Heroism, New Orleans, The Heroic Life

How I Rescued a Woman (I Hope)

2 a.m. in the French Quarter. I’m single, my friends have gone home. It’s just sober me in a city of drunk revelers. I harbor that secret fable that every single man espouses: maybe, somewhere around the next corner, the woman of my dreams is just waiting for me.

Maybe.

But the reality of the Quarter on Hallowe’en is not so fable-like. Shotgirls stumble off of bar stools to dance through packs of groping hands. The streets are heaped with cups, beads, fluids and a few bodies. This is not my speed. This is not where the woman of my dreams is waiting.

I sigh. I wear beads, purple for Ghede. It’s Day of the Dead after all, his day in his city, and who better than the Baron to help a guy looking for love? I take them off and and drop them on the ground, giving them back to the city I got them from.

I turn toward home, but stop. Pirate’s Alley. The words popped into my head. Some might say Ghede said them. I shrug. Why not? I stroll down Pirate’s Alley, a narrow rue of ill repute that runs along the side wall of the cathedral. It takes me to Jackson’s Square, the big plaza in front of the cathedral, where I sit down on a bench. Rest a while.

I do.

She’s waiting for you. 

Hmm?

Get going. 

I’m tired. My feet hurt from my dress shoes, and the bench is comfy. I don’t get up.

You’re going to be late for her.

I squint. Where do these thoughts come from, at 3 a.m? Probably just the imagination. But what the heck, I have to go home sometime.

I cross the Quarter toward Marigny. The border between the neighborhoods is Frenchman Street, where a Bohemian street party completely fills several blocks. I have to stroll through.

No! Leave me ALONE!”

A tall woman pulls away from an even taller man. She wears what I can only call the brightest of the 1,400 costumes I’d seen all night. She spins away from him and runs through the crowd. He lunges after her. In ten paces he has his arms on her again. She struggles to push him off.

I’m not stupid. I’m not going to go running in and get myself punched in the face. But looking around, I know that none of the other 200+ people in range are going to do anything. Many don’t notice what’s happening. No police are present; they’re managing the shootings on Bourbon Street and elsewhere.

So it’s me.

I take a position about thirty feet from the couple. As they argue, I make a choice. If he lets her walk away, I’ll make sure she gets somewhere safe and that’s all. On the other hand if he gets violent, I’ll intervene.

Hmm.

Life isn’t a movie. The line between “violent” and “safe” is covered in shadow. She backs away, he follows, they keep talking. He goes in for a hug, she blanches and hugs him awkwardly back. So… what is that?

They sit on a curb and talk. Suddenly the cursing begins. He tries to shove her toward (into? onto?) a parked car. She runs, he makes to follow. And then I’m in his way.

“Buddy, she doesn’t want to talk with you,” I announce, blocking him.

It takes him a second. He’s four inches taller than me, and seems sober. His eyes narrow in anger. I’m ready to block a punch if it comes, but he steps around me, laughing. “Buddy!” he says, and keeps going after her.

He looks over his shoulder to laugh again.

That’s when he sees that I’m following him.

His look changes from laughter to concern. He runs to catch up with her (for safety?) and I’m right there. Now he wants to reason with me. “It’s okay, I’m her boyfriend… we’re fine…”

“Miss?” I say. I keep my eyes on him, still wary of a punch, but address her. “Is this your boyfriend?”

This is the first time she sees what’s happening. The look on her face is utter relief. It drives home to me that when she was awkwardly hugging him, she thought she had no choice. She was all alone and he could overpower her. There was no one there to help her, so she had to just give in.

But now she has backup.

“I… yeah.” She sniffles.

“Are you okay?”

She considers. Her boyfriend’s attitude is completely different now, and she can sense it.

“Yeah, I’m okay,” she says. “Thank you.”

Resolution…?

I’m still not sure I did the right thing next: the boyfriend appoached me to shake my hand. “It’s okay man, I appreciate what you’re doing. Thank you.”

The girl took the chance to walk away. Wary of a trick, I kept my guard up and very cautiously shook his hand. “Respect her,” I said.

“I do,” he lied. And he walked after her.

I watched them. They joined up with a friend in a banana costume. There was no more grabbing, shoving or cursing. I guess maybe everything worked out? Not a movie. Happy ending, sad ending, both covered in shadow.

