I had just emerged from the subway station and was downtown heading home. A teenage couple parted company the young man asking the girl if she could make it home. She walked behind me for a few steps then I happened to look back and saw that she was staggering. Then she fell to the ground. I turned toward her but she got up and staggered some more. I could see that she was in a highly agitated state. She grasped onto the door of an ice cream shop then took a few more steps before grabbing the door of a Starbucks. She went in and started appealing for help. I followed her. Now I felt a sort of responsibility to the young woman. She looked no more than 17, more likely 16. She extended her arms toward people and repeatedly said, “help me.” The Starbucks employees gaped. I told them to call 9-1-1. One of them went in the back room and got the manger. He gaped. I told him to call 9-1-1. By the time he did a customer said he’d already done so. The troubled teen said she wanted to go home and that she wanted her mother. She careened from one person to the next. No one did anything. Finally a middle aged woman helped the girl to a stool and tried to comfort her. She assured the girl that she would be all right and was safe and everything was okay. The woman also asked exactly what the problem was. It was pretty clear to me that the girl was very high and in the parlance of my youth, freaking out. The young man who’d she’d been with came in. He asked her a few times if she was all right. Well no, clearly not. He also repeatedly said, “ I asked her if she could get home and she said yes.” He was not a lot of help. Finally he split.
I stood a few feet away from the girl at all times. I wasn’t much help myself but I was determined to see that someone was and was not going to leave until she was properly being taken care of. Finally a lone police officer strolled in. He had the calm swagger cops use in non emergencies. The officer asked the girl questions such as her name and what the matter was. He used a very distant tone as if this was, after all, just business. The girl struggled to say anything meaningful and started to dry heave. Eventually some thick white substance came out of her mouth. Some got on her sleeve and I was overwhelmed with the desire to wipe it off. Soon several other cops came in. One was a sergeant both according to his badge and demeanor. He looked exactly like one would imagine a police sergeant should look. Tall, lean, short salt and pepper hair. Muscular and conservative looking with an air of authority but like someone who still remembered his days riding patrol. There wasn’t much to take command of but he did just the same.
The cops were getting nowhere with the girl. She cried for home and wretched and complained of pain and seemed to not be sure where she was or what was going on. She was too young to be going through such trouble, especially in so public a setting. I noted that most people only watched from the corner of their eyes. Only the one woman had helped and only I had stayed on the scene and really I was superfluous, just in attendance to satisfy my own desire to see her safe. I guess I was following my instincts borne of having been a middle school teacher and still being a father. I doubt that I would have shown the same concern for an older person.
I don’t blame the passivity of the customers or even the employees. There’s only so much to do anyway and once help comes it’s probably better to stay out of the way. It’s hard to get involved when someone’s troubles seem more mental than physical. It’s frightening to see someone whose mind is out of order, maybe especially if its a temporary condition.
The paramedics arrived and were attentive but cool. There was no attempt at familiarity, just a desire to determine what the problem was and what was needed. They got the girl on a stretcher and quickly outside to a waiting ambulance. I followed a respectable distance behind and once she was in the ambulance continued on my way home. I called the missus to recount the incident and was surprised to find myself a little shaken.
It would be terribly trite but also true to say that I hope she’s all right. I imagine she is. Such an incident can be a wake up call to a young person. She could very well walk the straight and narrow from this day forward or at least for several years. Then again she could be an addict and will find herself only more careful in the future. I’ll never know.
Anyway, I stayed to the end.