The other night, I slid my office window open and poked my head out for a smoke.
“Go the fuck away!” a female voice erupted from the darkness.
“I live here!” I responded. She muttered something nonsensical in return. My view was obscured by a hedgerow but, as far as I could tell, she was sitting in the middle of the alley. She was busy doing something. Maybe she had dumped out her purse and was stuffing the contents back in? Vess walked up behind me to share my smoke, unaware of what was transpiring. She continued a conversation we had started in the kitchen.
“There’s somebody out there. She’s on the ground.”
“Why is she on the ground?”
“I think she’s on crack.”
Vess leaned an ear and finally heard all of the fast, incoherent ramblings that only come out of a mouth that recently had a glass pipe in it. She did something that no one here in the city does for a complete stranger. She got concerned and wanted to check on her. This was the second time in a week Vess had done this.
Before we got frightened of the rowdy neighbors, we used to smoke outside of the front door. Late one night we stepped outside to share a cig. In the middle of the courtyard, there was a young woman lying on a concrete picnic bench. After much concern, Vess convinced me to check on her.
“Are you ok?”
…and that was that. She had put on her game face. What else could I do? No other words were spoken and eventually her nephew came out hours later to drag her back in. “Too much weed,” I was told the next day.
But this was different. This wasn’t weed, it was crack. This wasn’t inside a gated complex, it was in a dark alley. Aware of the dangers of being so vulnerable, we checked on this newest lost soul.
“Are you ok?”
“I’m fine! I’m just fine! Do you guys smoke crack?” People have jokingly asked me that before when I have said or did something odd or crazy. She wasn’t joking. Despite being high she was already looking for another fix.
“That’s good! Drug free, huh? That’s just great. Crack is bad.”
“Are you sure you’re ok?” Vess asked again.
“I’m fine.” The stranger stood up. “Just tell my family I love them…but I chose drugs over them!” She marched down the alley with new found confidence. She had looked helpless – something she wasn’t going to let happen again.
Vess’ jaw dropped. “Oh my God. That’s horrible.”
“Don’t be fooled,” I interjected, having seen firsthand the plight of the junkie “Given the chance she would slit your throat for a farthing.”
Everyone here is afraid to admit they might need help – afraid of looking weak. Outward appearance is God here, even if it means you end up drowning your sorrows in a gutter later that night.
She had no family, no one that cared for her.
On this Thanksgiving day, I realize that my loved ones are what I’m most thankful for. With the proper love and encouragement, you can achieve things you never thought probable, or even possible. Without the ones who love us, who knows how close any of us are to being confused in an alley, or sprawled on a picnic bench, or sleeping on a street corner. Even though I’m thousands of miles away from them, I can still feel their love in my heart. Sometimes that’s all we have – most times it’s all we need.
Enjoy each other’s company today and never take it for granted.