The battle to stay on the sidewalk was itself wretched

What is your wretchedness?
You have one, or 2, or 30. Don’t tell me you don’t. You have a wretchedness, I have a few. Wretchedness is a private affair for it leaves you humbly vulnerable. A paper thin line separates you from fulfilling your wretchedness. Your wretchedness never stays far afoot. In fact, your wretchedness is fond of sitting on your comforter while you sleep. It peers at you nakedly while it hunkers in the dark moonlight while your shallow REM breathing undulates in the night. Even then, your wretchedness is quite unconvinced and resists. Usually.

Your wretchedness, like a desperate neighbor, always at the ready. It follows you like an imperceptible shadow.

On my way home tonight, I was driving along Sunset Boulevard. I was stopped at one of the many red lights in heavily pedestrianized East Hollywood; intersections that are dotted with folks of every depraved state you can imagine. Homeless, skanky hookers, heroin addicts, sometimes all of the above. Sometimes, it’s none of the above, which is even worse because their affliction is frightening because it is not that surreal. Surreal is what saves our sanity for if we can ascribe misery to the surreal, we can escape needing to sort it out or make sense of it as long as we contain ourselves to our predictable, staid existence. But when misery looks like…us, it’s troublesome. Wretched.

I didn’t even notice wretched until I saw her wheelchair slowly roll helplessly backwards down the disabled ramp at the corner by the traffic signal. It was one of those disabled-friendly ramps they have all over the city for people in wheelchairs. She seemed to begin losing her “wheeling” but she regained it and then started pulling herself up to the sidewalk before the speeding traffic flung her away in its rush. She was a lady with a bunch of grayish blondish hair that flopped like a big messy dishrag. She had that puffy, sagging unkempt facial structure. She wore floppy old dark polyester slacks and all I could fixate on were her brown socks which periodically revealed themselves with each labored exertion as she struggled to climb back to the safety of the elevated sidewalk. For a moment or so it looked like she might lose the battle and flail helplessly into the middle of the street. She was old and helpless and this was sordidly public. If she lost the battle and began careening into the 3rd lane of Sunset’s wild traffic flow, what would people do? I thought perhaps the right thing to do would be to run out and wheel her up to the sidewalk since she couldn’t do it on her own. But she did make it, thankfully, for I don’t know if I was ready to be a hero. Being a hero is difficult because you must overcome the camera shy nature of helping someone. It’s a commitment and not to be taken lightly. I have faith in myself. I would have risen to the occasion. Alas, no need to rise tonight.

When I witness the wretched, I take a detached pride in myself for not being as wretched which I know is a laugh and furious insult for there is nothing separating me from the truly wretched other than a few wrong moves, a few bad breaks. We are all wretched every day of our life. We are fooling no one, least of all ourselves, by pretending we are not. Every one of us finds that we are fighting gravity and the weight of our flesh pulling us down into the deadly pathway of randomly accelerating detritus. This life is one incessant struggle to find the sidewalk but the sidewalk it a capricious host who demands greater effort each time.

Wretchedness pulls us down with a force greater than time.