When he calls to me the first time, I ignore him, thinking he is asking for money. I figure it is possible I didn’t hear, didn’t know it was me he called to. After all, my back is to him, I am walking away. But I am the only one around. I turn slightly, take a few more steps, and the next time he says, “hey,” I turn and point to myself. He nods.
“Gotta call 911 for me.”
I walk back across the little courtyard. “What?”
“I need 911. Need an ambulance.”
He holds a sandwich in his hands, lazily in front of his chest, a flat greasy sub, and it flops over, lettuce spilling onto him. His eyes are blue and clean and slightly crossed.
“I’m having seizures. “
“You look ok to me.” I look at his eyes again, closely, trying to remember what they said about drifting eyes in the red-cross classes. Stroke? Seizures?
“I’m having seizures. I need an ambulance. Believe me.” His words are slurred and blurted, almost jazzy if the words weren’t so sloppy. I stand up close to him and he tears at his sub without biting, without the fine motor skills of lips and teeth and tongue.
“It doesn’t seem like an emergency right now. 911 is an emergency number. If I call and it’s not an emergency, I get in trouble. “
“It’s an emergency,” he slurs, nodding.
“I’ll tell you what. I’m going to go in and order and I’ll check on you again when I come out.”
“I need an ambulance.”
“I can’t do that yet. I’ll check on you on my way out.”
I walk back toward the door and he speaks, more slurring, and I ignore it, not looking back.
Before I go outside again I put my umbrella and my wrapped sandwich into my backpack. The rain has mostly stopped, just miniscule drops hanging in the wind. He is still sitting on the bench when I come out, turned and talking to a woman who stands at the opposite side of the courtyard from him. She is turned slightly in the direction she wants to go. “Heart trouble?” she asks him, clearly unbelieving. I hold up my phone to her as I walk toward him, and she turns and leaves.
I dial 911. I notice the sandwich, now in the dirt in the landscaped island behind the bench.
“Hi, I’m downtown and I got a guy here who says he needs an ambulance. He said he’s having seizures.”
“I had four seizures. Just now,” he says.
“He’s quite drunk but he seems to be fine.”
“I’m not drunk.”
“He’s having a seizure?” asks the dispatcher.
“No, not right now. Had them. That’s what he says.”
“Is he breathing?”
“How old are you?” I ask.
“58 he says.”
“What’s his name?”
“What’s your name?”
“Jeffery Richards,” he says with syncopation.
“Jeffery Richards,” I say.
Then there’s a ringing on the line as the dispatcher calls in the EMT. A woman answers. The dispatcher explains the situation. “Is it Jeffery by any chance?” asks the EMT.
“Yeah,” I say with the breath of a laugh.
“Ok, we’ll be there soon if you just want to hang with him.”
I sit down on the bench beside him.
“They’re coming. How long have you been having seizures?”
“Long time. Forever. Got broke ribs too.” He puts his hand over his chest. The skin on his hands is barely hanging on, sagging and fragile, like skin on hot milk. His pointer finger is cut off at the knuckle.
Two kids ride up on bikes. They are Latino and the first, a boy, is riding a small blue trick bike with rusty pegs on the back wheel. He lets the bike down on its side in the middle of the courtyard and sits down on the other side of Jeffery.
“Hey man,” he says. Jeffery nods to him.
The other is a larger girl riding an old black tricycle. She stays sitting there in front of us. They all pull out cigarettes and light them. The smoke drifts toward me and I lean back and push my backpack back against the bench.
“Why you still got that prison jacket on?” says the boy.
“I still got it. Keeps me warm.”
“Yeah, keeps you warm out in the yard when you lift weights. That’s why they give ‘em. This is what I came home in,” he says to the girl pinching at Jeffery’s jacket. They smoke and look toward the street.
“You get an ambulance?” Jeffery says to me.
“Yeah, I called them. They’re coming.”
“You goin’ to the hospital again? What you do this time?”
