When I was younger I used to day dream about being the good samaritan hero. I’d save an old lady from being hit by a car, or take a bullet for my girlfriend. Then I’d be in the papers and I would be humble. It spoke to my sense of insecurity. I felt that if I could be a hero, if I could prove myself, people would recognize me as a good guy. They would appreciate me.
A spell of Indian Summer hit New York yesterday. This morning, the humidity covered the autumn chill like a heavy wet blanket. The sun was shining. I walked out of my apartment building, a block away to 238th street, and turned right. 238th street is a narrow block that runs downhill. I looked up and saw the fat bearded man that I see every morning on the far end of the block with his three small children waiting for the school bus. Today, he was in the middle of the block, having just walked out of his apartment building.
He walked to the curb and then crossed the street. His kids trailed behind him but didn’t go across the street. The smallest son, maybe five or six years old, was closest behind him. The boy wore a blue yarmulke that covered his head; he was weighed down from behind by his backpack. The boy stopped at the curb and watched his father. I was about thirty or forty feet away, looking downhill at them. I absent-mindedly watched the father and wondered what he was doing on the other side of the street.
The second son, taller, though not by much, than his brother, watched his father too but didn’t stop at the curb. Out of the corner of my left eye, I saw a car coming down the hill. The boy didn’t stop so I shouted. I don’t remember what I said but I said it loudly enough for the boy to stop dead in his tracks. The car came to a halt too. And everything was quiet. It was like pressing pause on a VCR. It was about to happen and then it didn’t.
Everyone was awake now.
The father, standing on the other side of the street, looked at me and then at his son. “What is the matter with you,” he said in a thick accent that I couldn’t place. “I said to stay there.”
I looked at the driver of the car, a metallic-blue sedan. She was in her forties I guessed. She looked back at me, a flat expression on her face. I looked down and exhaled. I thought of the boy, seeing me tomorrow, and every day after that, mortified at my presence, a reminder of his carelessness. Then again, maybe he’d already forgotten about me.
I apologized to the boy. And then, to the father, “I just wanted to get his attention.” The father said something back but I don’t remember what it was. I looked at the driver again, she turned back ahead and the car rolled away.
She would have hit the boy if I hadn’t said anything. I thought about the anxiety that parents must live with every day and I started to sweat as I walked away. I imagined the impact, the reaction on the father’s face, the blood, screaming. I thought of the boy in rehab learning to walk again, a funeral.
I didn’t feel special. I felt unsure and insignificant. I had a thought to walk back home, wake up my wife and hug her but I kept walking down the hill. I thought about how safe and small my life is and how everything can change in a moment. I didn’t speak but I could feel my voice going away, like water down the drain.
I didn’t feel heroic. I felt like I was going to be sick.