January 1, 2014

A Body in the Parking Lot

I pulled into the parking lot at the cafe, and there was a body, lying on the wet pavement, in one of the parking spaces.

As I got out, she stirred, and tried to sit up; failed, and lay back down.

I hurried over and asked her if she was all right. Breathing, bleeding, shock, said my Dad's voice, in my head. She mumbled something. I crouched down beside her and took her hand, doing a quick look-over for injuries, for scene-of-accident signs. Nothing. She returned the pressure of my hand normally: not a clutch, but a trusting squeeze.

I couldn't get intelligible speech out of her, though, and she couldn't tell me her name. I asked if she wanted to try to stand up, and she gave it a brief try, but failed. There was alcohol on her breath, but she wasn't reeking. Some more people came by, and I asked them to call 911. While we waited -- a long time, it seemed to me -- she began having gentle spasms, and muttering in distress, murmuring about something about her babies, weeping a little. All the time she held my hand. "You'll be all right, hon," I said.

Other people came along: a young Portlandia couple with open faces. The young woman put her down jacket over her, to warm her. Why hadn't I thought of that? I'm useless, useless in emergencies. Someone came out of the bar to look for her; he knew her name, but not much else. Police showed up, asked some questions, established that an ambulance was a good idea. The spasms faded. The woman, secretively, brought my hand to her mouth and kissed it.

Finally the ambulance, the paramedics: people I have great trust in. I stood up to ease my knees, after all that crouching, and the sweet young woman who'd given her jacket took over the hand holding. The paramedics, brisk and clear, got her name from her, and more information than I'd managed to get in twenty minutes. They brought the rolling stretcher over. "They're going to make you feel better," said the young woman. A moment later I saw the woman surreptitiously kiss her hand, too.

Meanwhile, blood pressure, blood sugar, questions of the guy who had been at the bar. Too little food and too much drink, that was clear. The seizures were something the guy vaguely thought maybe she had before, maybe she took medicine for.

The rolled her away to the ambulance. Everyone dispersed. I went into the bathroom at the cafe, and washed my hands well. I felt a little ashamed of myself for doing so, but I also wished I'd warned the nice young woman to do the same: Hep C is no laughing matter, and the cops and paramedics had of course gloved up at once. I went out, sat down, and got my breakfast.

That's it, that's all the story I know. I did the only thing I really know how to do, which is to convey tenderness and caring with my hands. She'd responded to my touch, as clients sometimes do, like a dry plant to water, and I could not shake the conviction, though I knew it was groundless -- really just what I was predisposed to think -- that the alcohol and not eating enough were her responses to touch starvation.

We don't take care of each other. Half of what's wrong with us human beings, I sometimes think, could be headed off if we just still hunkered down together picking lice, imaginary or real, out of each other's hair, of an evening, the way all the other primates do: just touching each other kindly, huddling close, and tending to each other. Instead we've made a world of artificial light, and images thrown on the walls, that we stagger through alone.

26 comments:

  1. "I'm useless, useless in emergencies."

    No, I wouldn't say that, not at all.

    (Ravensara Travillian)

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    1. Thank you Raven! But really, you want those paramedics. They're awesome.

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    2. I agree -- definitely not useless. Not everyone would've stopped or stayed until the paramedics arrived.

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  2. You came to give me a massage recently and I realized that, other than you, no one has touched my skin with intention in months. Thank you.

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    1. I am so grateful to my clients. I never, never had enough touch until I began working as a massage therapist: now I'm replenished every day.

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  3. Very intetesting and I think perceptive. The sociology of massage ...

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  4. You did well. And yes - more touch. Part of my resolution this year - more hugs :D

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  5. Powerful and so true. Thank you Dale.

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  6. I am from Russia and I read your blog since I came across one of your essays reposted at a Russian site - "What people really look like". It was gorgeous!

    Now every new post here is a real pleasure to read.

    About hugs - yes, it is so true. If it were not for dancing, I would have been starving. :-)

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    1. Thank you, Joysky! Yes, dance! One of the great good things.

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  7. My cat touches me with intention, so slowly and gently. Few people have done so in my life, and consequently I am somewhat afraid of touch, unless it's the touch of animals. This is a beautiful piece.

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    1. Yes, that makes all kinds of sense. Touch among people is just so loaded -- overloaded -- with meaning. I often think that people get massage because it's one of the only ways to get touch that's within safe bounds, touch that doesn't have huge unpredictable interpersonal consequences.

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  8. I keep reading and re-reading your last paragraph. It is the plain truth, beautifully put.

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  9. Your writing. Is so good. It drives me crazy. Thank you.

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  10. I second what Kristen said. Your writing is absolutely beautiful - I'm glad you're brave enough to share it with the world! "Like a dry plant to water..." so true. Also, if you don't mind my saying so, it's easy to look back and critique ourselves on little things we coulda/ shoulda done. I think the fact that you took time out of your life to be beside this woman is incredibly valuable. Be kind to yourself :) It sounds like you deserve it.
    April

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  11. I wish you lived in my neighbourhood or I in yours. I would come for massages every week... I have a beautiful daughter who paints people's souls when she paints. You soud as if you find people's souls with your hands. Love, Gitte

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  12. At 61 I am in school to become a massage therapist. Your articles are more inspiring to me than you can imagine. They are adding depth to what I am already learning. Thank you for showing us how vital touch is. Another article you wrote about the human body and how you look for that glow...so inspiring. It's March already and you have only written once this year. I hope you will write more in the near future. What I would really really love is to see a video of your massage. I watch them on youtube to learn others techniques. Yours would be the best!

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    1. Oh, thank you, Marty! You're right, I should post again soon. Hmm, video? Yikes. I'll have to think about that one :-)

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  13. I really loved this article. Ihave always believed the same about touch. It can heal many diseases and brokenness of mind, body, & spirit. I try to explain this to my husband. We need to touch more. This also makes me think of my elderly dad who lives alone. I need to hug him more.

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  14. I always read your articals and you know what each and every line of your artical gives a message and unique information to us.....its my pleasure to read your articals,,
    about Hugs only i say,,,more touch-more hugs,,,,,:-)

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