I watched his thin body spiral to the ground. He lie convulsing in the grass, on the side of road I take every day to get home. The billboard over his head displays before and after shots of Brian Urlacher’s hair transplant.
I don’t know what made me turn around. It was just important for me to know if he was still breathing.
I pull over at the car wash across the street, close enough to see his limbs pulsing like they’re wired with electricity.
“Hey, do you need help?” I call to him from my open car window.
Slowly, he lifts himself up off the ground in a movement that reminds me of a marionette.
A smile sits sideways on his face.
“Do you want me to call you an ambulance?” I ask him.
He staggers toward me. Cars blur past us.
“Do you know where I am?” he asks me, tottering closer.
He’s wearing a neon orange vest with reflective patching. Dirt covers his forearms and throat. He appears to be a tradesperson of some sort.
“You’re on Martin Road. You fell. Pretty hard, it looked like,” I say.
A pair of bloated eyes fights to stay open. “I hate my life,” he says.
“I’m sorry to hear this,” I say hesitantly. My stomach grumbles, reminding me it’s dinnertime, and this isn’t a part of my daily schedule.
“Where were you going?” I ask him.
“No where,” he slurs. “I belong no where.”
“Well, do you need me to take you somewhere?”
I arrive at that never-ending place I sometimes I find myself in conversation. The jogging pace inside my chest picks up to a full run.
“Can you take me to my parents?”
I stare at a tattoo on his arm of a stuffed bear. The words underneath it read, “Amber Lee.”
“Where are your parents?”
“Winston’s 40 minutes away. How were you getting home?”
“A bus, I think,” he says, scratching his head.
“Were you working earlier today?”
“Have you been drinking?” I ask, letting his sour scent fill my nostrils.
“A little bit. Since I got off work.”
I peer at the man’s pockets and size the rest of him up. “Do you have any weapons on you?”
“Wait, what?” he says. “God no.” He pats himself down. I watch his hands intently.
“If you try anything, I’m going to ask you to get out of my car okay?” I tell him.
I’m usually not this straightforward. But then again, I don’t usually pick up men off the side of the road. I can hear my mother and grandmother screaming at me as I help him into the passenger side of my car.
“Okay, I’ll be good, I swear,” he says, raising his arms over his head.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
I help Danny’s tattooed fingers find his seatbelt and then fumble with my own.
I drank a cup of coffee on my patio this morning. A hummingbird fluttered from flower to flower of my hanging plant, the longest living outdoor plant I’ve ever had. I sat, transfixed on the branch the hummingbird landed on. I had never seen one at rest. It blended in with the branch. Then the large twig sprung to life and zoomed out of mine.
After a few minutes, Danny’s sobs puncture the silence. Traffic is bumper to bumper. I realize that this is going to be a long trip.
I don’t know if it’s true, but I tell him everything’s going to be okay.
“You don’t understand,” he wails. “I’ve ruined everything. I’m a terrible person, and I don’t deserve to live.”
His tears wash over the dirt and streak his cheeks.
“Why do you say that?” I ask, grasping for context.
“I got my kids taken away from me, again.”
Before I can process the full weight of these words, Danny changes the subject.
“How old are you?” he sniffles.
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from Oakton Grove.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“Yes…But I’m not sure why this is relevant.”
“Do you love him?”
“I… love him.”
“Are you sure? Do you really love him?”
“Then why did you hesitate?”
“Because I don’t know why me having a boyfriend is important.”
“Why did you pick me up?”
“Because you looked like you needed help.”
“You’re an angel. Are you here to save me?”
I clear my throat. It’s suddenly very dry. “I just want to make sure you get home,” I tell him.
“Do you want anything more than that?”
“No.” I make sure to look Danny directly in the eyes.
He turns and looks out the window. We inch down the road. “If you want me to go, just say so. You can pull over and I’ll walk the rest of the way home.”
“Is that what you want to do?”
“No,” he says, sinking into the passenger seat. “I like talking to you.”
“Well, that’s good then.”
“You’re pretty,” he tells me.
