Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Walking Through

I’m writing this late at night. It’s almost midnight. I’ve been writing with the theme of moving house and emotions about home, the home I’ve made here the last decade, the home I have been seeking for myself and my son, the home we’ve now found and will be moving into in just over two weeks.

Today comprised the first of two walk-throughs of my new property I negotiated in my offer. It’s standard to request two walk-throughs of the property you’re purchasing outside of the actual home inspection.

It had been pretty much one month since the week I purchased our new home and over the last few weeks, whenever I was in the area, I would drive by with my son secured in the back seat and begin a narrative for him. About how this would soon be his neighbourhood. How he would begin to know these trees. These sidewalks. That’s the school you’ll go to, I would say. This is how close we are to mommy’s work. And there…that pretty place…is gonna be home.

I’ve only been in the house twice. The first time I saw it August 26 and the date of the home inspection, September 1st. It was funny walking in today because I’d forgotten just exactly what the rooms looked like. And today felt like the home was beginning to transition itself to welcome me. I felt its own change. The current owners had emptied it of a lot of clutter and such in preparation for their own upcoming move. And I began to feel a slight shift as I walked through the door. Where the home began to acknowledge me and my son. As a new but legitimate presence within the walls. It felt really great.

going walkabout

Two things happened that made this day moving versus about moving.

As I was finished the walk-through, during which one of the current owners, the mother, was present with her two children, I knocked on the front door to let her know that we were done (myself, my real estate agent and my contractor) and I told her I just wanted to thank her again and how excited we were to be moving into this lovely home. I also wanted to wish her and her family a safe trip out West.

Her eyes welled up as I said all this. And I gave her a hug and whispered to her that if she were ever back in Ontario that, of course, she would always be welcome to drop in and visit. It’s so odd that the emotions she was going through about leaving never really occurred to me and they should have before now. They’ve lived in that house for 12 years. I’ve been so caught up in my own feelings about how I’ll miss the home I’ve lived in for 10 years but to see her become so emotional when I was wishing her a safe journey really made it hit home that, of course, it’s just as emotional a journey for her to be moving on with her family, the house her children were born to and grew all their years in. It was nice to have an opportunity to hug her and to feel her hugging back. It’s weird to feel that I would have really loved this woman as a neighbour of mine. But that she won’t be that for me. I’m taking her place in the neighbourhood. Her spot, anyhow. I can tell just how much she will be missed by those surrounding her. I hope to make up somehow for the loss it will clearly be to that street she now lives on.

After the walk-through, I took my son to the local Chapters to play while I followed him around the kids section with my latté. I was thinking about this couple and their two kids moving to B.C. and I was forgetting how late it was becoming. I had to interrupt my son’s playtime after 20 minutes and get over to the grocery store before heading home. We picked up some food and headed out to the rural backroads.

As I was driving home, though, I passed an elderly man walking at a brisk pace at the side of the road. I wasn’t exactly sure, but something felt wrong when I passed him. For one thing, I felt like I was almost going to hit him and I noticed something else. He wasn’t wearing a rainjacket. It had been coming down in sheets on and off all day and I thought to myself this wasn’t someone just having an after-dinner hike. I went through the lights and pulled over. All around me were farm fields and I was trying to see him in my rearview mirror. I called 911 and was eventually put through to the local police department. I explained that I wasn’t even sure it was an emergency but that I’d passed an elderly gentleman on the side of the road and that he could have been out for an evening hike, but I had just had a strange vibe when I passed him that that wasn’t the case. I explained that he didn’t seem dressed appropriately for the weather. While I was on the phone with the woman taking the call, he came into view at the lights and I saw him turn then to head towards one of the small towns.

I explained to the call attendant he had come into view and that I had my son with me in the car and it was getting late. She said they would send a vehicle and if I left that would not be a problem. When I hung up, I continued to watch him in my rearview mirror move up the road. I turned around and then turned right at the lights to follow him.

It became clear very quickly that he was disoriented. He was now walking ON the road. I pulled up slowly behind him and he turned and thought I was offering him a ride. I lowered the window only slightly and I asked him if he was alright. He said he was and the first thing he said was, “do you have a smoke?” I didn’t, of course. But I lowered the window a tad more and slid out the orange juice I had bought at the starbucks and hadn’t opened yet. He asked me if I’d drive him to the next small town. To the church there. I told him I was sorry I couldn’t give him a ride, but that I’d called for help for him. I didn’t want to say, “I’ve called the cops.” I honestly didn’t know how he’d react to that. He was very polite. He had a long sweater on and his corduroy pants were soaked from the rain. I wanted to invite him to sit in my car, but I couldn’t do that. Especially not with my son in the back seat. I felt unsure. So I sat with my car off to the side of the road waiting for the police car to show up. He kept coming to my window and asking me for a cigarette. I gave him one of my son’s mozzarella sticks. He was clearly homeless but he never once asked me for money. I was afraid he was going to be hit by a car so I stayed there with him. He paced back and forth in front of my car and then he’d come talk to me at my driver window. I asked him his name and he said, “Dave”. I asked him if he had family and he replied, ‘Back in Australia.” He looked in his late 60s. I had no idea how long he’d been walking and how far, where he’d been walking from. I asked him where he was trying to get and he said he had friends “up North”.

As I sat there, it occurred to me the cops were taking their time and I called 911 again and got on the line with the same woman who took my first call. I explained to her that I was unwilling to leave this man because he was walking onto the road and it was not safe. And also that I had a 16 month old who needed his diaper changed and could she upgrade the request for help. The diaper, I knew, was okay and could wait, but I wanted to put pressure on her because I felt they were not making this guy a priority for the night. And I understand that there are true life/death emergencies out there that need urgent response. But I was truly afraid this guy was going to get killed by a car. He was not really navigating the road safely. Cars kept whizzing by us and a few of them felt the need to honk at him as they passed.

