I saw a girl fall. (a fictional short story)

I slammed the front door as I left.  The lock on my door is kind of broken, so every time I leave I have to slam it or it won’t close all the way.  Then someone would most likely break-in and be disappointed when they found no trace of anything of value, besides my Mom’s hand-me-down fancy plates dirty in the sink.  And the thief would end up trashing the place out of anger, making it even more messy than it already is.

When I got down the stairs, I looked up to make sure the door was totally closed.  It was.  I started on my way.  I’m really late most of the time, studying until I realize I have class and then running out the door, but not today.  Today I was almost on time.  I decided against my normal route and started making my way down a less familiar road that went, at least generally, in the correct direction.

I had to make sure that I knew everything about the inner workings of the endocrine system.  It is important to know the names of the hormones that make the body do specific things.  Maybe it doesn’t actually matter.  Regardless, everything has names and acronyms and I know them all.

But no, wait, I wasn’t even walking to that class.  I had that class yesterday.  I was walking to cell biology.  I have an exam.  I studied my brains out.  I know tons about cell biology but knowing tons about cell biology isn’t really the game.  No one cares what you know, they care what the grade is, but just to be safe, I made sure I knew everything, too.  I hopped over a puddle on the sidewalk.  It was raining before I left, still pretty overcast.

Medical schools require that applicants get As in classes like these.  I do not take classes like cell biology because they interest me, I take them because one day it will put me in a position to where I can help people.  Really help people.  Save lives.

Travel to Africa where an entire village is hopelessly suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or at least that’s what they’ve been told, but I’ll determine that it’s actually a magnesium deficiency and if they eat more green-leafy vegetables the symptoms should subside.  And at that point in my career, I’d have enough money to be able to spend some time there and help them get on their feet.

I’d have lots of friends in the field of agriculture that are expecting my call because this is not the first malnourished village that I’d have helped.  No no no.  I’d already have a network set-up.  It would basically be just another day.  Me and my network would change lives.  We’d be heroes.  Even though it’s not about being a hero.  I have no interest in being a hero.  I have an interest in making people happy.  But we’d still be heroes.

People are miserable and most of the time it’s because no one cares about them.  I’m going to be the guy that cares.  I’m going to be the guy that cares and has time and has money and has the knowledge to be able to listen to their problems and help them through it.  But first I have to take an exam.

I took a left.  The street seemed quiet and appeared to be heading in the correct direction.  I read once that going outside of your routine can help keep your mind sharp.  I have to be sharp today.

Cell biology.  I failed the first exam.  It was bad.  The first time I’d ever gotten anything besides an A.  I had the flu.  That’s not a good excuse.  There is no good excuse.  I had to meet with my professor and plan out the rest of my semester to make sure I could still get a B.  Get As on the rest of the exams and I’d get my B for the class.

I was doing great so far.  But this is the final exam.  One more A and I’m still on track.  But if I didn’t do well, we’re looking at a possible C.  There’s no explaining a C.  I have confidence.  I was already thinking about ways I could backhandedly explain my only B in my application essay; “If I had a good doctor, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten the flu and would’ve received my A in cell biology.  I hope to one day prevent future students from getting the flu, blah blah blah.”  I’ll come up with something.

I was really hoping for a little sun on my walk.  I basically don’t leave my room except to go to class and when I finally have a long walk, it’s overcast.  I need a little sun to make me feel better.  I eat canned vegetables with Hot Pockets that I heat up in a microwave or terrible processed things from the McDonalds value menu while I’m walking because I never have time to sit and eat.

I haven’t cooked a good meal or seen my friends in months.  I wonder about them.  How are they doing?  They always invite me to cool things like full-moon parties or sustainable-living seminars or concerts but I’m always busy studying.  Josh’s girlfriend dumped him last month and they threw him a “get over Cindy” party.  I couldn’t make it.  I had a paper due.

From what I heard, he didn’t cry that whole night, which is a big deal, because he is a crier.  They dated for like 5 years.  I was sure they were going to get married.  I haven’t even talked to him. I hope he’s all right.  I really need to call him.  Maybe after the exam.

Glycolysis.  Just get through this last exam.  Then I have my pre-med degree. Then its over.  Then I finish my med school applications.  But then it’s just the beginning.  Then the misery of medical school.  It’s ok.  I’ll finish in about 6 years.  It’ll be worth it.  In 6 years I’ll change the world.

I kept walking.  I wasn’t totally sure what street I was on.  It was pretty quiet.  I was walking through what looked like an abandoned parking lot.  Leaves and seeds and weeds growing tall out of the cracks in the asphalt.  I normally take Madison Ave, which is littered with stoplights and people walking and cars honking at jaywalkers but it’s a quick and direct walk.  I checked my watch.  Cutting it close.  Late is not an option today.  I was hoping for a quiet walk so I could run through the mechanisms of glycolysis in my head on the way.