“I got some broken ribs,” he puts his hand over his chest again.
“And the seizures right?” I say.
“Yeah, seizures too.” He nods, remembering.
“He got all his toes cut off, ain’t that right?” says the boy. Jeffery nods matter-of-factly. “Every damn one,” the boy adds.
“How’d that happen?” I ask.
“Frostbite man,” the boy answers for him.
They finish their cigarettes and the boy gets up. “See you around later. You gonna be gone a while?”
“Few days at least,” he says. The boy picks up the bike and nods and they ride off.
“They been smokin’ that pot?” he asks me.
“Kind of seems that way, doesn’t it.”
“I don’t do any of that shit. Just smoking and drinking. I ain’t drunk though,” his voice rises in defense.
“You know, I said you were drunk earlier because I smelled a bit of alcohol.”
“Yeah, I had a drink today.”
“Yeah,” I say.
“Maybe a few. I drink most days. A little. Did you get an ambulance?”
“They’re coming. I told you that.”
“Some people they just pass right by, don’t give a fuck what’s going on.” He swears easily, fluidly, emphasizing the word. His eyes move, following a man walking by on the sidewalk. “One time
I passed out in the grass and they just walked by like no fucking thing was wrong.”
“They go by like no fucking thing is wrong.”
“But I stopped.”
“Yeah, you stopped. I’m Jeffery. He holds out his hand and I shake it. “Colin, I say.” His hand is limp and cold.
“Did you call someone?”
“I did. They said they were on their way.” I look toward the street. We sit for a moment. The wind comes in low. I take my hat out of my coat pocket and pull it on.
“You hang out here usually? Or just anywhere?”
He mumbles. “I don’t know them guys.” He nods in the direction the bikers went.
“What hospital do you go to?”
“Butterworth. Usually. Saint Mary’s, they’re all bitches over there. Go in, they do x-rays, all kinds of ‘em. And tests. Charge me fifty thousand dollars to my insurance. I got these broken ribs here and my knee.”
“How did that happen? Did you fall?”
“Yeah,” he says, short.
“When you get this old. How old are you?”
“When you get this old. Life just sucks. All these things. You’ll see. When you get to be this old you get all these problems. It’s not the money. I’ll go to the bank, get more money whenever I need. I got money in my pocket right here. That’s not it. Just all these things. You call someone for me?”
“They’re on their way. Should be any minute now.”
We watch another couple walk by. They ignore us. An ambulance pulls up at the street.
“Here they are.” He looks over.
“Tell them to get the gurney.”
“I don’t think you need a gurney.” He starts to stand. “Let’s wait for them to come over. They open the back doors of the ambulance and we sit watching. Then three EMTs walk over, one of them, the women in front says, “Hey Jeff, how’s it going?”
He starts to mumble.
“Yeah, I know you. I’ve helped you before.” She asks him the date and his birthday and he answers. All the EMTs are wearing blue gloves. Suddenly I am worried about having shook his hand, touched him with bare skin. The two men turn and walk back toward the ambulance. The woman helps him stand and he staggers up. I step up to the other side of him and take his arm then one of the other EMTs comes back and steps in my place. They walk him to the ambulance and pull out the gurney, ratchet it down to the ground and strap him in.
“You doing alright?” one of the EMTs asks him.
“My friend here helped me.” He lifts his head forward as much as he can from underneath the straps and looks at me.
“My friend,” he waves from beneath the straps. “See you around.”
“I hope not,” I say and the EMTs chuckle.
“I love you,” Jeffery mumbles and they push him into the back of the ambulance.
Colin Hoogerwerf lives and works in Grand Rapids, Michigan where the woods, waters, and peoples of the Midwest inspire his non-fiction and fiction. His writing has been published in Perspectives: A Journal of Reformed Thought and has been accepted for publication in North Carolina Wildlife Magazine. He was the founding editor of Eno Magazine. He currently works as Outreach Coordinator for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.