I’m writing this story in one sitting, one draft, and without polish.
I don’t know who they were or where they were from, the couple that forced my day into an uncomfortable U-turn. I’m still a little nauseated, an hour later. When I came home, I immediately took a shower and did my best to avoid throwing up. The perfume or cologne of the couple is still on me, even after. My “What Would You Do” moment did call me to action, though. It also exposed my hardened view of so many things. The older man of the couple demonstrated an incredible amount of patience in the moments we shared. I am hesitant to tell any part of the story as even the most gently expressed truth often wounds people in ways which are unintended.
My wife and I capriciously decided to find a Mexican food place to eat today on the 4th. We drove by several and found all to be closed, one of which we missed by 30 minutes. On a whim, I turned at the last moment to check Las Palmas. My wife and I smiled at each other when we saw the mismatched cars aligned in the parking lot.
While we were eating, a woman and her children were behind us. The older boy regaled his table with stories involving vomit, bathroom misadventure, and the sort of thing one would expect from such a tender idiotic mind. Dawn was especially taken with the stories, given that the back of her head was a foot away from the mouth sharing the stories as fajita-scented smoked wafted in the air.
The restaurant had some unusual characters in it. The oddest was an unlikely couple seated in front of me and to the right, back against the bathroom area. The man seemed to behave almost like a caregiver. The woman, a painfully thin middle-aged woman, sat with her face mostly turned away from me. She was wearing a summer dress and several things seemed not quite right about her. In front of her was an almost empty margarita glass, the frosted and salt-rimmed kind one typically finds in Tex-Mex places. Toward the end of my meal, the antics seemed to grow more pronounced, much like a play in which the actors start to feel the audience respond to their comedy. I watched as the woman tried several times to get the straw of her drink to connect with her mouth. I was wrestling with the question of whether the woman had a mental condition. The margarita seemed incongruous to such a hopeful conclusion, however.
As Dawn sat across from me telling me stories, I found myself increasingly looking past her at the strange couple by the bathroom. I watched in horror as the woman tried to stand, much like a confused flamingo might do if its frail legs were tied to bowling balls. The man with her grabbed her as she started to pitch forward into the basket of chips of the Latino man seated nearby. He had her purse in one hand and somehow managed to grab her like a striking cobra.
“She’s going to fall!” I fiercely whispered to Dawn. “Don’t look,” I added, as she, of course, turned her head to look. (It might as well be a law in these situations, much like the involuntary cringe in one’s neck as someone shouts, “Watch out!”) I didn’t know it, but I was finished eating for the day.
After six or seven additional dramatic steps, the woman simply collapsed onto the hard tile floor, her male companion helpless to stop her. It sounded like a half-empty bag of potatoes as she hit the floor. My heart stopped for a second.
I locked eyes with the Latino man who had been seated near them. He looked down and away. Because I didn’t want John Quiñones and his crew from “What Would You Do” to jump out of the pantry and stick a camera in my face, I jumped up and ran over to help lift the woman. I didn’t know that my call to action was going to be so graphic or consuming.
“She’s got a bad leg and is going to have surgery on it,” the man told me. My heart hurt for him a little bit at that moment. I could feel his pain. I knew then that the woman was drunk and probably had a little pharmacological help mixed in.
Being careful of my back, I helped pick her up. I wanted to sit her in a chair for a moment and to give her time to get her bearings. The man with her forged ahead, trying to walk her, so I continued to lift and assist. Everyone inside was now looking at us. The restaurant had come to standstill.
We somehow managed to get her near the door despite the constricted walkway between tables. We were basically carrying her by this point. I wanted to sit her on the door side bench while the man went for the car. Instead, he said he’d never get her back up if she sat down there. Despite the voice in my head threatening me to continue, the man and I kept walking and made it outside. It’s hard to change course once you’re swept up in what seems to be impossible momentum.
I assumed his vehicle was the one two spaces from the door, given the woman’s condition, one which I assumed was normal for her. “Is this one yours?” I asked him.