I heard what kind of sounded like the unwanted piece of a 2×4 falling to the floor after being cut.  My uncle was a carpenter while I was growing up.  He let me help him with side jobs. He was always doing side jobs.  I never did understand the concept of a side job because of him.  At some point, Uncle Frank, you’ll have to admit that you don’t actually have a real job.

As I looked up at the sound, I saw a girl on her hands and knees about 10 meters away.  She had fallen.  She was wearing big chunky shoes.  I’d fall too if I were wearing those shoes.  She was looking down and her long, black hair was hanging in front of her eyes.  I instinctually rerouted towards her.

Although I didn’t see it completely, her fall didn’t look too bad.  I imagined some small scratches on her palms from bracing the impact and maybe a bruise on her knees.  Nothing permanent.  She wasn’t smiling.

As I got closer, I put my left hand out as if to help her up, but I really had no intention of touching her.  I wanted to touch her, I think touch is the most healing thing on the planet, but people can’t just touch other people like that.  If she were, like, hemorrhaging or something then I would put my hands on her to help stop the bleeding, but if I were to touch her now, she’d probably just think I was a total creep.

I asked, “Are you ok?”  It didn’t feel or sound like my voice.

She said, “Yes.  I’m fine, thanks.”

She glanced at me and quickly looked away as she stood up.  She had beautiful eyes.  After she told me she was fine I was forced, by nature, to start walking again.  She had debris, leaves and seeds and such, stuck to her knees and they looked wet. There must’ve been a little puddle there or something.  She meticulously picked the leaves off of her knees as I looked back.

She was wearing fancy-looking black pants.  But she still wasn’t smiling.  Why wasn’t she smiling?  I definitely would’ve laughed my way out of something like that. The cross between embarrassment and simply not knowing how else to react.  Wasn’t she embarrassed?  She couldn’t have really been hurt.  People fall like that all the time and don’t get any injuries.

Although, she did get up a little slow.  Maybe she had an injury from before.  Like, three months ago she was jogging to stay in shape and she saw someone she recognized but he didn’t see her and her eyes followed him while she stepped in a small hole and she twisted her knee.  She could barely walk after that but convinced herself that it wasn’t a serious injury so she never saw a doctor.  It finally stopped hurting for a few days and now this.

Or maybe it was just one of those days.  Nothing was going her way.  She just got fired and spilled coffee all over her desk as she was trying to gather her things.  All she wanted to do was get home and climb into bed but she can’t even make it without embarrassing herself and ruining her brand-new pants that she bought for a job she no longer has.

Her eyes.  I felt like I was ignoring someone in need.  A couple years ago, back before all of this education nonsense, back when I was just deciding that I needed to spend my life helping people to feel better, I saw a woman fall.

I was working at a nursery.  We had a big delivery the next day but it was otherwise pretty slow.  I wanted to make sure we had everything we needed so I could leave early and not have to worry about anything.  Just a few minutes of hustle-bustle and then I’d be able to make it on time to Charlie’s weekly barbecue that I was always late for because they started at 5pm.

I walked past the front gate that led to the parking lot.  The front gate was actually on the side.  The real front was on Powell Ave.  It was quite a busy street.  But the parking lot was on 15th street.  It wasn’t such a busy street, but it did have the parking lot there and it’s where I came and went.  I always called it the front gate to customers and they’d get confused and not know how to leave.

Anyway, I walked past and saw a quick flash out of the corner of my eye.  A black flash.  I might’ve been certain that it was a person falling directly on their face, but it was just as easy to refuse to believe that it happened.  If I witnessed someone falling then I would run to their side because I live to help people.  But I needed to fill this order so I could leave early and with that in my mind, I told myself that the black flash I saw was nothing more than a black flash.  A vision problem even.  It was the corner of my eye after all and the human eye is certainly not perfect.

I continued filling the order.  Hydrangeas, lilacs, arborvitae, they were all there.  Nothing missing.  It was going to be a great night.  I’d be able to help them cook.  I felt bad when I’d show up late and eat all their food without helping.

It only took three minutes to count everything.  It was a little after 2pm.  I glanced towards the parking lot as I was walking back into the building.  

I stopped.  Something was on the ground.  A woman.  Oh my god.  She wore a black shirt.  She was the black flash.  That was three minutes ago.  She was still on the ground.  Three minutes of lying on the ground.  She didn’t seem to be struggling.

The poor woman.  She was older, late 60s or so, wearing floral print MC Hammer looking pants like my grandma would wear.  It looked like she went down to do a push-up but decided against it and just got comfortable instead.  She faced away from me, her cheek resting on the pavement. She was just lying there.  What had she been doing for three minutes?

Probably thinking about how it’s been so difficult since her husband died, but she was strong and independent and was making it all work out until now.  And here she is, lying on the ground alone and can’t get up.  How could she continue to live her life?

Her kids would feel obligated to look after her and possibly even move her into one of their houses and that was a burden she never wished to put on her children, but now that she’s been lying helpless on the ground for three minutes she would really have no choice but to accept her son’s offer to move her in so he can keep an eye on her and she’d have to spend the rest of her days feeling guilty about being a hassle for her son until she finally dies and instead of grieving, her son, regretfully, feels a giant weight lifted off his shoulders and breaths a sigh of relief.

