21 April 2009

Into the Mist, Prematurely

Today I walked out the doors of the college's main building into a fairly heavy fog. I crossed the street to enter the college's second classroom building. At the opposite end of it is a stone promenade that seperates the campus grounds from a Revolutionary War-era cemetery. Some people are afraid to walk by cemeteries; I find them rather benign. And I thought the promenade would take on a mysterious aura.

But the entrance to that building was locked, so there was no access to the promenade. This meant walking the street that seperates the building from the larger main classroom building. At the end of the block, one passes under a stone trestle of the Long Island Rail Road. (Yes, they spell Rail Road as two words.) Along the way, one passes the old St. Monica's Church building, in which Mario Cuomo was baptized and served as an altar boy. Now it's a daycare center.

Although I was disappointed at not having access to the promenade, I was enjoying the walk. Fine clouds of fog swirled around the streetlamps; the impressions--How can you call anything seen in fog a "reflection?"--made by that light could make even the stones of that church seem unbound by the weight of time.

As I approached the church, I thought I heard a young woman crying. Then I saw her huddled in an almost foetal position on the stairs to the church entrance and another, older, woman standing in front of her.

"Is everything OK?"

"She's OK," the older woman said. "I think she's going into labor," referring to the young woman on the stairs.

"Can I get anything for you?," I asked the young woman.

"No. I need help."

"You called for an ambulance?, " I asked the other woman.

"Yes. They should be here in a couple of minutes," she responded to me and the young woman.

"How does it hurt?," I asked the young woman.

"From my back down to here," she winced as she pointed to her crotch.

"Does it hurt like a menstrual cramp?" the older woman queried.

She nodded. The older woman and I took turns reassuring her that help was on the way. Just then, she grabbed at her crotch.

"A stab of pain?" I asked. She nodded again.

"Just keep on breathing. Breathe deeply. As soon as you feel pain, breath in deeply." I don't know where that came from; the words just came out of my mouth.

She took a deep breath. "Try to relax. Let your breath out as the pain passes through you. Then take another deep breath."

As we continued this impromptu breathing exercise, the older woman said "That was so good of you to stop." I didn't acknowledge her; I continued to talk, as soothingly as I could, to that young woman.

Then a patrol car arrived and the male officer who got out knew he was in the wrong neighborhood, so to speak, when he saw two women standing over a younger woman. The female officer who accompanied him, on the other hand, knew what the young woman needed: to get to a hospital, and reassurance that she was going there.

Another patrol car arrived, but still no ambulance. Then the male officer from the first car decided to take her and the older woman--who, as it turns out, was her aunt--Jamaica Medical Center, the nearest hospital. The older woman and that female officer thanked me as I started to walk away.

I'm not sure of what, exactly, I did or whether it actually helped that young woman. As I entered the subway station, it occured to me that the older woman--and nearly every other woman in the world--had knowledge that I never had, and will probably never have, and could help someone like that young woman in ways I never could.

But I did not feel alienated or put off by any of it. Of course it's satisfying to know that one has done what one could in a situation; I hope only that the young woman and her baby are doing well, whether or not I did anything that helped. I do, however, wish there was more I could have done.

After all, I can hardly imagine anything more terrifying than to suddenly go into labor in a place where one hadn't expected it to happen, and when it happens sooner than the due date. In her case, she's about a month premature: She said she was in the 32nd week of her pregnancy.

From that scene, I walked under the trestle, turned left at the next corner and continued to the stairs of the subway station. The mist was growing finer yet felt heavier against my face. I descended the stairs to the turnstiles, and another flight of stairs to the platform. About ten minutes later, a train arrived; I entered its doors. When I got off, about half an hour later, I walked up the stairs to the street. The air seemed to have grown a bit warmer as a steady rain fell.