Monday, January 6, 2014

Saved by a Witch, then Paying it Forward, in the Same Night.

I’ve had exercise induced asthma since I was little. Fat kid disease, I call it. Sometimes after heavy exertion, I’d have to use a rescue inhaler.

Well I’ve gotten older. Haven’t used (or owned) an inhaler in over a dozen years. Since I don’t go play outside anymore, I don’t have asthma attacks.

Then I got sick. Respiratory infection of some kind, combined with seasonal allergies, the cold dry air, and quitting cigarettes at the same time. My lungs were in bad shape.

I wasn’t doing anything strenuous, just reading, when my chest suddenly tightened up.
I try to breathe in, to just explode into coughing.
Even shallow breaths are blocked out.

My eyes are puffy and red, crying from strain. It felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. Like drowning above water, it took all my effort not to panic. A wheezing, labored mucus flooding my lungs and throat. My body shook, head pounding.

I need an inhaler. Right now.

I don’t have health insurance, no prescription, and I’m running out of time. Even if I did, it’s midnight. Who’s going to help me now? I can’t afford a hospital visit.

Craigslist.  There’s gotta be some crackhead trying to make a quick buck, right?
Please. Please save me, random crackhead.

There’s one! Ad for Ventolin inhaler, factory sealed, $25 bucks.

I text the number, trying to stay conscious between deep wet hacks. The person replies swiftly, and in complete sentences. It’s 12:13am on a Sunday night, but this seller has no trouble telling me their home address.

“I’m on my way, be there in 30 minutes, thank you so much!” I wrote.

I compose myself, grab my wallet, and leave the apartment.

The drive was difficult. My nose was congested solid, and my throat swollen nearly shut. Thankfully, no other cars are on the road. No one to see my swaying in and out of lanes, coughing and wheezing, panicked bulging eyes unable to focus.

I pull up to the house, it’s as described with a Kwik Tow truck out front.

I can’t text anymore, my eyes are too watery to read. Hopefully the person has heard my car arrive.
I push open the door, summon strength, and stumble out of the car.

My head fuzzes in and out, I’m leaning against the MR2, too weak to move.

“Here, take it deary.”

I look up, there’s a figure in the dark, holding out a little white package.

I try to thank the person, but I can’t talk, just hacking and wheezing instead.

I fall to one knee, overcome with coughing, panic has set in. My fingers are numb, heart burning. I can’t breathe, this is it. I’m gonna die here. Right in front of some lady. No one other than her knows where I am.

I hear a tearing sound. She’s opened the inhaler’s packaging.
A hand grabs my hair, pulls my head back.

“Take it, come on. Breathe, just breathe.”

The inhaler’s in my mouth, I hear it click and Albuterol puffs into my throat.

Within seconds I’m 90% better. Now upright, trying to look dignified, I get a better look at her.

She's wearing a tired blue robe with bunny slippers. She’s hunched a bit, with a long hooked nose and stringy black hair. She looks like the witch from the Bugs Bunny cartoons.
She looks just like her.

“There you go, deary. You’re all right. You’re all right.”

“Wow. Thank you. Thank you, ma’am,” I say, embarrassed.

She smiles a real smile.

“Oh, here,” I dig out some crumpled bills, and hand them to her. She takes the cash like it doesn't matter.

“Goodnight then, dear. I’m going back to bed now.”

She shoves her hands into her robe pockets, shivering, and waddles back into her house.

Just like that. Some lady. No fear at all, just genuinely saved a complete stranger in the middle of the night.

It’s nearly 1am now. I’m cruising across Camelback road, stopping at the 20th Street light. I'm the only car in the night. Seemingly alone in an abandoned city.

I'm eager to get home and sleep, when...

“Hey! Hey man uh, uh”

A Hispanic guy, college aged, hollers something at me. I figure he wants a dollar or a cigarette. He's approaching my window as he talks.

“I need uh, help real quick, my car.” He thumbs to the Bank of America behind him. I don’t see a car.