And there I was, trying to go home a little early.  Letting the fallen lady question her own self worth.  I could’ve ran over right away and gotten her up.  She wouldn’t have had time to ask those questions.  She would’ve been thinking about how nice that boy at the nursery was.  How helpful.

“I had a scare today,” she would say at her widows club meeting, “I fell in a parking lot and this wonderful boy came to my rescue.  He was so polite and adorable.  Fran, you should introduce him to your granddaughter.  He works at that nursery down the road.”

My stomach felt terrible, like it was filled with Taco Bell.  I ran over to her.

I said, “Oh my gosh, are you ok?”

I crouched down next to her and put my hand on her back as gently as I could.  She struggled to turn her head towards me as if she were trying to roll over but couldn’t.

“I’m ok,” she said, “I’m just having trouble getting to my feet!”  She forced a laugh.  It choked me up.  I felt so heavy and slow and empty.

I said, “Here, let me help.”  I helped her roll to her back with my hand on her head to make sure it didn’t hit the concrete.  We worked together to get her sitting up on the sidewalk and eventually got her up to her feet again.

She brushed the dust and dirt off of her black shirt and floral-print pants.

“My heavens! I guess I lost my footing!”  She said it in a light-hearted, joking kind of manner, but she had tears in her eyes that she was trying to hide and I started realizing that she must’ve been terrified beyond feeling sorry that she may no longer be able to fend for herself.

She was probably worried she wouldn’t be able to see her first grandson born.  Her son and daughter-in-law, trying so hard for so many years to get pregnant and seven months ago she got the phone call that filled the entire family with joy.  The daughter-in-law, finally pregnant and now into her 3rd trimester.  The beautiful baby boy almost here and now she is trapped face down in a parking lot, possibly minutes from death.

What if no one uses this parking lot and she’s stuck for days and dies of dehydration or what if someone carelessly parks their car in this particular spot and runs right over her head.

These thoughts could scare anyone into crying in public and I just went about my day convincing myself that I didn’t see her fall and let her lay there for three minutes thinking these terrible thoughts about how she is no longer fit to live alone in society or how she might have reached the end of her road and will be meeting her husband in heaven without stories of their beautiful grandson.

After she was on her feet, I didn’t want to walk away.  I held her hand as she walked over to her car, which was only ten meters away.  She got there and I asked again if she was ok.

She said, “I’m fine, just a little embarrassed now!  Thank you so much for your help.”  I rubbed her back.  I didn’t mention that I saw her three minutes earlier and finished my work instead of helping her.

I did get to go home early that day, but it wasn’t as joyful as I’d hoped.  I didn’t go to Charlie’s barbecue.  I spent most of the afternoon alone.  I even cried, I think.  Not like the hyperventilating, someone-stole-my-candy crying, but I just couldn’t stop thinking about how I let that woman stay trapped on the ground for three minutes.

And here I am, again.  In a hurry to take an exam.  Walking away from a girl that had just fallen.  I offered her help right away but she didn’t need any, so I was off the hook.  I could’ve brought it up in conversation with friends later and they’d say things like, “She said she didn’t need any help and she was ok so what else could you do?” or something supportive like that, but the girl wasn’t smiling.

I stopped walking.  Why wasn’t she smiling?  Was there something I could’ve done to make her smile?  Did she even want to smile?  Why wouldn’t she want to smile?  Maybe she needs to vent.  Yell about something.  Maybe I should’ve asked.  Should’ve listened.  Maybe I should’ve helped her up, like physically helped her up.  Offered her my hand.  Touched her.

I turned around.  She was only about 20 meters ahead of me, walking slowly.  Maybe she just needs someone to care.  That’s definitely what she needs.  That’s what everyone needs.  Everyone just needs someone to care, not a doctor.

Doctor.  Med school.  Exam.  Glycolysis.  I checked my watch and turned back around.



4 thoughts on “I saw a girl fall. (a fictional short story)

  1. This is incredible. It reminds me of a much better version of those moments in Run Lola Run, where she runs in to people, and the film strays for a few seconds on the person as the rest of their life is played out in snapshots. This is what my brain does, too, James! You articulated it! And all of the complicated rationalizations and thoughts we have about the millions of tiny choices we make every day… that, too. Well done, my friend.
    To add, I think it is much easier to take time for people when we have time to spare. Pre-med, medical school– these situations burden us with more than one normally has to handle, so to have nothing to give at times seems acceptable. When I was just working service jobs and making art, I had a lot more time to offer people, and I did.


    1. Thanks B!
      I’ve always struggled with recognizing and deciding when what I’m actually doing is less important or meaningful than what I could, or should, be doing. It can be really difficult to abandon whatever path I’m on, even when I see great potential elsewhere. But it can also be difficult to stay the path when something else comes up.

      Hopefully, this story clearly articulates my conclusion. In case it doesn’t, I’ll rephrase it here: “Ummm, I have no idea.”


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