It’s not late, but it’s dark.
I am truddling along down 8th street looking forward to seeing Sam Roberts and his band play across the river, over the border in the wilds of Surrey.
There are two men near the 123 bus stop near 4th. They’re looking down the street, and whispering to each other. I think nothing of it, and keep going, thinking about the crowds at Holland Park, and about the celebratory spirit that the Olympic games have ushered into Vancouver, like a warm current of air over the peaks of the mountains.
And then, I see what it was that they may have been whispering about.
There’s a man on the sidewalk, prone, crumpled, his arms and legs splayed. Actually, under the orangey light of the streetlamp, he looks like a bag of grey, dirty clothes. I can’t quite believe what I’m seeing.
I approach, and peer down at him. He’s sandy-haired and pale. He is unconscious.
I feel a thrill of dread run through me. But, I know I can’t just keep walking. It’s wintertime. And he’s outside.
He doesn’t look hurt. There are no wounds, no blood. Although, a voice in the back of my mind tells me he might be dead anyway. Or, perhaps waiting in ambush.
“Hey … buddy!” It’s a stage whisper. I utter it, half-afraid of the result.
“HEY … Buddy!”
He starts, and bolts upright. His eyes roll open, only half convinced it’s a good idea. A voice spills out of him, incoherent. But, he’s alive. He’s young. He sits up. His legs are bereft of use.
He smells like he swallowed a brewery.
I get some information out of him, with some effort. He lives on the same street I do, for one thing. Fine. But, he can’t seem to stand up.
I wonder where he’s come from, just in case there are some friends of his that don’t know the state he’s in.
“Where did you come from?” I ask, awkwardly.
A confused look is cast up at me, then passed me, and into the night sky.
I chuckle, not really finding the situation very funny. This isn’t something I’ve had very much experience with.
Then, another guy comes along just in time, out of his low-rise apartment building to see me looming over this waif, this puddle of humanity. I give the guy the skinny so far, and we decide that the lost babe in the woods isn’t going anywhere further on his own.
The other guy asks a sensible question. “Is there someone we can call? Do you have friends? Family?”
“No … I am alone, alone. I live alone. I will always be alone …” the sandy-haired kid replies, with genuine sadness, swimming beneath the sea of alcohol this poor guy has ingested.
A dart of pity arcs upward from the sidewalk through the air, and hits me square in the heart. Somewhere in there, the idea is put forward that the best thing to do is call 911. I feel like a fool because it’s clearly the first thing I should have done.
The sandy-haired kid passes out again, his head hung between his knees. I’m glad that he’s in the best position he could possibly be when he throws up. It’s not a question of if, I think to myself.
“He can’t be older than twenty,” says the other guy, after he makes the 911 call. ” I have a son that age.”
The police are called, and it takes about 15-20 minutes for the officer to arrive.
In the meantime, the other guy puts a blanket over the unconscious wretch, taken from his car parked a few feet away by the curb. When we drape it over him, the sandy-haired youth struggles half-heartedly, before settling again with the blanket around him. It’s not a very cold night. But, it’s February. And unlike our stricken friend, not all of us have had vat of beer to keep our muscles from tensing in the cold, curtailing their ability to retain heat. It strikes me that if this poor kid collapsed in a park instead of the sidewalk, and if it had happened at 2AM instead of 8:00PM, he might have succumbed to exposure.
When the police cruiser glides to a halt in front of us, the boy is still in a dead faint. At one point he flops onto his back, and the other guy and I restore him to his sitting position.
The officer approaches.
“Evening. I found this guy lying in the sidewalk. He was unconscious. He’s not hurt, but boy is he ever drunk.”
“Great …,” replies the officer, understandably non-plussed.
I feel the need to apologize. I’m Canadian. So I do. The officer tells me that there is no need to apologize. I know there isn’t. I’m Canadian.
The officer does the dance that I myself had done. “Hey… HEY…”
The boy comes to, and slides onto his back: “Hey… a police officer. Hello, police officer.” He waves, and his smile is charmingly crooked. Suddenly, I know that this is a good kid.
The officer gets his name, and collects his ID. He calls it in. Then, the officer gets him to his feet, and suggests that the boy come with him. At this, the boy gets a bit nervous assuring the officer that he can make it home on his own. But, since he’s lost consciousness once, the officer is obligated to take him to the cruiser.
The boy looks frightened and lost. He looks like somebody’s child suddenly.
I call out to him as the officer escorts him to the backseat of the black and white, and tell him that he’s not in trouble, although I’m not sure that’s true.
The whole thing made me think of what it is to be lonely and lost, even in the middle of a series of events like the Olympics in our city that calls millions of people together from all over the world. I don’t know where this kid came from (other than Latvia), or what his story is. His “I will always be alone…” echoes in my head.
My own experiences of loneliness and isolation are stirred up from the bottom of my being and everything is murky for a moment. Then, it’s gone and everything is clear again. Or not gone. But, settles again. And I’m off to see my friends. I am alone for that instant. But, I will not always be alone. Unlike some.