“No,” he replied. “You’re not going to believe this, but THAT one is mine.” He pointed to the literal edge of the parking lot. The vehicle was some type of conversion Jeep, and the bottom of the door was more than two feet from the ground. I should have run. If I could go back in time, I’d go back and slap myself for not doing so.
The woman continued her best to succumb to gravity and fall to the pavement as we fought against it, moving slowly across the parking lot. She mumbled incoherently as the man continued to ask her to use her legs, to hold herself up, to move forward. I assumed everyone in the restaurant was pressed against the tinted windows, watching us do the impossible. I could hear the opening bell of Rocky in my head. My back sent warning shots to my brain. I couldn’t put the woman down, though, because the pavement was incredibly hot. The man seemed relentlessly insistent on marching to his vehicle, even if he had to drag all of us there by sheer willpower.
As we neared the Jeep, I got one arm from her and opened the door. It was going to be impossible to get her in there given the access available past the door. I knew then that the woman was most certainly not in such dire straits before her meal. Whatever medical condition was present before her arrival was at most responsible for no more than 10% of our current predicament.
We tried everything to get the woman up. She stopped responding to basic motor commands. At one point, the man ripped the belt from his cargo shorts in an attempt to fashion a lifting harness for her hand. We lifted her up and down no fewer than ten times. It was blistering hot in the parking lot. I knew it was burning the woman with each attempt, if not breaking her legs. I asked about an ambulance and should have insisted on calling one.
Honestly, though, I cannot express the pain I felt for the man as he struggled with a total stranger like me. He struggled to maintain his composure and sanity as the situation became more and more outrageous. I knew how sharply he was feeling the concern for the woman, while simultaneously being embarrassed and upset. He told me I could leave and that he appreciated the help. It made me wince even more.
On our last attempt, the woman’s sundress went completely up to the waist, leaving her exposed. I could not imagine a worse predicament for either the man or the woman. The woman, though, wouldn’t know it had happened unless someone tells her later.
After a long interval, Dawn came outside and watched as we continued to struggle. I wanted to both run and burst into tears. The man agreed that he might have to call an ambulance, even though I knew as he said it that he wouldn’t, for a variety of reasons.
The woman was curled into an unnatural ball in the passenger seat and floorboard, her limbs in seven distinct directions. The man was pushing at the small of her back, trying to keep her inside. He couldn’t do anything about her dress being around her waist.
“I’m not going to call an ambulance if you don’t want one, sir,” I told him, putting my hand on his back. He was in great shape for being in his late 50s or early 60s; It probably explains why he was still making the attempt.
We gave one more try to push the woman far enough inside. It looked impossible, but she was ‘inside’ in the most loosely defined way possible. The man told me he’d pile her in there like a spilled bag of oranges if he had to. Without exaggeration, I think about 15 minutes passed between the first time I picked the woman up from the floor and leaving.
I said a few things to get him to reconsider. I don’t remember exactly what I said because I was upset, whether I showed it much or not. As Dawn and I left, we drove around the lot so that I could see that the man hadn’t dropped her. Thankfully, he was standing by the Jeep, looking at the ground, a look of despair on his face. I was trying to picture what it might look like when he got her back to her house or his house or wherever they would end up.
I turned right and went the long way around, trying to convince myself to go ahead and call the police or an ambulance. If a police officer had been patrolling, I would have. None was to be seen. It was a relief in a way. Those two people have unimaginable problems in their lives. I don’t know who they are – or even the man’s name.
Dawn told me as we drove away that the woman walked into the restaurant without assistance. It confirmed my suspicion that alcohol had mixed with something else.
I can’t tie this story up into a neat little bow yet. I’ll let you know how mad I become at myself for helping. I’m glad I helped when someone needed it. I feel a deep sadness for the man who was put into that situation. I know nothing about who he is or his relationship to the woman. The not knowing makes it easier for me to avoid anger at the woman. My youthful exposure to so much alcoholism and addiction sometimes brings up a vengeful eye in me and it is something I struggle with when I’m around the consequences of someone who desperately needs help but won’t accept it.
I forgot to mention one key detail: it was an unfortunate choice of days for the woman to fail to wear underwear.