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Walter

April 1, 2007

I was driving past the county courthouse at around six o’clock this evening when something strange happened. I saw an elderly man collapse on the sidewalk. Naturally I pulled over, put on my hazards, and ran over to him.

He appeared to be trying to get up, so I helped. Was he having a heart attack? It seemed not. A stroke? I wasn’t sure. He was disoriented and rather unsteady on his feet. His face was bleeding where he had hit the sidewalk. He did manage to tell me his name, however: Walter.

By this time another car had pulled over and a man got out and asked if he should call an ambulance or something. I said yes, definitely. Meanwhile, Walter didn’t want to stand around. He tried to pull away from me and lurch toward wherever he had been heading. I tried to persuade him to stay put. I observed that he was hurt and could hardly keep his feet under him. He, however, wanted only to press on toward his destination. So what could I do? I walked with him, helping him stay upright. I figured the ambulance would be along before we’d gotten very far. And besides, who was I to stop a man from going where he will?

Pretty soon, though, Walter made it clear he did not want my help. He wasn’t rude or belligerent, but he definitely wished to walk on his own power, so I backed off and followed as he proceeded down the street listing like a laden galleon.

About a block later Walter toppled over again, but I caught him. Where was that damned ambulance? He let me help him now, and we proceeded. Where was he going, anyway? Home, he said. It wasn’t far. So we walked on. I frankly doubted whether Walter knew where he was going. Perhaps he suffered from dementia and wandered away from a nursing home. Perhaps he only thought he was going home.

He led me onto a side street. Which house was his? He vaguely pointed up the street. Finally Walter led me to a house and I knocked on the door, prepared to have the occupants tell me they’d never seen Walter before. But the elderly woman who answered the door seemed unsurprised to see him, disoriented, bleeding and wobbly though he was.

Walter went inside. I stood at the threshold and asked the woman if everything was alright. Several times. She insisted that it was fine. So what could I do? I left.

As I turned to go, I noticed a car in the driveway. It was the man who had stopped to help earlier. Through his open window he told me that he’d come to give me a lift back to my car. I gratefully let him.

Once back to my car, I drove the mile back to my own home. But questions remain. What was wrong with Walter? He didn’t smell of alcohol, nor did he seem to be acutely ill. And why was his wife so unconcerned with his condition? What was her mental state?

I guess I’ll probably never know the answers. I told my kids, though, that I hoped someone would stop to help me if I one day found myself unable to get home.

Good luck, Walter.

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