“It’s right behind this building, I locked my keys in it, I promise. I just gotta use your phone, man,” he seems relaxed for being stranded.

He’s about my size, non-threatening demeanor. I have $62 in my wallet, so it wouldn’t be a huge loss if I’m being invited to an ambush.

“All right, man. Let me pull around,” I say out my window.

He doesn’t have a cell phone? Hmm.

I roll the MR2 into the Bank of America parking lot. Indeed there’s a single car, lights on, idling, with the doors closed and windows up.

“I went to use the ATM, and locked myself out, man.”

He rubs the back of his head, his hair a thick pile of dark curls.

I inspect the car, it’s as he described. I can see the keys in the ignition, locked inside. The gas gauge is nearly empty.

“Do you have anyone to call?” I ask him, he shrugs.

“I dunno, maybe a locksmith or something? Do you know a number to one?”

He’s hoping I have a smartphone, where I could just do a search, and this problem would be easily solved. But I don’t. Instead I hand him my bulletproof, internet-less, Walmart flip phone. We try 411 on it, but Verizon won’t allow 411 service.

He looks dejected.

“Well, thanks for tryin’ to help anyway, man.” He motions like I could leave him if I wanted.

“You don’t have any family or friends to call?” I don’t want to give up on him yet.

“Uh, not really. I could call my parents, but I just moved out you know, they’d give me a bunch of crap. ‘See we knew you can’t make it on your own’ and stuff like that,” he’s sad, looking at the ground.

 A cold wind hits us both.

“But seriously, thanks for at least stopping to help me man. I tried three other cars before you, and they were just like get away get away!”

“Dude, you’re wearing a Pokemon shirt. How threatening can you be?”

He chuckles for a bit, then sighs. The situation is still bad for him.

A big Silverado truck rolls into the parking lot to use the ATM. We look at it with hope.

The driver, hidden in shadows, pauses, then decides to leave instead.
 Afraid. Just go to a different ATM. It’s not worth interacting with other humans at 1am.

“See what I mean? Just like that. People don’t help. Too scared to even roll down their window.”

“Well I’m wearing a hood, and you look Mexican. We look like trouble I bet,” I say. He nods.

“All right man. I guess you can go if you want, thanks for keeping me company at least,” he says, staring at his car in defeat.

What if I were him, in the same situation? How terrible, alone in the cold. Feeling like a moron. Take him home, help him out.

“Hey, do you live near here?”

“Yeah I do. But it’s okay, I could… I could just walk or something. Don’t wor--”

“-Well get in then,” I tell him.

I clear off the passenger seat, and he drops into it.

“I’ve never seen one of these before.”

“Well shoot, man. Too bad I’m not a hot chick. This would be the luckiest night of your life,” I reply.

He smiles, “If you were a hot chick, you wouldn’t have stopped to help me.”

He thanks me repeatedly during the drive to his home. He asks to be dropped off at an intersection, I insist on just taking him home. He thanks me ten more times. His name is Oscar, he’s 20 years old and just moved out of his parent’s house.

“You said you just got out of work? It’s pretty late, man. You work at a restaurant or something?”

“Yeah, I just started. I’m a prep guy and a dishwasher.”


“At The Henry,” he says to the windshield.

“Oh wow, my sister Jackie works there!”

“Well don’t tell anyone man, this is like so embarrassing.”

“I can’t promise you that,” I smile.

“This is me right here. You could just drop me at the corner if you don’t mind, man. That would be perfect. I’m so sorry for this. So sorry man.”

I bring us to the spot.

“I wish I could pay you, I cou-”

“--No need. I wouldn’t let you if you tried.”

He’s visibly relieved. Yes, his car is still stranded, idling in an empty parking lot. But he’s safe at home, out of the cold. He can call a locksmith or get help of some kind from here.

Oscar shakes my hand and thanks me a few more times. I tell him good luck at The Henry, that Sam Fox is a good company. He waves to me in the dark, and walks to his home.

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