By Maria Polonchek
1. You are driving your kids home from school when you notice a body lying diagonally across the sidewalk. It isn’t moving. A shoe has fallen off. No one else is around, which is odd, because school has just gotten out and the body is in front of the building.
2. Without hesitation, you pull into the first parking space. You are trying to hurry, but it takes several minutes to explain to your two 6-year-olds and one 2-year-old why they have to stay in the car. There is a person on the sidewalk. No, she isn’t dead. Yes, she might be hurt. No, you can’t come and watch. Because it isn’t polite to crowd around a person who’s lying on the sidewalk. Yes, we’ll call for help. No, you can’t come and watch. Yes, you can stick your head out the window to see. No, you can’t climb out of the window. Yes, just your head. No, not your arms. Please take care of your sister. No, you can’t come and watch.
3. You finally make it to the body. A man has gotten there, too. He has called 911. The body belongs to a woman and she looks pretty old. Like, old enough that it’s not as surprising that she’s lying there and her shoe has fallen off. She doesn’t speak much English. She’s shivering.
4. You immediately take off your jacket and cover her. You ask if she’s cold. She says no. You ask if she’s hurt. She says no. You ask if she can move. She says no. You rub her thin arms lightly, afraid that touching her might hurt her, but wanting her to know she isn’t alone.
5. You tell her she isn’t alone.
6. You ask if you can hold her hand. She says yes. You take her hand, but it doesn’t respond to your grasp. You hold on anyway.
7. You tell her she isn’t alone.
8. After what feels like a Very Long Time, you finally hear the sirens. Three small heads are cramming against each other out of your car window to see the ambulance and the woman on the sidewalk and their bumbling mother, who never knows if she’s doing the right thing.
9. The man leaves after answering some questions from the ambulance guys. You feel strange about leaving. You want everyone to exchange information so you can get together and talk about what happened or something. But the ambulance guys thank you for your help and tell you that you can leave.
10. (One of them is pretty cute. Yes, you are happily married and a woman is lying on the ground, but that doesn’t mean you don’t notice if a man in uniform is good-looking.)
11. You walk towards the car. The six eyes are watching you.
12. You remember the jacket you covered the woman with is one of your faves. It’s from J Crew.
13. Technically, you got it on e-Bay, but still, it was New Without Tags.
14. You turn around and watch. The woman is still lying on the ground. The ambulance guys are asking her how old she is, if she knows where she is, what’s her name. She is still covered in your camel tweed jacket with leather buttons and gold silk lining with fuschia trim.
15. You really want that jacket back.
16. You turn back around to the car. The kids are watching. It seems rude to take a jacket off a person who’s 75, shivering, and barely conscious.
17. You hem and haw. You don’t know what to do. Do you ask for your jacket back now? Do you get some info from the ambulance guys, saying you want to visit her in the hospital, but really, it’s because you want to get your jacket back? Do you get in the car and drive away and feel better about yourself because people are more important than clothes from J Crew that you technically got on eBay, but are New Without Tags?
18. You drop your shoulders and slink back towards the ambulance guys. You catch the eyes of the cute one. (This is so embarrassing.) You ask if she’s going to be OK. He says yes. You ask if there is anything else you can do. He says no. He thanks you for your help (again) (for the second time) and tells you can go.
19. You lower your head and dig the toe of your shoe into the grass. The thing is, you say, ummm…I covered her with my jacket.
20. He says, that was nice of you.
21. You say, well, the thing is, I was wondering if I could have my jacket back. It’s from J Crew. I mean, I bought it on eBay, but still, it was New Without Tags.
22. He grins. (He really IS cute.) You want your jacket? he asks. Yes, you say. It’s just that it’s my favorite jacket and I don’t want her to be cold but I thought maybe you guys had some blankets or something. Or, I could go to my house and get a blanket and then take my jacket.
23. We have blankets, he says, and walks over and plucks the jacket off her like she isn’t a 75-year-old, fragile, thin, disoriented woman who is lying on a sidewalk in the middle of California on a sunny day, shivering.
24. It’s a nice jacket, he says, still grinning.
25. You take the stupid jacket, go back to the car, not sure what sort of example you just set for your three children, still watching, with their heads crammed out the window.
Maria Polonchek lives in the Bay Area. Her work was most recently published in the anthology Have Milk, Will Travel: Adventures in Breastfeeding. Read more at her blog: writingbetweenfriends.com.