I’m committed to being the kind of person who stands up when someone needs help. Toward that end, I learned several lessons last night:

  • Even though the man was taller than me and initially laughed at me, he became profoundly afraid when he realized I was willing to stand up to him. I’ve never seen such fear in someone’s eyes.
  • If he had a weapon, or was drunker, or had friends to back him up, things may have gone very differently.
  • Confronting him was not a comfortable experience. Even though I live for the Heroic Life, I’m not special. I didn’t feel any thrill or pride in walking up to him. It was one of the most unnerving things I’ve ever done. I had to push myself hard to do it.
  • Earlier I had been hoping to meet a girl, but when I saw this happening the whole “rescue and marry the princess” thing didn’t even occur to me. I didn’t realize the importance of this fact till after it was over. Maybe Ghede brought me there for a reason or maybe it was just coincidence; either way, it wasn’t about me. I’m grateful I was able to be selfless in the moment. Otherwise I would only have made things worse.

But I will never forget the mixed emotions she wore when she looked at me. She said thank you, but did I really help? I could have asked harder questions: Do you need somewhere safe to stay? (I was prepared to offer offer Saumya and Urban’s guest bedroom if needed; brokering that at 4 a.m. was a hurdle I’d deal with later.)

Likewise, the guy cooled down, but how long will that last? Did she really feel safe going along with him, or was she just afraid to speak up to me? Should I have done more, or would that be going too far?

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30 thoughts on “How I Rescued a Woman (I Hope)

  1. I think you are special. What you did was to follow a solid moral compass something sorely lacking in our current society. An experiment in how far individuals will go (even against their better judgement) to comply was counterbalanced by a second experiment. The participants had a partner who was advised to stand up and say no, 90% followed suit. It just takes one voice of justice, reason and care for one another to make the difference. You make a difference and I am proud to call you my friend.

  2. Confronting him was not a comfortable experience.

    If you’re serious about pursuing the Heroic Life like we talked about, then your practice should be defined by these uncomfortable experiences. It’s the only way to get a sense of consequence from your decisions.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • That’s exactly right Luke! I have learned that part of the Heroic Life is to forsake comfort and love the unknown. Anyone who is concerned with comfort Will Not Make It.

      • I know this will seem obvious to you, but the distinction does need to be made and will eventually need to be communicated: the Heroic Life also isn’t about people pursuing discomfort for the sake of discomfort.

        The discomfort is a by-product of having to make tough choices, and that is what this path is really all about.

            • I appreciate that Luke. Your presence has been exceedingly helpful with all of this. I do believe that there is a part of the Heroic Life that can only be understood by living it, which is necessary to teach it. But I understand that is not necessarily your path :)

  3. Drew:

    This was a difficult situation, with, as you say, many areas of grey and shadow. I think you did an admirable job, both in confronting your own natural hesitancy to get involved (self-preservation is a strong instinct, very difficult to override) – and on the flip-side, the (I would say natural) desire to ride to the rescue, and addressed the situation with calm and cautious reason. All very difficult, all admirable in accomplishment. You are indeed living the heroic life.

    Bravo!

    But since you asked – and this is not a criticism, merely an assessment of the situation based on your description (I wasn’t there, I didn’t experience it, so I can’t have any true understanding of what you went through in the moment), and with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, some thoughts:

    Your impression was that the man seemed sober. The woman was, by your evaluation, afraid, unwilling and/ uncomfortable within the situation. He had exhibited a willingness toward physical violence – toward her. When confronted with a firm resistance from an unexpected source, he exhibited fear. When you asked her if she was okay, from your account she seemed uncertain, but then relaxed when she saw that he was no longer acting in a threatening manner.

    All of this – again, pure speculation based on your account – seems to suggest that what you witnessed was a scene of domestic violence, probably something which had played out between them before. He is an abusive figure in her life, and she – like many victims of domestic violence – feels stuck in the situation. While he’s a threat, she fears him, but once the immediate threat has passed, she can’t bring herself to leave. You stepped in to defuse an escalating situation, and the fear you saw in his eyes was that of a bully, suddenly confronted with someone who wouldn’t accept being victimized – or seeing someone else abused.

    Did you save her? This time, yeah, probably, from more than being shoved around. If my interpretation of the scene is accurate, though, it will happen again, and again, and it will get worse, until either she leaves, or he winds up in jail, or she’s dead. In that moment, you saved her from a bully’s aggression. But in the long run, the only person who can save her is herself.

    And maybe your interference, and seeing his reaction, will inspire her to find the strength to do so.

    Could you have done more? Maybe. If you had offered her a safe place for the night, would she have accepted? Maybe, but probably not. The devil she knew would probably have seemed safer than trusting a stranger – even one who seemed to have her interests at heart. And if you had pushed the matter, the bully might have himself felt threatened enough to become angry and violent toward one or both of you.

