This is a true account written just after Christmas 1999 about an event which happened a few days earlier.
Being the shut-in that I was at the time, please put yourself in the shoes of someone who really tries to avoid contact with most everyone for unexplainable reasons.
Thursday Night, December 23rd.
I go to my psychologist’s office for my weekly session. I’m a little early so I sit in my car for 15 minutes or so puffing away on a cigarette. In that time I spot a girl who looks to be in her early 20’s inside the lobby’s big glass doors. She’s sitting on the steps with long brown hair, as she ties her shoe. She grabs hold of the railing and lifts herself up. Her legs are wobbly as she grabs onto her wheeled walker and slowly pushes over to the door. She has a tough time getting out of the heavy door, as I watch her — unable to get the courage to help her. She walks over to the payphone not 30 feet from my car to make a phone call. She struggles to get her hand inside of her pocket for some change. She goes to put the quarter in the phone and it falls to the wet concrete below her. She strains to get to the ground safely to try to find where the quarter had dropped, all the while holding on for dear life with one hand to her walker. Yet still I cannot get the courage up to go and help her as I try to look away from this sad sight. She picks herself up and walks back into the building.
A few minutes later, I finish my cigarette and go into the building. I walk up the stairs and down the long hallway to the door of my doctor’s waiting room. I open the door, and who’s sitting there talking with the doctor? It was that girl. I felt ashamed that maybe she saw me in the car and hates me for watching her struggle. I fear she will give me a dirty look. Though, I receive a small smile from the girl as she goes back to talking with the doctor about her lack of transportation.
They make a few calls together, as she probably has trouble dialing the phone. “Let me try my roommate to see if he’s home.” She says, and they do so. There was no answer. The doctor calls me in as she sits down in a chair and sets her walker next to her. He explains her situation briefly with me, and tells me that her “cab service” hadn’t shown up, so they tried calling them again. I continue with my hour-long session and walk out only to find the 20-something girl still sitting there.
I look at her for a second and ask if she needs a ride. She agrees with a quick glance for reassurance from the doctor.
The community service bus comes around as I am folding up her walker into my car. I send him on his way and explain that I will save her some money and apologized for this inconvenience to him, but subtly remind him that it had been quite an inconvenience for her to wait for what I found out later to be 2 hours for them.
We talk a lot during the ride, though it seems like a small battle to get every word out at the same volume for her. Her name is Kristen, though I’m not sure if she spells it that way. She is a patient of the same doctor I see and it was her second visit to him. We talk about smoking, we talk about Fiona Apple, and we talk about the winter solstice and the moon. She tells me she’s not looking forward to this Christmas. “It hasn’t been a good year at all.” I ask her if her handicap is due to a disease, or….
As it turns out, Kristen has Multiple Sclerosis. She developed it in ’93, but that’s not why she was seeing the psychologist. She added, “I don’t want to talk about bad things.” So I dropped it. We also talked about her “cab service” and that it is not reliable at all. I ask if she always has to rely on this service and if she has any friends that take her around. “No,” she says, “not really.” We get to her house as she thanks me immensely for about the 4th time.
As I pull into the driveway to a fairly nice sized house, I ask if she has anyone waiting for her. She replies with another “No”.
I help her out of the car and set up her walker for her. I walk her into the garage through the automatic doors and to the door leading into the house. We shake hands and exchange best wishes for the approaching holidays, though it seems mine will do no good.
And that was that.
I got back in my car and I said to myself (and whoever else was listening) “See? I did it. I missed it the first time, but I got it.”
It was an experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I felt good. I felt spirited, and alive, and real. I want to do more for Kristen. I’d like to take her out but I’m afraid she’ll get too attached. Or perhaps I’m afraid I will get too attached. It just doesn’t feel right that that would be the only time I see her. I didn’t get the feeling she’d be around for much longer.
Carpe Diem, folks. You can do more for someone than you think you can. And for yourself, too. Looking back at all the gifts I got this year, I couldn’t have asked for a better one than the opportunity I had to help out a girl like Kristen.
For the record, I never did see her again. But I do contribute to The MS Society from time to time.