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Missed Opportunity

Last night there was an explosion at the Auto Mall. pirateguillermo called me on his way home to tell me that there was a horrible queue to get on the freeway because they were redirecting traffic, and we had to go right back to the same place later in the evening.

We got to our destination, a Borders book store, and went into the cafe. We were standing in front of the display case when a man asked us if we were in AA. He was behind me and we both answered "no," when I turned around and saw him.

He was in his 60s, with a medium build. He was wearing a very long tweed coat that was shaggy as though it was very old and much worn. I didn't notice his pants (the coat was that long) but his shoes, though clean, were very thin and cheap looking - vinyl rather than leather. His hair needed cutting and his skin looked purple and mottled. He looked like someone who might have recently fallen on hard times but hadn't given up yet.

He got into the queue for the cashier and proceeded to crowd the two women in front of him, asking them if they knew that the auto mall blew up. They looked uncomfortable with his proximity, answering his questions with monosyllables and not turning their bodies to face him. They went on talking between themselves and he went on talking to himself, muttering obscenities and sounding both angry and very traumatised. The two women placed their orders and were just about to walk away when the man abruptly decided to leave. He walked out of the cafe into the bookstore, still muttering to himself.

The minute he disappeared, I knew I should have talked to him. I should have asked him if he was okay. If he needed something, someone to talk to. There is the likelihood that he would have misinterpreted my actions - yelled at me or made a scene. But even if that was the case, it wouldn't have mattered. It was only after he left that I realized that something very bad had happened to him, and he was looking for someone to help him. I thought about him for the rest of the night, and for the entire time we were in the bookstore I kept looking for him, hoping that he hadn't left and I could still talk to him.

I hope that he's okay. That he found what he was looking for. That he didn't hurt anyone.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 9th, 2005 02:54 am (UTC)
In my experience, it's highly unlikely that you could have done anything for him by talking to him; you would only have made it easier for him to make you part of his reality, which is more likely to lead to unhappy results.

I know that sounds awfully cold. Believe me, I often wish that I knew more so that I might be able to say something or do something that would have a positive impact.
Jan. 9th, 2005 04:43 am (UTC)
I'm a firm believer that if each of us gave a hand to one person, there would be no major problems in this world.

But that means giving a hand before it's too late. As hard as it is to accept, this guy was probably too far gone for a stranger to intercede.

That you cared, that this bothered you, well, in this case it's probably all you could have done short of directing him to a crisis intervention center. Hopefully he found help.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )