The faint voice is there the whole time, but it takes me several seconds to realize the woman is moving in my direction. I apologize in case she was speaking to me. She slurs something back, including what sounds like an apology.
She's about my height, but extremely thin, in the way of junkies and severe alcoholics. Dark hair. Sometimes talking to me, sometimes starting a few steps toward the main road, she conveys her complaints: She likes women. She told him that. He didn't like that, him, that noisy bastard, they call him over there, and she waves an arm generally towards the apartment complex. And she's pregnant. These points are repeated several times, in varying order, with occasional apologies. It isn't really clear whether she's mad at him for his reaction or herself for getting pregnant, or both; both elements are voiced. She adds comments that suggest the abortion protesters down the street and that she doesn't know if it's dead or alive, she doesn't know what to think, everybody tells her all these things. She's had "a couple of drinks" today. She smells like a dive bar, cigarettes and some kind of alcohol; I know the smell generally, though I would never be able to figure out which kind.
I ask her several times if there's somewhere she can go, if there's someone who can come get her, if I can call anyone for her. When I get my cell phone from the car, she eventually gives me a number. I dial for her and ask who I'm calling. It's Ray. When the line is answered, I ask for Ray, and the person on the line says that's who it is. I pass the phone to the woman. She slurs where we are. After a few seconds she hands the phone back.
I ask if he's coming to get her. No. She says something about a taxi and goes to sit on the grass at the edge of the other side of the road. I think a taxi is a fine idea. I find the entry for "taxi" in my cell phone's stored numbers. After I've selected to connect to it, she offers up a number, but I decide to stick with what I have. "They know me," she says. When the dispatcher answers, I tell him I need a cab for a woman to get home; she's intoxicated. "They know me there." I give the street. He asks her name, so I try to ask her the same. "They know me." He asks if it's Lisa, and I ask her, and she confirms. He says they're not allowed to pick her up when she's intoxicated. I have no idea what to say to or even think about this; I just ask who else I can contact. He suggests Foxfield Taxi.
I hang up. She asks if they're coming and I explain what the man said. She's stunned. I ask if there's anyone else who can get her; no. I figure this isn't something the police would appreciate having me call them out for, and I wish for some obvious agency to call that could just take her over. I ask if she has anywhere she can go. She eventually says something about her house. I ask where that is, and she says over by the CVS. She gestures towards the north as she says this, so I ask if the means the one on Pleasant. She agrees, yes, the one by the courthouse, again gesturing to the north. The courthouse is downtown, west, so I ask if she means that one or the one by the Stop & Shop. She starts to say "Pleasant" again and then gets confused, so I try to think of any other landmarks downtown. I ask if she means the one over by the library.
She lights up, laughing, apparently realizing that I'm a librarian. (... I don't know. Maybe because I'm wearing a skirt.) She says smugly that she returned her books, but some guy (Steve?) didn't. She has jumped suddenly and confusingly into a whole new level of disconnect from reality, which gives me pause. My one primal dread is being killed or taken advantage of because of my own stupidity or gullibility. This sudden shift makes me suspicious; I do have some experience with drunkenness in others. So I have to think about it a bit longer.
But I really don't think she is any kind of physical threat to me, or any kind of a scam threat. I offer her a ride. She asks if I'm sure and is very grateful. As I toss my stuff -- including the jacket with the house/car keys and the sort-of-notebook that had my wallet -- into the back, to clear the front seat and to make sure they don't walk with Jesus before I get home, she resumes her rosary of woes. She likes women, she tells me again, still in the "it just happened it's not my fault" tone. He didn't like it, she doesn't know what to do, she's pregnant, she doesn't know if it's dead or alive, she doesn't know what to think. And it's her son's birthday. I just keep giving her answers of general agreement and support -- sure, that happens; yeah, it's not the end of the world; you know, that's a very tough question for everybody. (No, I don't discuss abortion with rational, sober people; I'm not about to go into that with her.)
We get in the car, and after I belt myself I wait in case I need to remind her, and she belts herself in automatically and with only slight uncoordination, making me again briefly suspicious. As we drive along, she tells me she just likes women, and she had sex with a guy once, and she doesn't want a man to touch her again. The smell off her is strong in the confines of the car. I agree that's her right, a phrase she seems to like; I tell her it's her right not to have anyone touch her if she doesn't want that. This isn't really the sort of thing I tend to say, but she seems to need to hear it, and I can offer that reassurance while being careful to make sure of the traffic lights. She tells me some story about being in the hospital for some amount of time, for something that seems to involve the word "lip" in apparent connection to the general vaginal area and the use of her hands to show me that it was like this, and she's both unclear and repetitive and when she asks I tell her that I understand; I'm not going near the topic. And she had stopped drinking but they gave her something in the hospital, the hospital, she was in the hospital, and there's a disconnect I don't follow and she's trying to say "amniocentesis" so I help her out with that. And she's hers, she can keep her, a woman can raise a kid, a kid doesn't need a man to turn out right.
The light is red as we get to Pleasant/Union; this is a long light. She's hers, Rhianna is, she named her that. And now the not knowing if it's alive or dead is connected to the hospital, and he offered her three thousand a month, but she said no, she knows how much he makes. She wants five thousand. She looks at me and confides in that sly way I had never before remembered about drunkenness that she was greedy, wasn't she? She complains that she's gotten fat. I reassure her, "Oh, no, honey, you've got nothing there," my vocabulary and manner for some reason having veered hundreds of miles south, and I realize too late she might think I'm telling her she isn't pregnant or the baby's dead, but fortunately the alcohol keeps her hung back at telling me that no, she used to be thin. I wouldn't state with confidence that I could pick up more than fifty pounds, and I'm confident she weighs more than that but I think I could carry her if I had to. She says she's two and a half months pregnant. She thinks he'll challenge her and take the child; she says she doesn't understand, you wanted to kill my baby and now you want to take her? The light at Pleasant/Union finally changes and I start the car moving again with some relief.
And today's her son's birthday. So I ask if he'll be at the house we're going to and she says no, he won't, he wants her to buy him a car, she's not about to, she doesn't even know what a safe driver is, but he's probably a safe driver, he's in Virginia, she doesn't even know him. She asks if I have a phone; when I confirm that I do, she says she needs to call ahead to make sure the back door is unlocked. The phone is paired with the car by Bluetooth, and I know this means using the handset will be problematic, so I try to shut off the connection through the car's touchscreen. She's entranced -- what is that? I fumble through several menus before giving up and answer vaguely that it's a map and tells me what's going on with the car. We're not exactly on top of the CVS, but we're close enough, I decide. I ask where specifically to go from there. She directs me to "the street right before the CVS"; I hadn't really known there were small streets in there, so I have to slow down. She starts saying there, that street; just as I spot the street myself she tells me I need John Street. I then see the sign, at the road I'm already planning to take, and I turn.
I realize then that I can shut off the Bluetooth easily using the handset's shortcuts, and she is saying again she needs to call, so I creep along the side road one-handed while using the keypad. I get the Bluetooth shut off and stop at the four-way intersection; she directs me to keep going along the road's second and final block. She points out a house but starts getting really squirrelly, talking low and mumbling instructions to me urgently. I pull off slightly so that we can call to make sure the door is unlocked; once I have dialed the number she gives me, she again mentions that John needs to have left the door unlocked. I wonder about the synchronicity of names.
The call goes to voicemail, so I hang up and ask if we can just try the door. She says she can't be seen here or they'll call the police, and I wonder just what I've gotten into. She says I should pull up the driveway; instead I park properly at the curb. She points across the street and tells me the two guys there, they're gay, and they [singing]Do you like Pina Colada?"[/singing], every week, and the story seems to keep going but not in words I can hear. I get out with her to make sure she doesn't get stranded. She whispers urgently to me "back door". Then she veers closer to me, ducking her head towards me: she has to hide her face around here, she can't be seen. There are a couple of guys on the front porch of the house next door, and she doesn't want them to see her, yet she selects to walk along their side of the white van in the driveway. She is unconcerned about the car passing along that neighbor's driveway and out to the street.
We get to the back end of the side of the house and she tells me the piles of stuff aren't their stuff, and she reaches up and knocks on a window. Then she goes up the stoop, and the door is unlocked. She starts in, and I call up to her to tell her to be well or some such, already moving to leave. She turns back and reaches her hand down over the railing of the stoop as if to shake my hand, thanking me. I take her hand briefly but rather than letting it go she bends over and kisses my hand, telling me at length that I'm an angel and I'm in her eyes and other such that I don't follow. Eventually she releases me and heads back in. I call to her to get some sleep and book for the car, moving as fast as I can without being obvious about it.
And I drive straight to the police station.
There's no one at the front desk; instead, there's an empty security desk to the left and a wall directly ahead, with a black phone at the center. According to the sign, one is supposed to use it to get into the back of the station. I pick it up and after two rings I get the standard rushed brusque police response that's normally followed by "your call's being recorded". I am relieved that this guy didn't add that. I relay an enormously stripped down version, letting him know that since she was worried about the police, I wanted to make sure that if she wasn't supposed to be there, they at least knew about it. Somewhere between incredulous and confused, he confirms the various points, and the destination address, and the origin address, and my name and phone number, and that she said her name was Lisa but never gave me a last name. There was a hint of "Wait, you gave this drunk stranger a ride? Are you stupid?" to his tone, but he wasn't blatant with it, and he seemed more confused than anything else. He said he'd send a couple of guys over to check on her.
In a way I feel like I've betrayed her, but I think I did the right thing, both in getting her somewhere and then in telling the police once she mentioned they wouldn't want her there. The only other things I really could have done, I think, were to leave her to stagger onto busy streets; or call the police out and have them tell me condescendingly that they should only be called for emergencies; or try to track down taxi agencies until one agreed to come get her, as she sat outside in an ordinary shirt and jeans, intoxicated, allegedly pregnant, underweight, in weather of 50 degrees and dropping, when I've recently learned that most of these factors put her at a very real risk of hypothermia; or taken her to the hospital, which probably wouldn't have accepted her; or taken her to the police, which probably ditto.
This is probably her life, her normal permanent shitty life, and you can blame anyone you want -- including her -- for that ... but I do hope that somehow, someday, she finds peace. And I hope that maybe, just maybe, I've done even the smallest thing to help her in that direction.