He is bleeding. His face a mass of blood oozing across his skin.
He is angry. Yelling. Thrusting his fist into the air. Walking in tight, angry circles.
When I first see him he is lying on the ground. Curled into a ball. Holding his stomach. There is a swarm of youth around him. Kicking. Punching. Yelling.
I stop my car. Honk the horn. Others do the same.
The crowd of 15 or so youth who are beating on him run off, darting down the alley with the lightning fast speed of a school of fish escaping into the shadows.
The young man lies on the ground, three youth remain protectively near him, trying to ward off any of the youth from returning.
A woman runs across the road, kneels by the young man. I park my car, grab my cell phone, put on the emergency flashers and run across the road towards the young man lying on the ground.
A woman stands on the sidewalk, cell phone pressed to her ear. “Are you calling 9-1-1?” I ask.
“Yes. Did you see it happen?”
“No.” I reply. “I just saw the end.”
Her hand is shaking where she holds her phone to her ear. “It was awful. They appeared out of nowhere. A whole swarm of them. It was awful,” she repeats.
I touch her arm. “It’s okay. Just stay on the line for 9-1-1.”
I walk over to the youth and the young woman kneeling beside him. “What can I do to help? Do you need tissues?”
The young woman looks up at me. The young man slowly sits up. Blood streams down his face.
“Yes. Go to the shop across the road. Grab some tissue.”
I run across the street and into the store. The owner is on the phone. Talking. He looks at me, mouths 9-1-1. I nod. Ask him for tissue. Paper towel. Anything.
He looks around. It is a bindery. Large machinery. Rolls of leather. A beautiful antique cash register.
I spy a box of kleenex on a counter. I grab it. Show it to him. He nods.
I run back to the scene where the boy and woman are now sitting on the pavement. Except the boy can not sit still. He stands up. Moves in tight, jerky circles. Swearing. Cursing.
I hand him the box of kleenex. He says, “Thanks.” He begins to wipe the blood off his face. There is a lot of it.
A man has joined us.
I ask the young man, the boy, to sit down. Please. You may be hurt. He shrugs off my entreaties.
The man comments on the cuts on his hands. His swollen knuckles.
“You got some swings in,” he says.
The boy shakes his head. “Nah. Those are from a fight earlier today.” He is sheepish yet proud.
“Do you know why they swarmed you?” the man asks.
“It doesn’t matter,” he replies.
We three adults stand and look at each other. The boy is moving around now. Nothing seems to be broken.
I go ask the man in the shop for water. No glass I tell him. The man gives me a plastic tub and roll of paper towel.
Again, the boy is appreciative of the help.
The other woman asks him to sit back down. He sits. Quickly stands back up, pulls out his phone and dials a number. “Hey man,” he says when someone answers. “Do you know _____________? The bastard just beat the f**k out of me. Yeah. I’m gonna get him.” And he hangs up.
“Did anyone call the police?” he asks. “I don’t want the cops.”
I look at the other woman. “I didn’t call them,” I tell him.
“Neither did I,” she replies. We do not mention the other passer-bys or the man in the bindery shop who was on the phone.
But it doesn’t matter. His fear of their intervention is greater than the wisdom of waiting for an ambulance.
He and the other two youth take off.
We three adults who happened upon the scene look at each other. The man says we may as well go. I grab a plastic bag from my car, clean up the dirty kleenex and paper towel and return the box of kleenex to the bindery shop.
“Pretty sad,” the man in the shop tells me. “My nephew died because he was living a life like that boy.”
“I’m so sorry,” I tell him.
“Yeah. It’s hard. You can put all the help you want in front of them but if they don’t know how to reach for it…”
I happened upon a young man being beaten as I drove home from work yesterday.
And I wonder if one day I will open the paper and he will be a victim or a perpetrator of a crime from which he cannot walk away.
It is not a happy thought. But it is a possible reality.
It is why we must never give up on reaching out. Because as that man in the shop said, It isn’t that he didn’t want help. He just doesn’t know how to reach for it.
And the only way to teach him is to keep reaching out so that when he does decide to reach back, help will be there.