An Essay Written as a Letter
I don’t feel like writing this down in an actual letter, and I probably won’t be able to talk to you till at least much later, but I do need to say something to somebody right now.
I witnessed the death of a man, today. His name was Daniel. He was painting the house next to us. He was on the top couple rungs of the ladder when it folded under him. It was a cheap ladder. Corroded aluminum.
I am right in the line of sight on the back porch of our house; I hear the ladder starting to collapse, and see him hit the ground. At first I call out to him. He doesn’t respond. I guess I should have called 911 then. I don’t. I run over to him.
He’s barely conscious. I ask him if he is OK, and he can’t form any words. He’s moving around his left arm, as if searching for something on the ground. I remember that he has glasses, and then see them lying five feet away on the grass. I put them on him. One of the legs of the glasses had snapped off, so they don’t go on straight.
I get my mom. When she gets there, she asks him what is his name. “Daniel,” he wheezes out. She asks him what day it is, but his eyes glaze over, and he loses consciousness. She goes in and calls 911. When she comes back out, she tells us that they’re on their way. Then she just stands there waiting next to him, and I sit next to him with my hand on his shoulder. He’s convulsing, and he gasps. I can feel his body tensing up under my fingers. I let go. He is foaming at the mouth. We talk to him, saying stuff like, “It’ll be OK, the ambulance is on its way.” and, “Just hold on, Mr. Daniel, hold on, till the ambulance gets here.” He’s still for twenty or thirty seconds at a time, not even breathing, it seems. Then he convulses gently. Each time he convulses, I feel myself sighing in relief, that he hasn’t gone yet. It is more serious than I had thought at first.
He was still alive when the paramedics finally got there. But (the fireman said later) he stopped breathing and his heart stopped beating as they stood over him, checking his pulse. They did CPR on him, right there on Ms. Selma’s lawn, and a few minutes later, they loaded him onto the ambulance.
I say to the fireman, “How is he? Is he alive?”
“Well, his heart and breathing stopped as we where checking him, and they’re trying to bring him back now, on the ambulance.”
“So that’s it, huh?”
“Yeah, that’s it. I mean, they might get him back, but not yet.”
Umm. Yeah. So, I’m a little shook. I went back to painting for a few hours, just because… what else am I going to do? Sit in the house and think about it? No, I just felt like immersing myself in work for a little while. But now I’m taking a lunch break, and it’s all coming back to me.
I was painting our house on the ladder yesterday, about ten feet higher than the one he was on today. That could’ve been me. And can be me, later today. Well, sorta. I have a good ladder. But anything’s possible. This is real life, Marijke. I feel like I’ve just woken up from a dream, and Daniel was my alarm clock. Yeah, I’m shook.