The crime on Abbott, the miracle on Alexander
Driving through ribbons of rain on Abbott Street, I saw the fight.
The light turned red. The tall figure punched his victim repeatedly, dropped his body between two parked cars, then walked briskly away.
I dug through my purse for my cell phone. A cop car pulled up. I rolled down my window. I told the police about the guy on the ground, the fight. They promised to check it out.
They rounded the corner and I continued up Hastings, slowly, in anticipation of someone stoned on something walking in front of the car.
In my front seat sat the steaks and lamb I'd just bought for my brother, who was healing from a kidney transplant. His miraculous recovery from surgery had me spellbound with gratefulness, so spellbound that the violent scene I witnessed moments seemed unreal. Brutality juxtaposed against the miracle of recovery. On the one hand, teams of people working to bring someone back from the edge of death with the help of medical science. On the other, an individual beating another to unconsciousness.
I drove past the Chinese market and the rice company and turned onto Alexander, parking my car. My 5-year-old, in the back seat, chattered away happily about scenes from a YouTube video with a dancing cat.
At Windsor Meats, the woman behind the counter told me her daughter had received a lung transplant two years ago, when I explained why I was buying all the beef and lamb.
"She's doing wonderfully," the woman said. "She was twenty-eight at the time. It saved her life. It was a miracle."
The week of my brother's surgery, I saw the movie Redacted, by Brian DiPalma. The movie tells the story of the gang rape of a 14 year old Iraqi girl by US troops, who then murder her, her younger sister, and her parents. Then they burn the house down.
The film ends with a series of real photographs of Iraqi war victims. I wept through this part. The sight of a young boy dying in his father's arms. A pregnant woman mistakenly murdered at a check point.
My brother's recovery is a miracle of modern science. So many people are being saved today by transplants. At the kidney clinic at St. Paul's Hospital we sat in a room full of men and women who had all received gifts of new kidneys. They looked normal and healthy. The staff is amazing. My brother received a clean bill of health.
The week before, when my brother was still recovering after the surgery in the hospital, I left late. In the elevator, a nurse and I got to talking. He was exhausted, he said. He worked on the dialysis ward.
In the hospital on the sixth floor, to the left, is the transplant unit and to the right, the unit where people must have their blood cleaned by machines in order to survive, waiting and hoping for kidneys to come to them.
Three hundred people remain on kidney waiting lists, he said. It was hard work, watching people suffer. It wore him out, but he’d be back tomorrow.
I told him that my father had been on dialysis for six years, how painful it had been to watch him suffer. I told him about the miracle of my brother. The elevator doors opened. We both got out and walked off to our cars.
My brother’s donor is a remarkable woman. As she was recovering from donor surgery, she shared a room with a young Iranian woman who had lost kidney function during childbirth. Her arms were black and blue from the wear and tear of dialysis. Her daughter is three now.
“I know I’m going to find her a kidney,” this remarkable woman said. “I’m going to find 300 kidneys,” she said. “If people only knew how wonderful it is to do this, not everybody would, but some would. If they saw people’s faces, and heard their stories.”
The rain fell on the windshield in fat drops, as we rounded onto Alexander and parked. It's turning into snow, I told my son, pointing up at a street light that illuminated the fat white flakes. He yelped with joy.
I helped him out of his car seat and we went up to my brother's. All the way up, my son fantasized about the snowy day we’d wake up to the next morning. The slipping, sliding, and lobbing snowballs at each other.
In the warmth of the apartment, my brother’s wife made salmon patties. She's a vegetarian so I pan fried the steak. As I watched the meat cook, I told them about the man beating up what must have been someone he knew. I speculated that it had to do with drugs and money. They shuddered when I described how the perpetrator had held the victim's head by the hair and pounded away at his face.
It had been dark. I'd felt powerless. It had been raining. I had a child with me. And I was on the way to a celebration I didn't want to miss.
But could I have helped?