling back to the streets with less urgency and more hopelessness. At night, the alley becomes a beacon for crack smokers and youngsters needing to find a "safe" place to piss as they stumble to the train after pounding fifteen dollar cocktails.
I pull my backpack on. With a quick adjustment to my attire, the addition of my hoodie has pushed me back into a different era. There was a time when everything I owned fit in a backpack just like this one. The layers were meant to keep me warm all night. My pockets were filled with matches, a few syringes, and perhaps money that left as soon as it got there. As I make it to the corner, I see a crowd across the street. A group of the usual suspects is gathered in front of the liquor store. I recognize one face from my time, long ago, at the methadone clinic. A few are stone cold alcoholics plotting their next bottle of poison. I see one dude firmly on the dip and scratch from the blessed combo of uppers and downers. As I plan in my mind where exactly I am going to walk to avoid being straight in the middle, a woman tells me "excuse me" as she pushes through.
I missed the reason for the assault. I missed the reasons that the old man was now lying on the ground in front of me. "No one gives a fuck about what you..." I heard him sobbing, waiting to see if someone is now going to kick him in the head. I review the odds in my mind. The odds that I will now get ratpacked if I decide to help him up. The odds are just too great. I can hear the other man is trying to teach him some kind of lesson that only is solidified at the end of a fist. Should I call the cops? Never. That is what I was told so many years ago. Should I call the ambulance? I do neither. By the time the ambulance gets there, the man will be gone. The man who hit him will be gone. The people on the corner will be gone. The only thing left will be the image in my mind. The only thing left will be the questions about humanity. The reality is that I was afraid, afraid for myself in that moment. I haven't felt that fear in a long time. Someone helped him up as I walked away from my past.
I used to stand on a street corner and sell heroin. I used to carry money in my pussy with out a care in the world. All I wanted was that dope to fuck me from the inside. All I wanted was to feel numb enough to no longer be afraid. I went from being a nerdy kid to a whirlwind of violence, all because I was too afraid to let the drugs go. Would I have ended up laid out on that street corner? Probably. I have more than once. My fear was not dying with a needle in my arm. It was having to live in that life for many years to come. What a horror show.
I caught my train. My three kids gave me hugs. We talk about the Valentines they need for school. I am grateful.
I paid dude to take this picture. Don't take pics of random people on the street without asking. Rude.