Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The lady in the street.

Street life there's a thousand parts to play
Street life until you play your life away

- Joe Sample

I was driving down Dekalb Avenue yesterday. Headed away from Grady in an effort to make it to Grand Rounds on the Emory campus across town. It was the lunch hour so there wasn't much traffic which was good. And on this day I was in a mostly good mood and didn't have anything heavy on my mind.

NPR was on. Someone was talking about the 45th President and something he said or did. Or both. And I just listened quietly, doing what I always do when hearing these radio segments. And what do I always do? I try to imagine the looks on the faces of the people speaking. Like, I imagine it to be like people are when they're in a room together on the phone and the person on the line is the butt of a joke. Except they don't fully realize that they are since it's the phone and not face to face. Yeah. So, I wonder if Kai Ryssdal and Steve Inskeep are snickering next to their microphones or if there's some sister producer making the kinds of faces that I make when hearing crazy stuff.


That's what I was thinking about and not much else. Unless you count the fact that I hadn't eaten lunch and was wondering if I would at all. I read a book recently about listening to the body and eating when you're actually hungry instead of just eating at the programmed times. So yeah. I thought about that, too.

The sun was out and the sky was blue. Which was very much a welcomed thing given the sheets of rain that we'd had the week before. Downpour after downpour, man. The kind that keeps kids indoors and ruins plans to do stuff.

So yeah. I guess I was thinking about that, too.

Along I drove . . . telling myself I wasn't hungry, giggling at the imaginary facial expressions I'd assigned to the NPR people and being glad that I wouldn't need an umbrella. And all of it was fine.

That's when I saw it. This blur of brown and blue. Spinning around like a real-life Tasmanian devil in the center of traffic.

"What the hell?"

I said that out loud. Because seriously, I had no idea what it was I was looking at. But then I got a bit closer and saw that it was a person. A woman, actually. Wearing this denim dress versus shirt that appeared both tattered and several sizes too big. And at first, it was hard to tell what she had on since she was moving so quickly and erratically.

Her arms were swinging at the air. She was screaming and punching and fighting some imaginary opponent, cursing them with such deep hatred that spit was flying from her mouth. Her feet were kicking in the air, too. I slowed my car down, partly because I didn't want to hit her but also because I was just kind of worry-wondering about what would happen next.

Then her wild eyes met mine. She lit over toward my driver side window--fast, too. So fast that I couldn't hide my startled expression or quell the wave of fear that washed over me. She ran right up to my window but then stopped. Her eyes were still pointed in my direction but I realized then that she didn't see me. Those eyes were looking through me, into some world far, far away.


And all of this was aimed into my car which was now at a near complete stop. I wasn't scared anymore though. Well, I take that back. I wasn't scared of her. But I was scared for her. Short term scared and long term scared.

Suddenly, it was like a switch flipped. She turned away from me and toward the oncoming traffic. Her bottom fell to the sidewalk while her knees went into a deep bend. Placing a hand on the ground in front of her, she began doing a sexually suggestive dance of some sort. Laughing the entire time, her brown and fractured teeth gleaming in the high noon sunshine. She was still talking, but I now I couldn't hear her.

I could see that she wasn't wearing underwear. Or much of anything beneath her clothes. They were falling off of her, now one deflated breast exposed. That made her throw her head back and laugh more.


A car was behind me. Dekalb Avenue has only a single lane in that direction during that hour. People needed to go. And since I was at a complete stop in a place where there wasn't a light or a stop sign, that honk was for me.

And so. I lifted my foot off of the brake and slowly eased forward. My pulse quickening because I felt like there was something I should do for her. Like, something you know? Even something little like buttoning her up and getting her out of the street. Covering up her body so that no one could see it on Dekalb Avenue or escorting her over to the Grady Psychiatry ER.


But I didn't. I moved my car up and eventually went back to driving to where I needed to go. I kept my eyes on her through my rear view and was relieved to at least see her get out of the middle of the street.

And that was that.

I wish I could say that this moment was something totally unusual. I mean, the half dressed dancing part was kind of odd, but not that sinking feeling I felt. This horrible mixture of guilt and fear and sadness and helplessness. That? That is something I feel a lot.

So those empty thoughts I'd had before were replaced. I sifted through what could have been happening with that woman and what would happen next. Like, was she mentally ill and in need of medication? Was she sick from drug dependence and under the influence of some mood altering substance? Was she a kid who'd been neglected and abused? Was she somebody's mama or somebody's sister? Did she have a grandmother somewhere who was praying nonstop for the Lord to take all of this away from her baby? Or was she none of those things?

Or maybe she was all of those things at the same time.

I don't know. Yeah, man. I don't know and it bothers me that I probably won't know.

I looked for her when driving to work today. Slowed down and really, truly looked for her all up and down Dekalb Avenue as I rolled up the street. I'd tossed a pair of pants and a shirt in the back seat just in case. At minimum, I told myself that I'd give her something to wear. And if her mind was in a better place, maybe I'd even ask her if she was okay.


I never saw her though. Not then or on the way home either.


Not even sure why I wrote about this. I guess I just wanted to honor her as a person. Putting even that tiny sliver of time into words to let her know I saw her. I saw her and in that moment wished I could apologize for whatever in her world had let her down.




  1. Why didn't you call 911? Some missed opportunities to do good may never come again. I believe we are tried and tested daily. If we fail the lesson/test it will come again until we do the right thing. Here in Texas, I would fear for her physical safety and would have to help any woman in that situation. Police tend to shoot such people.

    At the end of the day you chose to do what you felt was right.

    1. I wouldn't say "right". Honestly, I wished I had a clear idea of something to do. There's just this overwhelming helplessness you feel sometimes in places like downtown Atlanta when you see something like this--especially this part of downtown Atlanta. There's a lot of drug use and people with unstable housing--some of whom behave erratically. 911? I'm not so sure. I think if I had believed police would come and do something I may have been more likely to have called. But I could be wrong. I doubt they'd shoot her. Not finding it emergent though? Maybe. Or an indecent exposure arrest followed by her being sent right back where she was. A lot is broken.

      Know this: I wanted her to be safe, too. I feared of a lot of things for her. And still do. Thank you for your comment.

  2. Sometimes it simply is not ours to control. Merely to witness.

    1. Thank you. Seriously, thank you for these words and just for being you.

  3. certain things are just beyond our control


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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