– Twisted world


Usually, we keep the cars unlocked when they’re sitting in our driveway. What would anyone want to steal, but a handful of change in the cup holder, empty water bottles on the floor, or a soccer ball in the back? An opportunistic thief, it seems, might also be attracted to a red bag full of first aid supplies for Grace’s scouting troop, of which I am the volunteer first aider. Bandaids, gauze pads, Benadryl, instant cold packs, surgical scissors, a CPR face mask: stolen. Today we replenished the kit. It costs $104 for supplies that fit this description, plus $20 for a discount backpack to hold it all.

On the MBTA Green Line, a man in nice pants, black scuffed vinyl shoes, and a puffy down Patriots jacket sat across from me, with his head bent over a notebook. Left-handed, he wrote a numbered list of principles in big block letters on the lined paper. The list, which was easy to read upside-down and across the aisle, had to do with campaigning, I gathered. “1. Door-to-door. Get the message out. 2. Phone bank. Waste of time. 3. Direct mail. Expensive, uncertain.” And so on. I feared, for some inchoate reason, he was launching the beginning of a political career.

Above ground at the Park Street Station, the street was blocked off with that yellow police tape. The whole intersection, blocked. People standing around. No cars. I looked and looked at my fellow bystanders, trying to make eye contact before asking someone to explain. No eye contact. I walked over to the hotdog stand guy. “Yes, miss?” he said to me as his glance landed on mine. I asked him what had happened. He answered, “A quite older woman was hit by a truck in the intersection. She passed away.” Oh, no. Still, I found it so strange that the gentle phrase “passed away” could be used for a victim who had been rammed by a truck.

In the rundown jewelry store on the corner of Tremont and Winter Streets, I finally got the battery in my watch replaced. Only $8.49 — what was I waiting for? For at least two months, I had been covertly using the digital display on my insulin pump as a time keeper. The jeweler’s assistant told me she sees everything out her store window, everything. The old woman who was hit by the truck had her “head cracked open. Open.” The assistant, who had heat-straightened brown hair and a very kind smile, cupped her two hands around her forehead as she described what she saw. I pictured her head like an egg, the shell opening.

I went to Starbucks to get my coffee. I’m not sure why, but I felt as though the barrista’s exaggerated friendliness was a way of making fun of me. Yet, he was quite friendly. What is it about me that’s so weird today? I asked myself. I felt suddenly paranoid about my polar fleece vest and sneakers and wished I had dressed snappier.

As I walked back up the alley, I could see through to Tremont Street. A parade of uniformed men carrying bayonets walked the wrong way up the one-way street. I was so focused on the accident, I imagined that someone had quickly organized a group of volunteers to commemorate the old woman’s death. Only later did someone say, as she squinted at me, “Because it’s Veterans Day?”

There were not many calls today to the InfoLine during my shift. Mostly, I helped collate and staple a new handbook on getting married, as a gay couple, in New Hampshire.  I thought about how much photocopying and stapling go into every social revolution, and there I was, doing my share. I did listen, for a long time, to one caller in deep distress, who had been in his past a victim of repeated sexual violence, and who kept asking me, “Do you know of anyone like me? Has this ever happened to someone like me before?” Yes, I said, yes it has. I’m so sorry. All I could do was refer him to the hotline of a program that specializes in violence recovery; GLAD operates only an information line, and there’s a distinction. The caller hesitated. Perhaps, I intuited, it would take too much for him to make one more call.  I hoped I could send a boost through the phone line as I forcefully murmured this: It was very brave of you to call today. Please, try to be brave enough to make one more call. I promise: someone there will help you.

On the train back to Brookline, I sat next to a woman with a blonde ponytail and in a sleek black coat who carried a huge canvas bag, a preppie one, with the name Eddie monogrammed on one side. She read The Economist, turning page after page. I remembered Jimmy telling me he never sees women reading The Economist. I saw one.


Photograph of dolls created by Grace Guterman and George Ross.

2 thoughts on “– Twisted world

  1. Boy, can you write. If you got to write the column called “The Observer” in the Sunday Globe, this would be one and it would be, for me, better than what’s there. People would turn to that page pleasantly anticipating reading what Jane has to say this week. Can’t you picture it? I can.

  2. I miss walking to work and taking the T often, because I miss these interactions and observations.

    PS. You said something helpful to that person on the phone. it was a successful day.

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