The things they carry

I was sitting at a red light going south on Lyndale Avenue and Lake Street late last Thursday night/Friday morning. A woman, in her early 20s, I think, started walking across the street. She had the light and the right of way. She was a few feet off the curb when a car full of knuckleheads came barreling down Lake Street and made a looping left-hand turn and careened toward the girl. The driver never saw her.

The car brushed the woman, I laid on the horn, and the drunk driver made a face at me that said, “What’s your problem dude party on.” The woman was more than a little shook; she asked if I’d seen what happened — meaning, of course, was I the only witness to the fact that her life very nearly ended right then and there? I said that I had, told her I wasn’t a creep, and offered her a ride to wherever she was going. She declined and kept walking down Lake Street, looking like her legs were going to give out.

The next night I met a woman in a wheelchair at First Avenue. She was rocking out to the band ferociously, her long blonde hair head-banging with the best of them. We talked about the show and our mutual friends and exchanged contact information. The next day she told me
her story.

Her name is Tiff Carlson. She’s 28. When she was 14, she dove into a lake and broke her spinal cord. She’s been paralyzed ever since. She told me about guys who hit on her. Some have a wheelchair fetish. Others want to date her, rescue her, but a few months into it, when they realize she’s not going to get up out of her chair and walk, they split. She writes a dating advice column called “Tiff’s Corner” at www.lovebyrd.com. She’d like to have kids some day. She wrote her first article for Playgirl magazine this month.

“A lot of people in wheelchairs get depressed, but not me,” she said. “I’ve got that fighter’s instinct. I go dancing. I love live music. My injury happened in a split-second, and it was a stupid thing to do, but I wasn’t going to let this wheelchair stop me from doing all the things I wanted to
do when I was a kid. I tell my
friends … I will not let my
disability win.”      

The next day I got this e-mail from my neighbor Janey Winterbauer:

“I was driving home from the liquor store on Lyndale Ave. tonight, and turned my car onto 54th. I happened to look into the bus shelter on the corner, and saw a body slumped on the ground. So I did what every other warm-blooded human would do and whipped the car around to see what the deal was. Turned out it was a woman who was drunk and very much conscious, lying in a pool of her own blood. She’d been there for a while, judging by the dried blood on her nose and eyelids.

“I called 911 and had the pleasure of waiting with this poor woman for 45 minutes before the ambulance showed up. I was horrified and astounded at the fact that I was the only person in that entire stretch of time, and god knows how long before, that noticed her there. We were outside of a busy Walgreen’s. People walked past, their leashed dogs sniffed her hair, rollerbladers, people on bikes, in SUVs. No one noticed. It was disgusting.

“She told me stories of how her teenage daughters drank, had sex in her house, and stole from her, and it upset her so much that she finally started binging in her late 30s.

“She asked me about my situation. Do I have kids? Am I married? She told me I was lucky to have boys instead of girls. She asked if I was happy in my marriage. I told her yes, all the while inwardly cringing, wishing I could have the courage to lie, and look like less of a Pollyanna. She had already guessed me 10 years younger than I am. The comparisons were becoming embarrassing.

“Here I was, everything she wasn’t: happy, youthful, with two beautiful, respectful children, and a doting spouse. And I was returning from the liquor store, so that my husband and I could fulfill the evening’s plan of getting hammered and playing Wii ’til 1 a.m.

“I want to feel good about stopping and helping this woman, but as much as I could pat myself on the back, I mostly feel like a [jerk]. If I had left her there to sober up, she would’ve hopped on a bus, and gone to sleep in her own bed. Now instead, she’ll be spending the night in the detox ward, receive a ticket for public drunkenness, and a bill for the [bleeping] ambulance.”

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.