Tom Bech / flickr.com

Two frayed strands

How I very reluctantly saved someone’s life

I knew something was very wrong the moment I woke up. This morning, I sort of wished I hadn’t woken up. It wasn’t that I wanted to die per se but that the well of my soul was so parched it was as if it had been millenia since water filled its walls. Anxiety filled me where a sense of self should have. I made a mental check-list of what I was supposed to do that day and the rest of the week. It all needed to go, save studying for my University finals. I would skip my classes, cancel meetings. I had nothing to give.

I was too thin of a strand to support any weight. I was too limp, frayed, too wispy and frail to even count as a whole thread, a real human being.

I rolled over and went back to sleep.

“How did your exam go?” a girl I had never met walked beside me in the wave of students leaving Kingston Hall after our Global Politics of Childhood class. I had just squeaked out that exam, hating every second of it and not wanting to talk to anyone. I had nothing in me, save the most basic small talk.

“It was ok,” I replied. I didn’t reply with a question. I didn’t want a conversation.

“Was it as hard as you thought?” she asked, upbeat.

“So-so.”

The next few questions she asked were off somehow. They suggested she hadn’t been in that exam with me, but there was no other reason she would be leaving the class with the rest of us.

“What are you up to now?” she asked, clearly moving beyond the polite post-exam complaining and chit-chat.

“Uh, I’m probably going to go watch TV,” I said. “I should go.”

“I’m going to one of my prof’s Last Lecture on Earth series,” she offered. “You should come. It will be good for you.”

She spoke as if she knew me, though I was sure we had never met. Her oddness was further indication to me I should leave. We were way past friendly chit-chat. I really didn’t have anywhere to be. I searched for an urgent reason to leave that wasn’t a lie. I don’t like lying.

As I searched, desperate to go home and be alone—my heart dry—I felt a strong sense inside of me saying I needed to stay there in that conversation. It was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. Why would I feel a compulsion to stay? I can’t explain it, but I knew it was God. I can’t handle this, I complained. I sensed the reply: You need to be here. Didn’t you promise me you would do anything, any time, go anywhere, at any cost for me? Stay with her.

I was not happy with this. Everything in me willed a different outcome, but I decided to stay there with her and make good on my promise. “What’s the lecture about?” I asked as we walked toward the student centre. Her explanation was the most bizarre metaphysical nonesense that, combined with everything else going on, made me realise there was something really off with her. As I thought through possible options of what was going on (was she high? No, no Queen’s student would do drugs right before an exam—they value their marks too much) I couldn’t figure it out.

I didn’t know why I needed to be with her, but I did know something was very wrong. She fell silent and I asked her the question that strangers don’t ask other strangers.

“Hey, are you OK?”

She burst into tears. You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. I can’t handle this.

“No, I’m not ok,” she admitted.

“Do you have anyone to talk about this with?” I asked, really hoping she would say yes and I would help her find that person so I could go home and watch Garden State, eat a pint of ice cream, not talk to anyone and maybe cry a little.

“No, I don’t.”

Crap. Crap, crap, crap.

“OK,” I said, searching for options, “let’s go sit down in the JDUC,” I replied. We crossed the street in silence, climbed the stairs and found some couches in the Upper Ceilidh.

“So what’s going on?” I asked, half sincere, half wanting to go home still.

“I haven’t slept for days,” she said. She was still crying, agitated.

I asked another question I knew people don’t ask, though they should. “Are you depressed?” She nodded.

And another, “Are you suicidal?”

She nodded.

The longer we sat talking, the weirder she was getting. As she started telling me about what was going on, she was becoming more and more agressive. She was getting louder, people were starting to look over our way. She grabbed my shoulders and started shaking me.

Until that point I thought she was weird and troubled. I started becoming concerned for my own safety.

I checked my watch. It was getting closer to 10PM. I wanted to run, but I couldn’t just let her go for the night. She was really unwell. I wasn’t sure she would make it home. I imagined a headline the next day, “Queen’s University student killed, hit by car on Johnston Street.”

“I’m going to take you to the Hospital. They’ll help you get to sleep,” I said softly, fearing she would bolt.

And so I took this strange girl’s hand, she let me. She chattered away, as if she were four years old again.

We arrived at the Emergency and I filled the intake nurse on what was going on. The nurses eyes widened as I told her the story. I was a stranger to this troubled student.

She called Margaret over and started asking her some questions.

“Sweetie, are you hearing voices?” the nurse asked.

“Yes I am,” Margaret replied.

“Are you seeing things?” she asked.

“Ohh yes,” she giggled.

I gulped. I didn’t know it was that bad.

The nurse finished her intake. As we waited Margaret was still escalating. She was getting louder. She was moaning, touching her body, thrusting her chest out. It was mortifying. She was becoming increasingly sexual, increasingly more undone.

Finally the nurse called her name.

I walked home a wreck. I was coming undone myself. I was parched, frayed.

I arrived home, got into bed and went to sleep, hoping a little that I wouldn’t wake up.

“Her parents are in town and want to meet you.”

Gulp.

I walked into the Tim Horton’s on campus and found the only people that looked like parents. I introduced myself. Her mother came over and gave me a big, tight hug.

“Thank you!” she said. “You saved my daughter’s life!”

“I don’t know if I did that,” I replied, modestly, still a bit surprised. I had been expecting a lawsuit, accused of having done the wrong thing.

“Oh no, you did. They had to sedate her that night. She had grown violent,” her mother said, tears filling her eyes. “My daughter isn’t like that. She’s calm and pleasant. You saved her life.”

I hid behind my coffee, unable to handle this praise for my deeply reluctant obedience to the voice I had sensed inside.

They began to recount the story they had dug up in the few days they had been in town. She had been displaying signs of mental distress for days. Her roommates had been making fun of her and thinking she was just being weird.

“I can’t believe a complete stranger saw more than her roommates did!” her father shook his head.

I frowned. It was sad, indeed.

We chatted a bit more. They thanked me profusely. We parted.

Her parents called me a hero, an angel. The head of the school’s Health, Counseling and Disability Services personally phoned me and followed up with a letter congratulating me on my “real act of courage.”

All I can think about was how much I wanted to leave her in her own mess that night. I was this close to abandoning her. I was too thin of a strand to support any weight. I felt too wispy and frail to even count as a real thread, a real human being. She, so frail,was almost invisble to her friends. They didn’t even see that she was fading away into insanity. Yet, she wasn’t invisible to God. Separately, we were barely able to make it through the day, but in weaving our two frayed strands together we drew enough strength and safety from each other to go on.

I now know that I don’t need to feel strong in order to matter.