Blog: Point No Point

Human Rights Day

Today the Universal Declaration of Human Rights turns 70. That means it is younger than my mother’s generation. It means we are still in the very early stages of creating a truly inclusive, compassionate, just world. No wonder the work is hard, and the path is rocky.

The opportunities to make progress are everywhere. As Eleanor Roosevelt said:

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. […] Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”



Pine Street Episode 62

In that moment, on that chaotic night and early morning after the wedding, Leo chose Marilyn. He went to the room next door to Kassandra’s, he saw Marilyn in a bed, connected to tubes and cords, looking tiny. Douglas must have stepped out, or maybe he’d needed to go back to the house.

It was just Marilyn there, wrapped in a cocoon, tiny as a caterpillar.

“Marilyn?” Leo whispered, unsure if she was awake.

“Leo.” Her voice rasped, full of pain and uncertainty. Leo wanted to weep, but he couldn’t, not in front of her.

“I’m here,” he said.

“Thank you.” Her eyes closed. “Sit with me, if you would.”

Leo pulled up a chair.

“How’s Franny?” Marilyn asked without opening her eyes.

Uncertain how to respond, Leo did not answer. Instead, he remembered the awful sound of Franny’s sobs on the other side of the closed door, after they’d shared a lovely kiss.

“She’ll come around, Leo. Be patient. She loves you, but she is still grieving her lost marriage, and the ground beneath her feet is only just now becoming solid again. She’s scared that it will open up and swallow her if she loves anyone ever again.”

Marilyn’s eyes were still closed. The machines in her room wheezed softly. The nurse in bright pink scrubs came in, checked some numbers, wrote something on the chart at the foot of the bed. The nurse smiled sadly at Leo, and rested a hand on his shoulder for a moment. Then she bustled off to tend to another patient.

Leo sat by Marilyn’s bed, weeping quietly, until Douglas returned.

Later on, as that summer turned into fall, Leo would question whether she’d really spoken those words, or whether he’d imagined the whole conversation. Given what happened afterwards, the latter seemed quite likely.

Pine Street, Episode 61

Kassandra returned to her job at the coffee shop toward the end of the summer. Her noggin, as the kind stranger who’d knocked her over called it, had been hurt more than she’d initially thought. She recalled the first scary day in the hospital, as people in various kinds of scrubs and jackets hovered over her, machines made pinging and wheezing noises, and she could not seem to understand any of the information hurled at her, from human or machine.

Concussion was the word that first sunk into her awareness, in a way that she could connect it to what had happened. Concussion and colors. White coats meant doctors. Pink scrubs meant nurses. Green scrubs meant physicians assistants, or orderlies. Scrubs with bright patterns could mean anything, and the person who wore them was likely to be either very cheerful or very grumpy. These were a few of the things Kassandra could focus on that first day.

She needed to tell the kind stranger who’d brought her here. Tell him she’d hurt her noggin after all, but she was going to be okay.

Leo, his name was. He’d knocked her down, helped her on the street, taken her to the hospital in a cab, and disappeared for a while. When he came back to her room, he looked paler than the white coats some of the people who’d been hovering over her had worn.

“What’s wrong?” she’d asked, meaning what was wrong with him to make him so ashen.

“Didn’t they tell you? Concussion,” he’d said. “You’ve got a concussion.”

Concussion meant her head, and connecting it to her head gave Kassandra some peace. It meant the white coat people knew what was wrong with her, and could make it all right. She’d said as much.

“I’m sorry,” she said, intending to comfort Leo. “I hurt my noggin after all. But it’s fine. You can go.”

“Yes, of course. You’ll be fine.” But his color didn’t change at all. Kassandra realized why. She’d seen the art professor wheeled in next door. Fuzzy dots connected in her head. Didn’t she recognize this kind person’s face from the wedding?

“She’s next door. Marilyn.I saw you at her wedding. I figure you’re a friend. She’s in the room next door. Go.”

Something was making Kassandra feel very sleepy. It was probably being dispensed by the tube that dripped into a needle in a vein in her hand. “Go,” she said again, or maybe she didn’t, because it seemed she blinked and Leo was gone, the sun was coming in from a different direction, and the people bustling around her were all wearing pink.

Pine Street Episode 60

Taking care of a dog, especially a smallish, elderly dog such as Precious, helps put everything else in perspective. This is true of taking care of anyone, really. When we are accountable to another being who needs us, even if that need is as simple as being taken outside to pee, our lives take on form and structure that we cannot find any other way.

Franny mused about this as she watched Precious find several other spots to pee, or to pretend to pee after her little dog bladder had run dry. Big responsibilities to other humans terrified Franny. Consistent responsibility to and for this smallish, elderly dog somehow comforted her.

