This morning, I had just left the apartment complex along one of the tree-lined avenues of my town when ahead of me on the sidewalk I spied a man so tall his head brushed the leaves well above me. I watched him for a few minutes as I caught up. He was wearing a brown suit. As I got closer, I guessed he might be 6’2″ or taller with a stoop, and very thin. His left arm had a distinct palsy, and soon I saw his right arm had something odd about it too, though I can’t say now what it was. His brown hair was white at the scalp, but older men have some latitude when it comes to hair fashion so I didn’t think it odd that his hair was probably longer than mine. I soon came to a point where I was going to have to pass him and because it’s a very small town and if I piss someone off he’s going to spit in my snowcone at the next street fair, I have to be delicate about it.
Though I seldom step into the street on this particular tree-lined avenue at this hour because drivers are talking on cell phones, pulling on pantyhose and noshing toaster strudel without a thought for reasonably unarmed pedestrians and I am one, I did. Within ten steps, the gap between us closed and I turned to say a polite, “Good morning” to the person I’d just passed. I pass a lot of people. Usually, people smile and respond in kind and nobody worries about snowcones. This man stopped, bobbed and made a burbling sound. His face was doughy and his expression blank. The detail that caught my attention though was his belt: the prong was stuck through a hole, the end of the belt dangled a long way. It was the belt of a large man who’d lost a great deal of weight. I snapped my eyes forward, then turned back. Without looking at me, he took a step backward, then began to walk forward slowly. Ahead of me, in the distance, walked another man with a huge bag of laundry on his back, and ahead of him, on the other side of the town’s main drag sat a police car with lights on. That was three things in a row I did not expect to see on this normally tranquil spot. I looked around for toaster strudel.
I felt sick. I felt like I’d seen something I shouldn’t have. Maybe I was overreacting, but I was afraid he was having a stroke. Maybe he was fine and just really quirky. The other possibility, fresh in mind from having to corral Dad when he hallucinated, was that this man suffered from dementia and this morning he got dressed and went out because that’s what he used to do. I came to the corner of Tree-Lined Avenue and Main Drag, hesitated for a moment, then turned toward the bridge and kept walking. The cop was one traffic light away. The man was a block behind me. I thought I’d have an aneurism. I started arguing with me in self-defense.
Tata: What are you doing? We can’t leave that guy like that! He’s in trouble.
Tata: You’re a fucking drama queen, you know that? He’s probably fine. If he’s a mathematician, he’s probably better than fine.
Tata: You’re such a bitch! You’re more afraid you’re going to be embarrassed than that that guy needs an ambulance.
Tata: Shut it, that never happens. We’ve been wandering around for four decades and how many times have we ever called an ambulance? Zero. He’s an old guy out for a morning walk.
Yeah, my insides spun like a like a funnel cloud as I crossed the bridge, then walked under Route 18. Standing on Albany Street, I dialed the town’s police non-emergency number and, marching along at a brisk clip, reported my suspicions to the person who answered the phone, and when I say this is a really small town, that person was probably someone walking her dog by town hall when the phone rang. Then I walked the rest of the way to work, rationalizing my decision to call the cops. I’m sure I looked really sane, what with the waving and “Would you shut up, please?”
For the last hour, I’ve stared at my office phone and wanted to call back. I haven’t. I’m scared the police will tell me I was foolish to worry and would I please not tie up their lines, thankyouverymuch? Or they’ll tell me they didn’t find him, or they found him too late. Why didn’t I call sooner?
I don’t trust me. That’s my problem, right there.