Empty Days

Friday, February 13, 2004



One day in the park

Speaking of which.

This summer I had an eerie experience - I think I saved a man from suicide or at least some body damage. I don't know who he is and I will never know, but I am 99% sure it was a suicide attempt.

Here's how.

I live just across a park. It's a lousy immigrant area, people of all tongues and colors swarm in that fucking ugly dirty piece of greenery and they don't talk to each other, and they don't see each other. I hate this neighbourhood - but it's also the perfect place to be totally anonymous.

One fine summer evening I went out to buy a pack of cigarettes. As I left the building I vaguely noticed an elderly guy in shorts and those big old-people glasses making his way towards the park - a respectable retired old fart. He seemed a bit unsteady on his feet. I registered all this without thinking and prepared to continue in the opposite direction. Then something happened inside me - I was "told" to turn on my heels and follow that guy. I don't know how else to express this: I really had no choice and it wasn't even a thought. It was a feeling (or is this what Kant meant by "categorical imperative"?).

So I did. Actually, I followed him on my bike.

He was indeed quite disoriented and not only that - he could barely hold on his feet. He went right into the park, to the kids' playing area, packed with people at the time. He went to the empty shallow-pool enclosure, stood there for a while, and then threw in something white he's been clutching in his hand. Then he turned and went into the crowd. He fell - nobody budged. Nobody even looked.
I went up to him on my bike and asked if he needed help. He looked past me. Wild half-conscious gaze. He seemed upset I was talking to him. He then proceeded on his swaying walk to the other end of the park.

I went up to the pool enclosure, climbed the low fence and found what I thought I would find - and empty bottle of extra-strength Tylenol. Hardly a very deadly product, but what d'you know. I grabbed the bottle and kept following the guy on my bike from a distance, not really knowing what to do.

He fell some more times, then finally reached the street and went into a Jewish sports center, which is yet another feature of this stupid neighbourhood - it's full of jewish schools and synagogues and they all live in their rich areas quite some distance away, and build their public facilities here because it's cheaper (don't tell me I am an antisemite, that's the truth for you).

Well, that pretty much solved my problem. I decided to go in too but couldn't find him in there. So I went to the info-desk and asked the clerks (and older woman and a young guy) if they had noticed an old man in shorts come in. They said they did and they also said they knew him. I told them that he fell in the park, gave them the empty bottle of Tylenol, said that he probably needed help and it was a suicide attempt. They looked at me like I was crazy. The young guy laughed, the woman said the bottle was empty - so how could it be a suicide? (great logic:) Anyhow, they promised they would find him and call his folks. I left.

***

The eerie part for me consists in the fact that I had to be the one to see this guy - many people saw him, only I saw what was going on. Thanks to all my experience of suicide, no doubt. But it was not my choice to be there for him.





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