As each leaf on the local oaks, chestnuts, and maples was touched with some color other than green – gold, crimson, burgundy, pale yellow – every moment with Precious was tinged with melancholy as well. If Marilyn was here and well, and enjoying her marriage to Douglas, Franny would not have Precious in her apartment and her daily life. The very fact of the little dog’s presence in Franny’s routines served as a reminder of loss, impermanence, transience.

Several times a day, Franny pondered giving Precious to Leo. Well, that’s not precisely true. It worked this way: several times a day, something would happen to make Franny think of Leo. She’d make a batch of soup in the crock pot, or she’d take a walk in the autumn wind. She’d spread out computers and books on the table he’d given her, preparing to work on class preparations or grading. She’d hear a particular type of music, a lone guitar or soulful voice. These actions would trigger a memory of Leo, a smile, a sense of warmth.

Immediately following, Franny would recall how little effort Leo had made to keep in contact as the summer wore on. How after they’d confronted one another in the hospital that day, she’d wondered for a while if he’d left town.

She’d remember finding out from the barista, Kassandra, that Leo had moved. But not out of town.

Franny would frown, remembering the day her neighbor Allison moved out of the apartment next door, with Leo’s help. He’d said nothing about the fact that he was moving in with Allison. Franny had learned that from Kassandra a few days later, when they were chatting about Allison’s big move: buying the old green house just up the street from Marilyn’s, moving in, with the plan to renovate it.

“That guy, the musician, the really sweet one? The one who knocked me over that night. He’s living with Allison. They’re renovating together. I guess he knows a lot about old houses,” Kassandra had explained.

At this point in the memory chain, Franny would pause and consider leaving Precious at Leo’s doorstep, with a note, and finding her way to some other small town. One that wouldn’t hold such memories. One where she would be free of all emotions, and could just get to work.

Pine Street Episode 59

Franny hooked the leash onto Precious’s collar, as the dog showed every sign of needing to go outdoors, now. Although she had permission to keep Precious “temporarily” in her apartment, Franny also obeyed the unspoken part of the agreement with the landlord to make sure none of the other tenants saw them coming and going. Fortunately, Precious was quiet these days, and the cooler fall weather allowed Franny to wrap her largest coat around them both as she scooted outside.

Precious had been with Franny, off and on, since that day last spring when Franny found her in Marilyn’s empty house. Douglas had wanted to keep Precious at home, but his back and forth trips to the local hospital, and then to the hospital in the bigger city farther away, made it difficult. Leo would have been the obvious choice to keep Precious, given his basement apartment with direct access outside, and a lackadaisical landlord.

Franny’s attachment to the dog, and Precious’s obvious preference for Franny over Leo, made it obvious to them all that the two needed to stay together if they could. During the summer, Franny spent days at a time living in Marilyn’s house, taking care of Precious, and feeding Douglas when he was able to share a meal. After a few weeks, Douglas asked Franny if she wanted to give up her apartment and move in full time.

“I’m not here much, and who knows what the future will bring,” Douglas had said. “You could save some money by not paying rent. Live-in help, we’ll call you, and your room is your compensation.”

Franny had expected this offer, and up until the moment it was made, she’d been ready to take it. Marilyn’s house was small enough to care for easily, the garden would be a wonderful benefit, and of course, there was Precious.

“And if you and Leo…” Douglas had continued, letting the implication linger as his voice trailed off. If Leo and I want to be together, to live here together? Panicking, Franny immediately jumped in.

“No, Douglas. I mean, thank you very much. It’s a kind offer. But no. I need, I still need, I can’t.” Get it together, Franny scolded herself, seeing the confusion in Douglas’s eyes. “I’m not ready to give up my own place, I guess, Douglas. I’m sorry. I’ll be here as much as I can, don’t worry.”

He smiled wearily. “I understand, Franny. There’s no pressure. I’m very grateful for what you can give.”

What I can give? Franny mused, still, after the long, hot, terrible summer had faded. Am I ready to give anything to anyone?

Precious snuffled at a shrub, did a few spins, and sprayed a stream of urine. Her expression was one of sublime pleasure, and Franny laughed.

“I can give you a chance to pee, right?” They walked on into the cloudy day.

Pine Street Episode 58

After escorting Kassandra to the emergency room that night, Leo had felt obligated to stay and see how she was. He’d sat in the waiting area for hours, watching the dawn break in the east, stepping outside to take deep breaths of the cool air.

He was there when the ambulance arrived with Douglas and Marilyn. It was the same two EMT’s who had talked Kassandra into going to the ER with him. They eyed Leo as if his presence at both of these events was either suspicious or outright damning. Leo worked hard to ignore their glares as he called out.

“Douglas!” The tall man turned, an expression of bewilderment turning to relief when he saw Leo.

