I set the alarm at work and lock up. The parking lot is empty. I juggle my keys, phone and bag as I begin the walk home. I already feel the frustration of hunger in my belly.
I haven’t crossed the parking lot before I’m greeted by a small black and white dog coming towards me. He’s got stubby legs and grey hairs on his face. He seems to smile up to me as he says a quick hello and then moves back towards some thin hedges at the edge of the lot. He wanders around the area and I see a figure sitting on the other side of the hedge.
The building estate is empty and there are no longer any cars around. A dog wandering around is not the most unusual thing for this area but there’s something not quite right. I lean over the hedge “Ma’am, is this your dog?” I can see the messy bun and thin grey cardigan over a slender frame. She is hunched over with her head on her arms, propped over her knees.
I get no response.
“Ma’am,” I say a bit louder “is this your dog?”
I move through the hedge. The woman is so slender and completely still. I consider the fact that she could be dead. I hold my breath and move closer. Gently, I put a hand on her shoulder.
“Ma’am?” I shake ever so slightly, “are you OK?”
I get a mumble.
“Is this your dog?”
“Are you OK? Can I help?”
Another mumble that sounds like “I’m fine.” She’s so unresponsive. Her head is down and she hasn’t moved an inch.
I hesitate. I can’t tell if she’s desperately sad, drunk or ill.
I move around the corner and call my friend who is a police officer. She tells me to call an ambulance and so I get off the phone and dial 999. I tell the woman on the other end of the phone the very little I know. I confirm the address and that the woman is breathing.
I get off the phone, sit on the grass and stroke the dog that settles in next to me. Over the next hour and a half, we wait, this stranger and I.
She stirs after a while. She lifts her head weakly. Her consciousness is fragile. I see a wine bottle poking out the end of the bag at her side. Her eyes are puffy and the red line of her eye lid is swollen and bright. The skin on her face is thin and creased around the eyes but she is not old. Maybe late thirties. She has every sign of a hard life.
My heart instantly hurts for this woman as she looks up at me with bleary eyes which are beautiful, large and sad. She smiles weakly as I tell her I’ve called for help. She tries to explain she doesn’t need help but the mumble of words confirms she does. Her head goes back down. Holding it up is too difficult. She tells me I can go. I explain that I have nowhere else to be.
She asks why I’m being so nice to her and I explain that anyone would be.
Over the next hour and a half, Lucy asks me why I’m being so nice to her more than ten times.
We talk in between moments of lucidness. Lucy tells me that she can’t go on anymore. She tells me that she’s had enough. She nods when I say that she needs help. She nods when I say that there is a way out even if she can’t see it now. Every once in a while she holds her head up and smiles weakly. She cries when I say she is worth getting help. She smiles so warmly when I take her hand. She shakes her head when I say she deserves a healthy and happy life. She squeezes my hand so tightly while she tells me I should go. I say I’m not going anywhere.
We talk on and off. There are moments where both of us cry together. There are moments where she thanks me. There are moments where she reaches back for my hand and grasps it tightly. There are moments where she tells me the secrets that are eating away at her. There are moments where she tells me she’s a bad person. There are moments where she mumbles to herself. There are moments where she tells me I should go. I reassure her that there’s nowhere else I need to be.
After some time, we manage to call her partner and I explain to him where we are. He joins us and agrees to wait for the ambulance. I learn more about Lucy. Like how she has a mental health advisor who she tried to call earlier that day. I learn that she drank a couple bottles of wine before she left the house that morning. I learn that she has had at least three more bottles since. I watch as her partner pours the last remnants into the grass. I learn that she has 4 beautiful children, one of whom is 7 weeks old. I learn that she has gotten better before and she can do it again.
I sit with Lucy and her partner and we wait. It’s a long time before the ambulance arrives and I feel relieved when it does. I desperately want to save Lucy but she needs professionals. I say my goodbyes and I am overwhelmed by the sadness as I walk away.
I hear the lyrics, of a song from my past, echoing in my ears, “slumped over in a vacant room, head on a strangers knee. I’m sure back home, they think I’ve lost my mind…I’ve faith that there’s a soul somewhere that’s leading me around. I wonder if she knows which way is down.” -Ben Folds Five “Evaporated”
I walk home with tears running down my cheeks. I am not confident that Lucy will get the help she needs. I imagine the systems in place for vulnerable people. I imagine the determination and responsibility that someone needs to have in order to really get better. I imagine the phone calls to a support system which are left unanswered in the moment she needs it most. I imagine the 4 kids she’s supporting and the struggle they’ll have their whole lives if she doesn’t get better. I imagine the secrets that she told me and how they’ll unfold.
When I get home, I’m not able to tell my partner much about Lucy. I’m not able to express the raw pain I feel for this stranger. I’m not able to explain that in each weak smile I recognised myself 15 years ago. I recognised those quiet drunken mumblings that are only audible and sensible to yourself. Somewhere deep down, you pray someone is listening. That someone understands the pain.
I was once on a similar path to Lucy. Not as far along, but I too used alcohol to mask the traumas that ate away at me.
I wanted so desperately to help her. I wanted to save her like I want to save everyone who suffers. I want to save my younger self. I want to save my two friends who I’ve lost in the past. I know I can’t do that. I can’t change the past.
Did I do enough to help Lucy? Can I do more? I send her a text and it feels pathetic in comparison to the space I’ve made for her in my heart.
The truth is, I know I can help a little. I know that being there when she needed kindness was some help. I know that her partner is helping her through challenges all the time. I know that her support team is helping her when they’re needed. I know that the smile of her 4 children helps her every day.
I keep hearing her whisper, “why are you being so nice to me?” Deep down, I know that there are a lot of people being nice to Lucy every day. She just can’t see it through the pain.
Deep down, I know that all of these people help, but none of these people can save Lucy. She can only do that for herself. I pray desperately that she will.