    You’ll never know what might have been. You did the best you could in the situation, and left her in better circumstances than you found her, without having to resort to violence. I’m not sure you can expect more from yourself than that.

    If you haven’t already, I’d say pour out a libation to Ghede, maybe leave him a cigar, and thank him for the challenge and the opportunity to learn.

    • Thank you for this honest evaluation Scot. I do hope I did everything I could. I agree that if I had pushed more the guy probably wouldn’t gotten aggressive. Whether that’s a bad thing (get myself punched) or good thing (get myself punched but get her somewhere safe), I truly wonder.

  4. Urban says:

    You did what you could. You can’t save everyone. Hopefully, the situation is over.

    It’s hard to live the life. In the moment, only the moment exists. You overcame fear, hesitation and desire. You did what needed to be done without thinking of yourself. Of course you now have doubts, and pundants will argue the best course, but in the moment all happens quickly, and slowly and your keen judgement did the best it could.

    Ayebobo!

  5. A difficult situation and you probably did all you could in that one. We’ll never know what goes on behind closed doors. Even a couple that seems perfectly normal in public can have their secrets.

  6. Hey guys, thanks for your many comments and insights. I just want to say I didn’t do anything heroic. Yes, I believe in the Heroic Life and I hope one day something I do can be worthy of that title…. but honestly that is a long way off. I’m just glad I was able to defray a bad situation. I hope she’s alright.

  7. To your first bullet on things learned: years ago, I helped a woman and her 3 year old escape to a shelter from an abusive husband. I knew that he would come home that evening and find them gone. I knew he would know that I had helped them get out. I was their clergyman. When he called that night and said he was coming over, I locked myself into the study (which had an outside door) and told me wife that if she heard violent sounds to call the police. He came in arrogant and angry. When I confronted him on the things he had done to his wife and child, he melted immediately and became a sobbing mess. Like you, I remember, to this day, how his face changed when it became clear that I was there to stand up to him. He was, in that moment, a helpless child. I sent him on his way telling him that he needed to deal with his alcohol and drug addiction, and get into AA and counseling. Ten minutes later, all the dots connected. His mother, a “pillar of the church” rang me up. She proceeded to call me every vile name in the book. And, yes, she was on the front row in church the next Sunday. All questions answered.

  8. jenincanada says:

    Drew, you honestly and truly did your best. You did the right thing. That is heroic. That’s what heroes do. Could you have done more? Probably not. Could you have offered to do more? Yes, but it probably wouldn’t have made a difference. You’ll never know, so let it rest as you can.

    • That is really sweet Jen. I have accepted the way it went. I’m coming to accept that when I step into these situations, I will likely never know what the long-term outcome is. I guess that is the name of the game.

  9. Jaguar in Arkansas. says:

    You did what you could, and the best that probably could have been done. You defused the situation. That is, honestly, all you could do. Heroic? You went out of your way, with the potential for personal injury, to do what was right to do for the benefit of others. Yes, you my friend, acted true to your spirit, in a heroic manner.

    If the world held more souls such as yours, we would all benefit.

    • Wow Jaguar, thank you so much. To me it was more educational than heroic. I learned so much about conflict and attitude in those few minutes. I hope it will help me be more prepared when I face bigger situations.

  10. That was very brave. Its one thing to stick up for a friend, its another thing with a stranger. It feels very different and the end result is uncertain.

    I do feel like there could have been something else said, but I don’t know what that would of been. I don’t know what would have been appropriate for the circumstance. Maybe exchange in contact information? Maybe saying,”do you want me to stick around.” I don’t know. I would be asking myself the same questions.

    • “Do you want me to stick around” – that is awesome. Of the things running through my head, that one never occurred to me. It would’ve been almost funny because it would’ve saddled the bf with me hanging out with them at the bar. I can’t think of anything funnier than the awkward situation that would follow (awkward but good). Great suggestion Rua, I have to remember that one.

  11. Drew,

    I agree, you did what you could, which many people do not do. You did what you could control, and you can not control what happened after. You became a new stone in the river, changing its direction. It may continue in a new direction, or it may return to its previous channel, but that is not in your control.

    One of the things you did is you said, “Don’t believe that you are alone and no one sees and no one cares.” That may stick with both of them, for different reasons.

    And because you were conscious, you don’t get to ask yourself, “Did I only do this because I was drinking? Would I have behaved differently if I were sober?”

    In addition to changing the flow of the moment, you got lots of food for thought, which is also awesome.

    You are right, every moment is training. For all of us. But you realize it. Rock on.

  12. Pingback: Domestic Violence: The Unheroic Rescue « Rogue Priest

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