The Limits of Compassion, Exhausting Gratitude

I didn’t see what caused the Marine to fall down on the Metro escalator, just that he fell and the two women near him weren’t strong enough or didn’t care enough to help him to his feet.  Before he grasped my hand Occam’s Razor was proven accurate once again – youngish man falls on escalator on a Saturday evening the most likely cause, too much booze, is almost always the cause – as I could smell the beer coming from his pores.  He had passed wobbly a while ago and was firmly in the barely walking category.  I curled my left arm under his right to hold him upright.

“What branch are you in” I asked trying to keep my new friend alert and awake.

“Marine Corps, sir, you serve?”

“Nope just recognize the haircut, Marine.  Thanks for your service.”

Not more than five hours earlier I was having cocktails with a friend when a cluster of service men and their dates entered the restaurant.  They were in full dress uniforms.  I remarked to my friend that I have a soft spot for those who wear uniforms because they run towards trouble when all logic tells you to run away.  I didn’t know that the universe was going to test the veracity of that statement so quickly.

The Marine had a couple of inches on me, but I probably had him by a few pounds so the fight to get him to the bottom of the escalator was about even.  Yet, keeping him prone took more effort than I anticipated.   He was the kind of drunk where people cleared a path for me to walk him down the platform.

“Our mission is to make sure you get home safely, Marine, so just keep talking to me and we’ll get you there.  Our train is six minutes out, stay with me.  Tell me where you live.”

This was the first moment I could see the wheels turning in his head.  His pupils were almost as big as his irises.  This is also the first moment I considered letting Metro PD deal with this 170lb mess on my hands but arrests are not good for top secret billets or careers.

“You wanna know where I live?”

“No, I don’t wanna know where you live but the cab driver will need to know.  Listen, do you have anyone that we can call?”

“I dunno where my phone is.”

I am shocked by the Marine’s clarity of voice despite a level of inebriation that one rarely sees.  The train is two minutes away from the platform and I start calculating the amount of time it will take me to get him to the edge so that I will have to spend the minimum amount of time keeping him upright. 

The Marine is the kind of drunk where people don’t just make a path but once I square him into an empty seat at the front of the car, the two women in the neighboring seats move.  Back to trying to get his address… “Marine, how far away from the Metro station do you live?”

“Far” is the one word answer.

“So this is the plan, we are going to exit at Close to Your Stop station and get into a cab because it will be easier to find one from there than your station.  Since we have to cab no matter.  So what is your address?”

“You know I can kick your ass right?”

“No one is questioning that.”

“Why you want my address?  Why are you helping me?”

“Because you served our country, and making sure you get home safely is the least I can do to say thank you.”

“You don’t know what it’s like.”

I damn sure don’t know what combat is like.  “No, I don’t know, but that has nothing to do with our objective which is to get you home safely” I said in as soft yet forceful voice as I could.  The Marine started laughing, and moving towards me in a manner that would be threatening if he could stand on his own for more than two seconds.

“I know why you want to take me home, mutherfucker.”

“Marine, my only motivation is to make sure you make it to your house safely and don’t end up face down in the street on the way.  That’s all.  Our stop is almost here.  Are you ready to tell a cab driver where you live?”

“Faggot, I know what you want!  Dude, just tell me you’re not a fag, ok, are you a fag.”

“Fuck you, Marine.  I tried to help you and now I’m done”  I said as I left the train, left him behind.

Fucking homophobe, fuck him and his backwards thoughts I mumbled to the teeth of the escalator – hoping the sentiment would be mashed in the grates.  Hoping that my latent homophobia would be mashed along with it – I know that my anger was directed at his intolerance and stupidity first, but I also know that at least a small part of me was angered because he called me gay.  Either way, I surrendered to frustration.


“Excuse me, Station Manager, the northbound train that just left has a passenger that needs some help…”


12 Responses to The Limits of Compassion, Exhausting Gratitude

  1. Obviously, I don’t know you very well — but are you sure you were bothered by the assertion that you were gay, or the fact that you were trying to help this guy and he thought you were had your own selfish motives for helping? Switch out the male Marine for a female Marine making the same accusation — that you wanted to help her home so you could take advantage of her — would you feel any different?

    The thing is I hate answering that question – like it is somehow relevant? – and I do think that it would be a different feeling had it been a woman raising the same concerns.

  2. ella says:

    i would have pulled him off the train and summoned the police. he proved he wasn’t worthy of your assistance. let him face his consequences for he earned them.

    that begs the question, are bigots not worthy of aid in a troubled moment?

  3. deutlich says:

    I’m kinda sad he had to take it there.. my brother’s a Marine and while he isn’t one to act like such an idiot, he’s got MANY friends that do.

    I have known many Marines over the years and they are by and large a noble and honorable lot – this guy was the exception.

  4. Lusty Reader says:

    Not the ending I was hoping for out of your good samaritan story, but at least you tried! After that disastrous incident outside the Pan-am in Columbia Heights where a man hit his head and lay on the ground and no one did anything, just TRYING to help someone is infinitely better. I love calling 311 when I see troublesome things in the neighborhood, within reason of course.

    That incident was not far from my thoughts – I just wish that it could have had a better ending.

  5. Sara says:

    It is a sad reflection of the world when we become skeptical of the kindness of a stranger.

    I think the sadder reflection is that there are still people in this world who think all homosexual men are sexual predators just waiting for an opportunity.

  6. laloca says:

    a lifetime of contact with service members made me cringe as i read this, because i had a suspicion of how it would end up. it was kind of you to try to help him; he probably would’ve responded better had you been less polite about it. (decades of interaction with drunk marines – i saw my first at age 9, or thereabouts – leads me to take the shake & swear approach, more often than not.)

    I tried that approach at least once with him, but that didn’t work either.

  7. uhg. Even brave people can be jackasses.

    I think we all can be jackasses sometimes.

  8. f.B says:

    I didn’t think the theme of this story was not to help. I think we still hope and assume and feel we know he’s an exception. But it does seem like this is a story about why good people hesitate.

    I like to believe that I will still try to help when I can.

  9. Kevin says:

    Making no excuses whatsoever…his behavior was rude, irresponsible and he deserves exactly what he gets. Which probably was a call from the Metro cops to his duty NCO, a very displeased sergeant picking his ass up and some kind of seriously unpleasant duty the next day. At least that’s what I did whenever I had to pick up my guys.

    That’ll teach him to a) learn his limit and, b) not be so much of a jackass the next time someone tries to help.

    And you don’t come off the slightest bit gay.

    Seriously, I said to myself “where the fuck is Foggy Dew when I really need him?”

  10. ella says:

    summon the police or summon the station manager – either way he learns more than one valuable lesson that night.

    I still believe that we are responsible for one another on some level, and I know that the kindness of strangers has kept me from harm before.

  11. [F]oxymoron says:

    Noble, my friend.

    But after dealing with mil types for some time, LaLoca said it best. Eschew politeness and speak with assertive, crass, and authoritative profanity when dealing with logically impaired military types.

    Or better yet, just call the police.

    I did try that once or twice, but it didn’t work either.

  12. It is nice to know that there are kindhearted individuals to help complete strangers.

    I was saddened to hear that your efforts were not appreciated and the Marine thought the worst of your intentions.

    I would like to believe that his horrible behavior is because of all action he’s seen, but I believe, although brave, he’s just an idiot.

    I hope this incident does not sway you from helping a stranger in the future.

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