Harold, My First Experience with Death

(this is a true story, I witnessed this while driving to inspect a job site for work several years ago)

I saw papers flying into the air, a small explosion

like a defunct roman candle, not a bottle rocket

up into the air about 10 feet, then scattered around by the wind

onto the curb, onto the median, onto the hot concrete

like shards of nothing

quick red lights forced closely to my front bumper

a woman, yelling and running from the fruit stand across the street

I got out, walked around the vehicle in front

The bottom corner of the windshield cracked in a soft ball sized circle

with dirty strips of brownish, black hair stuck between the cracks

An older man, pudgy and cherub looking, sitting on the edge of the median

one hand on his head, the other connecting a cell phone to his ear, tears I think

A couple more steps

There he was, twisted and stuck to the concrete

A poorly drawn outline, face down and splashed with blood

The bottom part of his left leg pointed sickly in the wrong direction,

nearly breaking through his faded, grey denim

His dirty, white hair littered with loose gravel

I kneeled down next to his body while another woman stood beside me

on the phone with 911

I checked his pulse, all I felt was skin, no movement, vacant

the operator asked for us to flip him over to his back

I put my hand on his shoulder, it was soft, dry and bony

I pulled him towards me, his back rested on the concrete

a gasp of air released from his mouth

invisible lips hidden by beard and dripping pieces of blood

the woman on the phone, “I know CPR, but he’s too bloody, I don’t have a mask, I just can’t do it”

“Harold, Harold, not Harold,” shouted the woman from the fruit stand

She said he was a homeless man, said he always rode his bike to the fruit stand, said she gave him oranges

“Someone please help me with his papers, that’s all he had, please help,” she continued.

I gathered every loose piece I could find, before the wind carried them away

She thanked me.

Sirens now, getting louder, getting closer

She didn’t even ask, she knew the pulse was gone

Walking away, she cried.

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9 thoughts on “Harold, My First Experience with Death

  1. @thanks for reading Maggie, I appreciate it.

    @holly: after it happened, I went home and I cried. It was very sad and something I had never experienced first hand before. It made me a little softer, a little more caring as a person. I was younger then and felt fairly invincible. It helped me with reality. I will never forget that day. Watching a person die is a horrible thing. I don’t know how nurses and doctors do it.

    • I don’t either. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them end up in therapy.

      These kinds of situations suck all around. I feel bad for the people who get hit in accidents like these, their families, the witnesses, and especially the people driving the cars. I can’t imagine how it would feel to know that someone is dead because of you. No wonder that poor man had tears in his eyes!

      My biggest fear when I was long-haul trucking was getting into a collision, especially one involving pedestrians. People on foot do stupid shit around trucks. Hell, drivers in cars do stupid shit around trucks. Contrary to what most people appear to believe, big trucks cannot stop on dimes. And when people do something idiotic, the truck wins, nearly every time. And then people end up being like bugs on the windshield–squished. So yeah. I was horribly afraid something like that would happen. I drove for almost four years and it never did, thank goodness. But there were a couple of close calls. I DIDN’T hit anybody, and yet I still have anxiety about it! The memories of my close calls just pop into my brain unbidden at the oddest times and my heart seizes up. Thank God I never DID hit anybody, or else I’d be a wreck!

  2. You wrote this piece as you saw it… the writing made me feel like I was there with you. As a healthcare practitioner, I always have a rescue mask with me (had to use one way back in 1989 in a road accident)… thank God, not since. At least not in an out of hospital setting. I wanted to hand you the one in my bag, while reading your story.

    Moving, thanks for sharing.

  3. Pingback: Any life is made up of a single moment « A Spoonful of Suga

  4. I thought I would be reading about the death of a rodent, but instead, this. Your writing is beautiful.

    “Someone please help me with his papers, that’s all he had, please help.” Harold is very lucky to have someone who cared for him like the fruit stand lady. And strangers like you, who didn’t even know him. Rest in peace Harold!

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