Saving a Life

New York SubwayThe young man was counting twenty dollar bills in his hands when he moved forward and stumbled and fell on the subway tracks. It was right in front of me. I looked urgently at the digital sign above. It said a train was arriving in one minute. One minute.

A thousand images flashed before my eyes of people caught on cell phone cameras in moments of absolute mortal danger. You always wonder what you would do. What you would do if something like that happened in front of you.

And there it was. An opportunity to do something. Or nothing.

And then I realized I had jumped down onto the tracks, just like they tell you not to do. The same sign scrolling, “If you drop something on the track, leave it.” But I was dragging him up as best I could and heaving him back onto the platform. Thankfully, another man reached down and pulled him the last few inches to safety.

Looking down, I saw his twenty dollar bills scattered on the rails and I gathered them up and put them in his hand. I don’t know why I did that.

As I sat him up and talked to him, I could feel the air moving forcefully over me. It was the approaching train. The sign was flashing zero minutes to arrival of the next train. The train roared past, its driver, its passengers unaware of how the evening could have unfolded. The Lexington subway station closed because of an incident. People trying to capture video on their phones for the evening news. A young man died on the tracks tonight. Police do not know if it was an accident or a suicide. They are appealing for witnesses.

But he was alive.

I looked at the people around me and saw something I wasn’t expecting. The eyes of strangers set in judgment. Set in their negative judgment for the young man with long hair and dirty fingernails who had staggered onto the track.

There was no smell of alcohol but his eyes were distant, like they had been separated from the violence of the present. And the people judged him.

I felt awkward when he thanked me for saving his life. It wasn’t like the images on TV when you wonder what it would feel like to do something like that. I just felt sad. I was sad for the way we judge people for being down and out. And how we admire those who have more than us.

I went home on the subway, searching for the exhilaration of saving someone who no one cared about. That sign was still scrolling in my mind. If you drop something on the track, leave it.

Unless you want to save a life.

Help Me!

I ran to the phone box in my pajamas that dark, late night. It had been raining and my bare feet slipped on the wet leaves, fallen from the giant oak trees that leaned in towards me, waving their branches like the shackled arms of helpless ancient slaves.

Twice I fell and skinned my knees but I didn’t feel any pain at all. There wasn’t time to think about the grit in the bloody cuts.  There wasn’t time to think about why my sister wasn’t moving, lying back there on her bedroom floor where my Mum found her. There was only time to call for an ambulance from the pay phone.

The screams that night were different. They weren’t like the howls of the little girl who screamed in the attic, abandoned there by the gypsy people. That’s why I didn’t bury my head under the blanket and pray to God to make them stop.

Our Father which art in Heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Deliver us from evil.

For the love of God.

And then I knew it was my Mum. She was screaming for me to come and help her. She was sheltering my sister’s head in her arms, like she was a baby again. And I looked around the room to see if that evil thing was still there. The evil thing that had harmed my sister, the way she always said it would. The evil thing that could come into her head and tell her to kill herself. Or kill us all.

And when the woman answered the phone, I shouted in-between desperate breaths, “Help me! Please send an ambulance! Help me! I think my sister is dead.”

And the giant oak trees leaned further in as I ran back home.

Kill Yourself

My sister took the bread-knife and held it to her throat in the kitchen.  She said she was going to kill herself but any fool could see that it was the bread-knife and it had a serrated edge so you would have to saw your way through your neck if you wanted to die.  And since I hated her, I hoped she would do it.  But Mum wrestled her to the floor and pinned her down.

As they fought, I looked at the rotting pile of garbage that was lying on the floor beside my sister’s head.  I watched the flies making their hungry circles around the potato peelings and teabags and the dark brown puddle from something that was once alive and now was wriggling back to life again in a larvae feeding frenzy.

Mum gripped my sister’s wrist and the knife just lay there in the filth. Soon it would be slicing bread again and my sister would have to find a more effective way to kill herself. The voices in her head were telling her to do it. So she had no choice. But this time there was no sign of blood.

If you were a child growing up with insanity you will know, as I do, that awful sense of numbing anxiety as you wait for the next petrifying episode. The hideous nightly hauntings.  All the time, trying to be a normal kid. Helpless in the face of problems that even the grown-ups could not solve.

Did Someone Die In Here?

You can never be sure if you are alone in your hotel room.  These days, I always ask when I check in if anyone died in my room.  They always lie, of course.  The truth is, someone probably has died in their hotel.  Lots of people die in hotel rooms every day but it’s not something they advertise.

That hotel in Sydney was the worst.  I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night when all the lights in the bedroom and bathroom came on at the same time.  I called down to the front desk, as anyone would, and the man said I must have done it myself in my sleep.  I told him that wasn’t likely as I don’t sleepwalk and also there was an apparition dressed all in black in my bathroom singing Only the Lonely.

The interesting thing is that people don’t check into a hotel if they are actually dying.  They prefer to be in more familiar surroundings when they surrender to the grim reaper.  However, people do check into hotels to kill themselves because you can hang up the Do Not Disturb notice and be sure of no interruptions as you make your untimely exit, trying not to make a mess of the bed sheets.

Statistically, most people who die in hotel rooms experience an unexpected death.  This will almost certainly send their souls into Purgatory while they await the Final Judgment.  During this time (which could take weeks of anxious prayers if there is any doubt about their ultimate destination), they will wander aimlessly around your bedroom wondering what you are doing sitting on their bed in your underpants eating extra spicy chicken wings with blue cheese dip.

And on that subject, you should be careful what you choose from the room service menu because if you choke on a chicken bone there will be no one there to save you.  Except possibly that guy in the bathroom when he’s finished singing Only the Lonely.

There’s a Ghost in Our Toilet

A man hung himself in our toilet.  This would have been fine but he had the same name as me.  Mum said not to worry about it but that was easy for her to say.  Nana said his eyes were bulging out like my marbles, the big green ones.  He took his shoes off first and hung himself with his tie from the water pipes.  That’s how she found him, dead, swinging in the toilet.  So I had to worry about it.

Our toilet had no light.  It was out the backdoor and halfway down the yard.  Only someone with really bad diarrhea would go there in the middle of the night.  I held everything in, although we could always piss in the pot under the bed.

Dad never liked to empty his piss pot.  And it was always full after a night at the pub.  Sometimes he just threw it out of the bedroom window.  That would be sure to start some bad fights with people passing in the street below.  He left it to Nana to argue with them because she could punch a man so hard he wouldn’t get back up.

I always ran past the toilet door but you have to go eventually.  And I’ve had to live with that ghost every time I go.  The ghosts inside your head are the worst ones.  If they’re missing any detail, you can just fill it in.  Then they come alive and live with you forever.

Are you living with ghosts?  In that case, you’re not alone.

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