I was so happy that it wasn’t raining, as both of my weather apps improperly predicted. I had carried my umbrella with me, but I didn’t really mind carrying back home, unused. I was pleased that it was boiling and humid. I don’t mind it, and I was actually looking to defrost my poor extremities after a day behind my desk under far too much air conditioning.
As I removed my black cardigan sleeve to throw into my purse, I heard a loud scream, followed by maniacal laughter.
And then a filthy hand reached out and grabbed my leg.
I was minding my own business, mere steps from my office, and I was grabbed by a gap-toothed, dirt-encrusted, laughing homeless man. He ran off, laughing away, leaving me standing there, in the middle of the sidewalk, practically paralyzed.
Did that really just happen? I asked myself.
“Did that really just happen?” I asked the woman standing beside me; she was equally sunned.
“Oh my gosh! Are you okay?”
“Yes, I think so.”
And I was pretty sure I was. Physically, at least. Obviously, he hadn’t meant to hurt me. Clearly, this man was mentally ill, not unlike the man who sleeps on the street corner or the man who talks to the street lights or the woman who begs for $1.39 one day and then $.035 the next day. My four block walks each morning from the Queen subway station are usually spent trying to avoid the homeless, trying to not be affected, trying to fight my basic instinct, which is to buy each and every one of them a donut and coffee and hand them each a crisp ten dollar bill.
I walk with my head down, looking at my feet, pretending they don’t exist. Because ignoring them is the only way I can emotionally deal with knowing that there are people who use streets as beds and their clothing as toilets. I convince myself that my money won’t be used to fill empty bellies, but instead will be used to fill empty alcohol bottles. Ignoring them is the only way I can avoid bankrupting myself on a daily basis.
So, yes, physically I was okay after this man reached out and grabbed my leg.
But emotionally, I was not.
And I’m not sure I’ll ever be.