“Again, I don’t get the relevancy.”
“You’re hilarious. Nothing I say gets through to you. You don’t give a shit. How old are you?”
“I told you already, I’m 28.”
“Oh. Where are you from?”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
“We’ve been through this. Yes.”
“Someone sent you here today. You’re an angel sent to save me.”
“Why did your kids get taken away?”
Danny bites his lip and drums his fingers on the window. “Because I’m a bad dad.”
“What makes you a bad dad?”
It’s as if I accused him. He yells, “I love my fucking kids, okay?”
“Okay, I believe you,” I tell him. “Please don’t yell at me.”
“I’m sorry, angel. Will you take me away from here?”
“I’m taking you to your parents.”
“My parents can’t stand to see me like this.”
“Are you like this a lot?”
Danny nods and begins to sob again. He rocks in his seat. I see a five year old boy, lost and without his mother. I want to him pick up and hold him. This feeling fades into repulsion, as I watch a trail of snot run from his nose.
“Have you ever considered getting help?”
“A bunch of times. They spit me out, and I get right back to it.”
“You can change. You can get your kids back,” I tell him. I feel a swift sermon overcome me. “I know a dad who once lost his kids. He turned his whole life around and got them back.”
It’s the truth, but I don’t want to tell him how close this truth is to home.
“How old are you?”
“Where are you from?”
“Please tell me you don’t have a boyfriend.”
This circle of this conversation begins to wear on me. I continue to drive down the same road I’ve driven down for the last 10 years. It makes me feel old to have conversations that lead nowhere on roads I’ve travelled my whole life.
“When you drop me off at my parents, I’m going to run back the other way. The way we came.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Because they can’t see me like this.”
“Then why are we going there?”
“Because I don’t know what else to do.”
“What if I talked to your parents with you? What if we tell them what’s going on? And that you need some help getting treatment for your drinking?”
“How old are you, angel?”
When we arrive at the address Danny gave me, he sighs. He points to the house. “Look at those dumb Christmas lights. It’s July,” he laughs. “See, my parents are goofy. They don’t know anything. They never knew what to do with me. I’m just some dumb white boy. I’m a nobody.”
“That’s not true. You’re a dad. You’re somebody to someone.”
“Danny!” someone calls. Danny and I face the sound. There’s a skeletal woman with long, straight hair and dollish eyes standing in the street in front of my car.
“Danny, I was worried sick about you. Where the hell is your phone?”
“Dead,” he tells her, not moving from my car.
“Who are you?” she asks me.
“I’m no one. I found Danny here on the side of the road and just wanted to make sure he got home okay.”
“He’s fucked up, isn’t he?” Then she asks him. “You’re fucked up, aren’t you?”
Danny slips out of my car, slamming the door.
“You seem like a really nice person. Thank you.” The woman’s eyes hold mine for several seconds. I will myself to read her mind, decipher the pain that swims in her two pools of eyes.
I drive away and settle into defeat. My mission was to get Danny home, but I felt like I failed on a fundamental level. I have found myself here before. I know what it’s like to care about someone who talks in circles. And what happens when the patience dwindles. When hope runs dry.
My eyes catch a piece of blue fabric in the rearview mirror. It’s a utility bag of some sort. There’s a flashlight jutting out a side pocket. I don’t recognize any of these contents.
When I pull back into Danny’s parents’ driveway, I catch a glance of him and the skeletal woman embracing each other. He strokes the middle of her back, as she cradles him close. I wonder how long they’ve been falling apart and piecing themselves together.
I clear my throat and offer up Danny his work bag. “Thank you, angel,” he tells me.
For the next few weeks, I see Danny and his kids everywhere. There’s a daughter dancing on her father’s toes at a party. A father pushing his son on a swing. A father who tells his kids to wait for him at the end of the sidewalk.
I make up stories about them. There’s one where a dad hits rock bottom. He loses his kids for five years. The state says that he will never see them again unless he gets clean. When he reunites with them, he tells them he loves them, and the words are pure, unstained. And in that moment, everyone believes in the magic of being together again.