When being close ain’t close enough.

Y’ know how it’s funny as shit to watch 70s movies like Shaft or Every Which Way But Loose and in the mandatory big Chevy Impala chase scene, an old white-haired lady is caught in the middle of the street and tumbles over the hood of the Chevy, groceries flying, only to find that if you s-l-o-w down the movie and watch it frame-by-frame, you will see how the tumbling white lady is actually a burly stunt double; in fact, a big black man with a mustache?

Well, that shit is funny until it happens right in front of your FACE!

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The other day, I was riding up the metro escalator at Mustek (Green). In this land where personal space is not exactly a thing, I like to create my own. Especially on the escalator. Pavel will absently bump you with his briefcase from behind with nary a “Pardon” or Honza and Bara will be sucking each other’s faces off right in front of you as though they were on take number five of an Orbit gum commercial. So I’ve started giving one step of space in front, minimum; more, if I can.

Alternatively, I’ve noticed something about myself. Sometimes I get too close. I get close because I want to be noticed and I don’t want to give people, strangers specifically, the opportunity to push me away. (The opposite is true with family and close, close friends. Sometimes I push them away because I can’t handle the demanding intimacy of all that closeness! This then prompts emails and texts from my dad that end in, “Stay close, ‘Roni”.) Also, I’ve realized I get close with the children I teach. I don’t have the language to use to participate in their lives, to connect with them, especially when we play. So, I get close. I hug, or I grab noses. They sense my clinginess; they don’t like it and they do, they literally push me away. Or with my adults, my peer-evaluator gave me feedback that maybe I smile too much, maybe I’m open toooo much. So, I’ve been trying to give more space. To close off my openness. To be okay in my own space and not need others to fill it with something. To just go unnoticed sometimes. To not be so close.

So.

An older, slightly-balding, white-haired lady with a short, layered haircut like your Aunt Martha (on your mother’s side) was in front of me. As our steep ascent began, like the beginning of a roller coaster ride,  I watched and saw how she gingerly held the arm of an older man; we’ll call him Uncle Stu. Aunt Martha and Uncle Stu have been together for awhile now, as they usually are, and their non-verbal communication is great, until it ain’t.

Martha and Stu were about three stairs in front of me because when they got on the escalator, I had mechanically moved on back to allow for my space. As we rode along, Aunt Martha turned to the side and I saw her profile. In that moment, I remember thinking, “I should move a little closer.” I think I thought this because I had caught something a little vacant in Aunt Martha’s eye. A cloudy nothingness, let’s say. Or maybe I saw her fingers gently slip away like water from Uncle Stu’s arm, unbeknownst to him.  Believe me, I wish I had followed my instincts because in slow-motion, frame-by-frame real life, Aunt Martha started to topple backwards, toward me. I heard myself shouting, “Hey! Hey! Pozor. Počkejte!” As I tried to do something, but my own arms were jumbled with my heavy camouflage book bag and a Tesco shopping bag full of supplies for the show and the Brown Betties workshop. I was making sounds, groping for my Czech words, just like Aunt Martha was groping for Uncle Stu’s arm.We both failed at grabbing onto what we were reaching for.

Aunt Martha, quite expertly, fell. Worse than that, I’d had a chance to catch her and I didn’t. Because, in that split-second that she started to fall, I’d truly thought, “Nope. Not this time. She’ll be fine. They  don’t need my help. I don’t need to be so close.”

In a flash, she fell down to her butt. Then, her legs buckled and slid along the chrome walls of the escalator which sent her into a momentum-gaining backward somersault where she then banged her head on the razor-sharp grooves of the steel stairs. Her face contorted into a painful wince when she hit;  I can tell you that I never want to see something like that again. Ever.

And, by the way, a similar thing happened two years ago in Berlin! Mom and Nicole and I had just arrived to Berlin Hauptbahnhof and suddenly a person fainted or had a stroke or something on the escalator and ended in an unconscious heap at the bottom, sprawled horribly on the highly-polished marble floor.

Uncle Stu, realizing that Aunt Martha was no longer by his side, ran down after her. Panic and fear registered in his eyes, wide behind thick tortoise-shell glasses. He yelped something in Czech and stooped to pick her up from her sort-of sideways fetus position. I’ve lost my own balance on these crazy escalators, and I’m no Aunt Martha; so you can imagine Uncle Stu, being an older gentleman himself, tying to gather her up. It was a struggle, to say the least. I sprung forward and grabbed Aunt Martha’s elbow and helped pull and push her up to her feet. Her body was slightly stabilized, but that was about it.

Another kind patron, who spoke Czech, helped the both of them and the journey up continued. I was sincerely thanked and left rightfully forgotten in the background. But from behind, I could tell Aunt Martha was not herself. I was hoping she would be alright. And that’s when the blood started dripping down the back of her head and onto her winter-white, puffy coat.

Blood makes me sick to my stomach. Like, really. “Oh, God.” I thought as I staggered a bit myself. I mumbled something  in some garbled panicked language, that maybe sounded like the word, ‘Blood’. I wanted to throw up. The words got stuck in my throat. They didn’t hear me.

I kept thinking. What do I do?  Do I touch this person? Do they want my help?  There’s blood. I don’t have any rubber gloves. What do I do? And then I stopped thinking. I got close. I reached into my parka pocket for the only thing I had, which unfortunately was a not-clean Kleenex (like the kind your babička has tucked in her sleeve) and I stepped forward and pressed it onto her bleeding head. That’s when they finally noticed there was blood. And by then it was really dripping. Fast. In globs. Smearing all over her white coat. Soaking my tiny, crumpled Kleenex.  Uncle Stu quickly produced a checkered handkerchief from his pocket which totally caught the bleeding better.

We reached the top of the escalator, finally. They took Aunt Martha toward the metro booth to get help. They thanked me again. Sincerely. I wanted to give Aunt Martha a hug; to wait with them until an ambulance came, to be close with them. I really did. Instead, I stood there holding the bloody Kleenex. Frozen. Shaken. Aunt Martha’s blood clinging to my hands. I stood like that for a while until my own two feet turned me in the direction to where I was supposed to go and I returned to my own journey.

Stay close, my friends.

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2 thoughts on “When being close ain’t close enough.

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