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.
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.
She’s waiting for you.
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.
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.”
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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