As I waited, a truck slowed down on the other side of the road and backed up a bit and asked me if everything was okay. I explained what was happening. This guy offered to let Dave sit in his truck to wait for the cops. I felt relieved about that because it had begun to drizzle again and I felt badly I hadn’t been willing to open my doors to him. So we both waited. Dave got into the truck with this guy and two cruisers finally showed up after another half hour of waiting in the dusk and then, the dark. I got out and explained that he’d been very polite. That he was clearly disoriented in terms of not realizing he was walking on the road. He did not appear drunk. He had not asked for cash. He wanted to get to the church in the next small town. When I left, Dave had gotten out of the truck and the cops were talking to him.

I drove away and I am still wondering what has happened with him. Where did they take him for the night? Was it just going to be one night’s solution and he’d be back on the road again tomorrow?

What was difficult was that, while we were all waiting for the cops to show up, the guy in the truck said he could drive him to the small town himself to the Church. I felt concerned about two things. I didn’t know who the guy was who’d pulled over and even though I wanted to trust that he would help this man and I felt sure he was sincere, a small part of me felt that I wasn’t entirely sure Dave would be safe. I didn’t like feeling that because I’m sure this guy was truly sincere and had stopped to help. The second thing that concerned me was that Dave was not dressed for the weather and he was talking of “going up North” and he had been walking on and off the road even while he paced in front of my car, he kept going onto the road. I didn’t feel he was safe in terms of his ability to judge what he was doing.

The guy in the truck said he’d maybe take him home for a meal. My heart nearly broke when he said that. What I thought most when I drove away was that if I’d been a man, a man who didn’t have a 16 month old in my back seat, I probably would have risked offering this guy a ride. I might have even risked taking him home and cooking him something myself. I would have taken him to a store first to buy him a whole pack of smokes. I might have put him up for the night. I might have tried calling his friends if he’d remembered their number. I might have even driven him as far North as I could get him safely to meet up with them. I might have done all these things but I didn’t even feel quite safe enough to roll my window down further than the width it would allow me to slide a measly bottle of orange juice out to him. One measly stick of cheese. I felt helpless. I felt frustrated knowing that my gender, my situation, prevented me from being of more help to this man. More the kind of help he was actually seeking. I’m sure the last thing he wanted was to be taken away in a cop car. It was kind of the last thing I wanted for this man myself, but I truly didn’t know what else to do and felt powerless. No. Not powerless. That’s wrong. I was in the power position. Rather, I felt, I had to put my own safety above his. That’s the way of the world, isn’t it? I wouldn’t let him get dry sitting in my car with me and my son. I could only do what I could do. I wouldn’t give him a ride. I wouldn’t take him home for a meal or a warm bed to sleep in even though I have a guest room with a bed that is rarely ever used by anyone.

I know I needn’t have ever stopped in the first place and sure, I’m glad I did. But I have no idea if I helped or hindered this man tonight.

What I do know though, is, he was homeless and trying to find his friends. Trying to find maybe what “home” meant for him being as far from his real home as he was.

It really put things into perspective for me. Lately I’ve felt so stressed with all the stuff on my plate in terms of prepping for this upcoming move. Just what the fuck do I have to be stressed about really? I have a home. A roof over my head. A damn nice tin roof. And I am moving to another lovely home very soon. And this man was walking around the backroads in the rain just wanting a cigarette. I couldn’t even give him that small request. Such a simple one. A small one.

I know that this man was either suffering from some sort of dementia or mental illness in the way he kept walking onto the road and forgetting that he’d already asked me for a cigarette that I didn’t have. I know I did the “right” thing. But I wish I could have done a million different things a million different ways than what happened tonight.

I didn’t know this day would end this way. The owner’s raw emotion over leaving her home and this man trying to find a home or just anywhere out of the cold where he could sit and have a cigarette. I am lying in bed typing this and I feel so damn blessed. And I don’t even know why or how I get to deserve the luck that I have in my life. I don’t feel I’ve earned it. At all.

But, I guess. I guess I hope to. Someday…


Brian Miller said...

smiles. glad the day is approaching you can call this home..a sweet moment there with the mom moving..and it shows your heart quite a bit about the man...hope the little sunshine is still doing well!

Mimi said...

Oh Nancy, you have such a lovely, soft heart. Many people wouldn't have stopped (I may be one of them, not sure), many more wouldn't have stayed.
But I know how you feel, and it is an accident of birth that we have this good fortune. Many times, I give thanks for that good fortune, cos I wouldn't be great at being homeless or poor.
i had a similar experience with a street girl a few months ago, and it stayed in my system for days. In a way, I wish she knew how much i thought about her- she probably had no idea.

Dreamfarm Girl said...

Please don't underestimate how much you did help. Because you stopped, the other guy stopped. Because you called the cops, he got some help. But, I agree with you about the luck. We are swimming in it, and it's so ubiquitous that we don't even see it till something like this reminds us how much we have.

Anonymous said...

You stopped, you listened to your intuition on every.single.count.

You honored and protected yourself, your son and the disoriented stranger. You showed him kindness, thoughtfulness and you refused to leave until he had been handed off to the care of those who are charged with serving and protecting.

It is unsettling to have no resolution, no answers, but such is the way of life.

Perhaps this man was actually there for you- the lessons you learned will never leave you, he suffered no harm because you stopped to care.

This? Is the delicate balance that Nature observes.