“Leo,” he said. “It’s…It’s Marilyn.”

“What happened?” Leo watched the gurney racing down the hall. “Never mind, Douglas. Go. Be with her.”

“She was coughing, and there was blood. Leo, would you go to the house? I’m not even sure I locked up.”

“Of course. Go.”

Leo had returned to the lobby, looking for a nurse or staff member to tell him where the young woman he’d brought was. Kassandra, he reminded himself, she’d told him her name during the cab ride. Kassandra, with a K. He felt he shouldn’t leave without telling her he was going, without at least finding out how she was doing, if she needed anything.

Finding no one, Leo walked down a hallway, discretely looking in rooms and behind curtains. Footsteps thudded behind him.

“Sir? Sir?” A nurse in bright pink scrubs stood there.

Leo turned to explain who he was looking for, and why, and to apologize, if needed, for being someplace he shouldn’t be, if that were the case. The apology spilled out first.

“I’m sorry, I was – ”

“Sir, did you bring in the young woman with the head injury?”

For a moment, Leo wanted to say no. Her head was fine. She’d said so. “The bicycle accident,” he began.

“Yes. She’s asking for you.”

Leo followed the nurse, who walked fast, with that nurse-on-a-mission pace, so he had to trot to keep up with her until she stopped, and held back a curtain. “In here.”

Kassandra with a K lay on the hospital bed, an IV drip in her arm, machines all around her, and another nurse reading what the machines said.

“I’m sorry,” Kassandra had said when she saw Leo. “I hurt my noggin after all. But you can go. I’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure? What does the nurse say?” Loyalty tore at Leo. Franny was hiding behind a closed door. Douglas had asked him to go check the house. Marilyn was in the bowels of the hospital somewhere.

“She’s next door,” Kassandra said. Leo must have looked completely confused, because she went on. “Marilyn. I saw you at her wedding. I figure you’re a friend. She’s in the room next door.”

Pine Street Episode 57

Leo had been busy since that summer night following Marilyn and Douglas’s wedding.

After the kiss with Franny, and seeing her home, he took her direction seriously and set out to return to Marilyn’s house, to see what Douglas needed. Leo felt an imperative to compensate for the distress his kiss had obviously caused Franny by doing precisely what she had described as his duty.

Speeding in the dark on his bicycle, his head full of the events of the day and evening, his heart full of emotions he could not force into a sensible pattern, the sensation of Franny’s lips touching his still overwhelming him, he took a bumpy corner too fast.

The crash took place in slow motion and yet in the blink of an eye, somehow, simultaneously. Leo stood to pick up his bicycle before he realized what he’d crashed into, or rather whom: a young woman out for a walk in the June moonlight.

For one heart-stopping moment, Leo saw her lying on the concrete and believed her stillness meant death. Mercifully, he saw her move before his mind had time to process that belief. He knelt beside the woman, trying to focus on assessing her status.

“Are you okay?” Leo asked.

The woman’s response was a blur of words to Leo, but they seemed to mean she thought she was okay.

“Don’t move too fast,” he said. “Wiggle your fingers and toes first.” He remembered this from the single yoga class he’d taken years ago, as part of the instructions from the teacher as she roused them from the corpse pose at the end of the session. It probably was only about gently reinstating blood circulation, not a way of dealing with potential head injuries, but it still seemed like good advice.

The woman on the sidewalk’s fingers and toes wiggled reassuringly, as if they were waving at Leo from their places on the sidewalk. The pace of his heartbeat began to slow down. This whole move-various-body-parts-slowly thing was working for him, too, so he instructed the woman to gently bend her arms and legs. She did.

“Does anything hurt?” he asked.

She laughed. “Everything hurts,” she said, with a little gasp.

“You might have had the wind knocked out of you. I’m most worried about your noggin, though. Can you sit up?” Why am I using phrases from my grandmother? Leo thought. Wind knocked out of you? Noggin? Who talks like that in an emergency?

The young woman rolled onto her side, making a noise of pain, but not dire pain, and the sidewalk was clean underneath where her head had been. Relief washed over Leo. “That’s good. No blood or anything on the pavement.” Did I say that out loud? What is she going to think – I was looking for brains or something? Get ahold of yourself, Leo, you need to be the voice of calm here.

“I need to get off this rock,” the young woman said, and pointed to her ribcage. “Help me up?”

This, I remember from first aid class. How to help someone sit up without losing your own balance. “Okay, I’m going to put my arms under yours and steady you as you come up. On three. One, two, three.”

Sitting there, holding the young woman, Leo wept silently. He hadn’t made it back to see if Douglas needed him. He wanted to go and explain to Franny how he felt about her. Pain from scrapes and road rash on his arms and hands exploded into his awareness as swirling red and blue lights took over his vision.