I saw two dead people Sunday night. It was late. I was headed home, driving through a deserted downtown Los Angeles. As I rounded the corner, the still-warm bodies were posed flat, in unnatural yoga positions, blood spreading on cold pavement.
A half-dozen people were crouched together, sitting on the sidewalk. Nearby, a dented white compact. I’m guessing they had fatally run over the jaywalkers.
Did the bodies belong to the homeless? Our modern streets are unforgiving, filled with the deranged, certainly the inattentive. Every week, I come close to clipping some yuppie stepping off a curb, face buried in a smartphone, or some ragged Used-To-Be person standing, staring, in the middle of a busy boulevard.
Mogul. Hobo. One minute, a billion synapses are firing. We’re thinking. Moving. Blood circulates, oxygen swirls. The committees that make up at least our physical identity are alive. We make plans for dinner or shoplifting, settle grudges in our minds. Then, that last blink. We go from human to…
Slowly, I drove by. Already there were two police units on the scene. An ambulance was pulling up. Distant sirens screamed. Stunned, the sitting family stared at the uncovered dead bodies.
It hit me. Maybe the victims weren’t homeless. The indigent have a certain Harry Potter unkempt look, layered in ill-fitting filthy clothes, often pushing shopping carts or baby carriages filled with their few earthly possessions.
Drinking? Drugs? Distracted?
Simply not fast enough?
It happens, you know, to people and wildebeests.
These two seemed like maybe working men. Short-sleeved shirts on a coolish night. What were their final realizations? Time for just one swear word? Denial? A vision of a loved one and regret of no last goodbye? Maybe a “Thank God — it’s finally over?”
Years ago, a close friend was getting her last affairs in order. She had a daughter, sweet, stunning, movie-star beautiful. Everywhere her daughter went, she left behind miles of burning highway. Almost apologizing, my friend asked if I could watch out for her child and, in the most awkward of moments, hinted how she’d make a guy a beautiful wife, notwithstanding the trail of scorched earth and asphalt along with an inability to cook, or stay out of jail, rehab and the confessional.
The mom finally passed on, and that didn’t help. New-hall is still a small town and I’d hear reports of her baby girl’s whereabouts. The stories were not good. Over the years, I’d bump into her and gingerly avoided the simplest question we’d all do well to ask of those we love.
“How are you?”
Damn drugs. Damn alcohol. Damn brain chemistry that magnetically attracts darkness into our lives. How many times have we heard brave but doomed intentions: “This time — I really mean it — I’m getting my act together…”
Isn’t that the best wish for any of us? To be — together? Heart. Mind. Body. Soul. All in the same place, at the same time?
For some, what an unfamiliar place — happiness.
I have access to enough insufferable wise sayings and bumper sticker wisdoms to start my own eastern religion. There were no magic words, no interventions, no programs, no statutes, no atta-girls to save this dear, beautiful, unique young woman as she rapidly and simultaneously bloated and deteriorated. She’d spout hopeful chapters on an imaginary life she finally was going to build. I’d smile and nod. We’d make small talk about the carefree old Newhall days. Bolder, closer to the surface, ghosts and demons were inside, mocking her, feeding away at first on her beauty, then her spirit, then her soul.
The last time I saw her was a few years back. She was at the sheriff’s station. I got a call to pick her up.
She looked different. Beat up. Used. Delusional.
She looked, and smelled, homeless. My beautiful friend, a once-successful actress and model, was sleeping on a cot at a halfway house in the San Fernando Valley and that was a huge step up from where she had been spending her nights. She scratched at bug bites and asked if I could give her a ride.
We talked of the old days, but her memories were disjointed and mostly fantasy. People and places didn’t match. It breaks your heart, the childlike lilt of her voice as she recalled the harshness, the unfairness, the filth of the street. On parole, she dismissed her downfall, because, this was, after all, temporary. She kissed me on the cheek and that was the last I saw of her.
I did a little checking. A few days later, she had gotten into an argument with staff and ran away from the halfway house. To the streets.
When our parents go on, can they still be disappointed?
A dear friend of mine years ago lamented: “The world is dying — literally dying — from a lack of Love.”
These days it surely seems so.
There are so many invisible laws in operation. Some, like jaywalking or addiction, can be fatal.
I’ve known my little gal buddy since she was a kid. She was adored by perfect parents. Her family loved her. So did friends, co-workers, colleagues and people she just bumped into. Most of her life, she was a loving, doting, sensitive and kind soul to just about everyone she met.
John Boston is a local writer.