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A different kind of encounter on the stairs

Wednesday 3/16/22

I had a different sort of experience today while running the stairs--or after running them, though I may go back out for a couple thousand more shortly. I had run 3000 straight, and was taking a break on this island that is just off to the side of the bottom of the stairs. A woman came over to me, carry many bags. She was weighed down by them. And it was immediately obvious that she was someone who had been hit hard by life. I was listening to music, so I had the earbuds in, but I took one out so that I could hear her, as she motioned to me.

She was motioning very apologetically, and as if she was scared. She asked me if I'd look up something for her on my phone, because she didn't have one. She said she didn't need to touch it. If I could just enter something in on Google so she could find an address. She had recovered 100 spent needles, and wanted to take them to a place at Haymarket so that she could get $20. Her hands were raw, the nails like nubs. Skin was hard and cracked. She said she could eat today with the money, but, of course, there was also the procurement of drugs. I tried to find the information for her, but there wasn't anything there, really, that was particularly conclusive. I asked her if she was talking about a van, and she said she was. I said, well, okay, Haymarket is around the corner, I'll go there with you, and we'll keep an eye out for a van.

I took up her bags, and we walked. She was well-spoken, smart. And it turns out she's a year younger than I am, which I did not divulge to her. Her husband--aged thirty-seven--died last year, of a heart attack, after years of the lining of his heart being weakened by his addiction. She told me about other people in her life who had died. How she has no contact with her daughter, who, as it turns out, is a vet in her twenties. She told me she wanted to die. For it just to be over. I told her about my sister, and that all of this was, well, this is how it goes, yes? These are the stories. I asked her what recourse she was taking, given that she had probably tried everything. Because one cannot give up. She said that she had been in detox not long ago, but lasted less than a day. All of her friends--her "family"--are at Mass Ave. This would be the Mass and Cass spot, where many addicts gather.

There's a place just outside Haymarket where I notice a lot of people who are obviously on heroin or something heroin adjacent wandering around, and I figured that's where the van would be. I assumed there was likely a clinic there, and there is. As we arrived, the van had just pulled away. I was of course talking to this woman, and not trying to be preachy. She said that her mom tells her, "Well, you're still alive," and then sighs. I said, "Well, you are. We make new friends, too. And things that feel like they could never change, ever, can sometimes change faster than we could believe. People come back into the fold, new relationships are struck, old ones are made healthier. You can have so much of your life in front of you. What is the worst case scenario if you go back to detox? I'm thinking you can last longer than twenty-four hours. People care about you. I care about you. Can we call the center?"

She said yes. Crying. I called the detox facility, got a voicemail, left my information, gave a quick summation of what was going on, and they called back in a couple minutes. I put the woman on the phone so they could do the case history. Heroin, meth, crack, fentanyl. Anxiety. Depression. An abscess. The whole thing took over an hour so she could check in today. She had to get in touch with her case worker, and go back to the shelter where she'd been staying to get her things. I took her to the subway. I didn't have my wallet on me, and only three bucks, because I usually don't when I run stairs. I might take enough to get a coffee after. I handed her the money. She gave me her address book, and I wrote my name and phone number. I told her that it would mean a lot to me to get a text or a phone call in a couple days and know she had stuck it out that long, and could build on that. She said that no one had ever been so kind to her, and all I said was look, I'm sure you've heard it all, but do the best you can. It is often good enough, if we keep trying. And I told her I believed in her.

I think I will go for a walk and get a coffee now and maybe run some more stairs.


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