My New Year’s day was truly hallucinatory, and not from any absinthe I’d bathed in the night before. I don’t know if the first full day of a bad cold is like this for most people, but for me, it’s a sharp-taloned grip of flaring headache, lead-gravity fatigue, eye and ear impairment, and consciousness without focus. So, when I found out—when I’d finally been able to pull myself out of bed to leave San Francisco—that my girlfriend’s Alice’s car had a dead battery, I could only numbly nod.
We waited at the car for a tow truck to give us a jump, me lolling in the front seat with my head in my hands. I glanced up every few minutes, and despite being half-witted, noticed that a man standing across the street was staring directly at the car, or at me. Every time I looked, his gaze was fixed on the car, his stance, held up on one side by a cane, rigid. I got out of the car to get some air, turned away from the man, but when I turned back he—or rather she—was standing almost next to me, staring with a sharp ferocity.
A Migrant of the Spirit
I hadn’t realized it was a woman until she was close, because she was wearing big sunglasses, the bright sun was from her direction, and she was nearly shapeless, a tall, skinny, wraithlike creature. She looked somewhat like the migrant worker in the Dorothea Lange photograph above, but with a thinner, more angular face and nose, and an even sharper-though-faraway gaze. Having walked up Market Street every workday back in my San Francisco days brought me into contact with many a street person, and though not particularly ill-dressed, she had the overall look. Except for the piercing stare.
My wobbly consciousness had me slow on the uptake, staring back at her for a bit before I could ask “Can I help you?” But she didn’t answer, just returning my question with the caverns of those dark eyes. When I asked her again, she finally just mumbled something, a few mixed words, looking into the back of my head. But I was feeling so ill I was in no real condition to create a conversation. When I leaned back against the car, she leaned back against it too, both of us looking into the street. The tow truck didn’t arrive for about 20 minutes, and during that time, I moved to the curb to sit, and she sat down next to me. I was able to make her laugh a little with some remark, but mostly we just sat in silence, she staring fixedly off.
Back to the Future
Just before the tow truck showed up, she stood, and started to move very slowly back across the street. She’d left her cane behind, but I picked it up and showed it to her and she took it. I asked if she wanted some help across the street, and she said yes, so lightly touching her shoulder, I led her across. Then she assumed the position in which I’d first seen her, standing rigidly erect, staring expressionless toward us and the car. After the tow truck drivers arrived, I looked back toward her and she was gone.
Sometimes we connect with people in the weirdest of ways, and for the briefest of times. For me, that stark, inarticulate homeless woman was a brief companion angel, there to be a presence for me when I was barely capable of words myself. I felt an odd connection. Transient, it’s true, but connection nonetheless.
A Wave to Sarge Bentley, a Year (and a Dimension) Away
New Year’s day was the first anniversary of my father’s death. Dad, I miss you. Maybe you sent that strange street person to say hello from the other world. Hello back.