The off-and-on snow we’ve been having lately reminded me of something that happened to me four years ago.
I was driving up my road on a weeknight, around 7 in the evening, and I noticed that the SUV in front of me had stopped. There was a man in the middle of the road; he was crouched down, as if he were looking for something he’d dropped. The driver of the SUV had opened his door, shut it quickly, and drove off.
I drove a bit closer, turned off my ignition, but kept my headlights on.
As I got within a few feet of the guy, to see what I could do to help, I suddenly realized who it was.
It was That Guy.
I imagine a lot of neighborhoods have someone like That Guy. Here’s what our Guy is like:
He lives in a cute but rundown Craftsman-style house. There’s an elderly man who lives in the house with him. It’s unclear whether the older man is the father of the younger, or if they’re just friends. It’s also unclear how old That Guy is, or even what ethnicity he is, because years of alcohol abuse have left him with the perpetual yellowish tan of a liver that can no longer do all of its job, and because those years have also left him with an inability to walk in a straight line, or to keep his head from trembling, sober or not.
I don’t know how the two men can afford to live in that house, because they are some of the most conscientious alcoholics I’ve ever had the opportunity to meet. Every morning, around the time I commute to work, they walk to the bus stop; by the time I return home in the evening, I see them ambling crookedly up our hill, considerably more tipsy than they were at eight in the morning, stopping every once in a while to catch their breath.
I’m not sure whether That Guy had stopped to catch his breath that night, or if he’d had a bit more to drink than he usually does. But there he was, in the middle of the road, drunk, in and out of consciousness, unable to move.
I talked to him for a bit, simultaneously trying to keep him awake and wondering how I was going to drag him to my car and — more importantly — lift him into the car.
A lady coming in the other direction saw me and stopped.
She got out of the car and started walking towards us. For a few seconds, I thought I could induce her to drag him to my car with me, because That Guy was heavy for someone who seemed pretty skinny looking every time I saw him stumbling up the road.
“He’s drunk,” she said, the scorn directed as equally at me as it was at him. I’m not sure if she thought I couldn’t smell alcohol on a guy I was holding by the armpits, or if she thought I’d poured him full of liquor and was just finishing up my nefarious plot to leave him in the middle of the road.
I mumbled something about trying to get him out of the road so that he wouldn’t get hit and die. She obviously wasn’t keen on that plan, so she walked back to her car.
He tried to grab the car keys out of my hand. Between that and not having anyone to help lift him into my car, I figured driving him myself wasn’t going to be an option.
So I told him I was going to drag him to the snowbank on the side of the road, and that I’d get someone to drive him home.
He made me promise not to call the cops. I promised.
I got home and waited for my husband to come home. After ten minutes, with no idea when he was going to come home, I called the police non-emergency line. I described where the Guy was located, and that he didn’t need to be arrested or brought to a shelter, just dropped off at his house a quarter mile up the road.
I don’t know how the police responded to the call, but when my husband came home a half hour later, he said he hadn’t seen That Guy by the side of the road.
I still see That Guy almost every day of the week. One day, when I was very pregnant with our second son, I saw him sprawled out in front of his house. I told my husband to walk down the street and bring him in, but, by the time he got there, someone else had already helped him. So perhaps the kindness of another stranger helped him on that night four years ago.
I didn’t have a snappy comeback for the woman who stopped to comment then, but if I saw her today, this is what I would say:
Where there’s life, there’s hope. Who am I to say that someone isn’t going to turn around tomorrow and make a real change in his life? Who am I to decide that someone’s last chance already happened? Who am I to deprive him of one more chance to get it right?
We all have our guardian angels, and That Guy likely has more than most. When I see him, I’m reminded of the second chances I’ve gotten, and how grateful indeed I should be for them.