I Need Someone to Comfort Me
Catherine struggled with the crutches, hopelessly clumsy with them. She
had slipped and fallen on her ankle on the rain-slick steps of her
family's brownstone. Dr. Alcott had gotten her in to see a top-flight
orthopedist right away, but it seemed several other New Yorkers who had
been tripped up by the rain were already in his waiting room. When she had
finally left his office, her right ankle was in a cast and she had his
assurance that the break had been clean and she'd be just fine...in a few
months. Dr. Simons had prescribed pain killers and rest, and had handed
her a shiny new pair of crutches. Because it was a Saturday, he’d
instructed her to practice walking with the crutches at home all weekend
before venturing onto the streets of the city.
All of it was excellent advice...most of which she was determined to
This was the 19th of September, 1981, the day of the Simon and Garfunkel
concert in Central Park, and she wasn't going to let a little thing like a
broken ankle prevent her from being there. Everyone she knew would be
there. In fact, she had left the house that morning in a hurry to meet up
with her friends, which was why she had been barreling down the steps and
hadn't paid close attention to the slippery leaves which caused her to
lose her footing.
None of her friends had offered to come with her to the doctor's office...which
she really hadn't expected, but that meant that nobody was around to help
her get to the Park. Her pals had all gone ahead without her, anxious to
claim a prime location and set out their picnic blankets to protect their
spot. She knew generally where they planned to be...so she just needed to
get to the Park and find them.
Her Dad had come with her to the doctor's, of course...postponing a client
meeting to do so. He had been anxious to return to the office and hadn't
wanted her to leave the house, but he had finally relented, as she knew he
would, and he had even called a car service to transport her to the Park.
He had suggested that Norma, their housekeeper, should go along to assist
her, but Catherine had turned down the offer, fearful of looking like a
child to her friends as she was led to their picnic spread by her former
Navigating the brownstone steps, even with Norma’s help, had proved very
difficult, which should have been a portent about the folly of ignoring
Dr. Simon's instructions, but she had been mulish about not changing her
plans. She was an adult, free to make her own choices, and she was
determined to go by herself to meet her friends.
Well, now she was at the Park, stumbling along with crutches that seemed
to have minds of their own, and it was increasingly clear that being
stubborn alone wasn't a blueprint for success. She couldn’t deny that she
really could have used someone to help her, if only to protect her from
jostling by the masses of people streaming into the Park. Freedom to make
choices, she realized ruefully, included being responsible for the results
of making bad ones.
Grimly she pushed ahead, trying to make the best of the bad situation she’d
placed herself in, tottering along as well as she could amid the rush of
people. The sky was overcast and rain fell fitfully, making the walkways
perilous, the grass slick, and the dirt muddy. It would have been tricky
walking; with crutches it was treacherous.
"Hey, watch where you're going, lady!" A teenager roughly shoved her
sideways after she inadvertently tripped him with a crutch. She was only
prevented from falling by the surging crowd, which held her up merely
because they were pressed so close around her. A few people looked at her
with sympathy, but nobody was inclined to stop to help her when they were
all hurrying to find a clear patch of lawn for the concert's imminent
start. She was growing more and more frustrated as she realized just how
far away her friends were, and how impossible it would be for her to get
to them. She was hot and uncomfortable amid the surrounding crowd, her
cast felt heavier with every passing second, and her armpits ached from
the unaccustomed pressure of the crutches. All in all, she was feeling
decidedly sorry for herself.
Pressing forward, moving slowly, yards seemed like blocks, and the far end
of the Great Lawn still was a distant goal. Finally she had to admit it:
she was lost in this sea of humanity, she wouldn't be able to find her
friends, and her best bet was to find someplace where she could take a
rest and decide what to do next.
By pushing steadily, she finally moved toward the outer edge of the stream
of people. She found a bench to lean against and tried to ignore the water
dripping from the trees and soaking into her car coat. She pulled her pain
pills from her pocket and dry-swallowed two of them, hoping to ease the
throbbing ache which she felt now not just in her ankle, but everywhere,
the fall down the stairs having bruised her and strained her muscles from
her neck to her toes.
Everyone flowing by her was intent on entering the Great Lawn area and in
a short while, just by standing still, she found herself in a much-thinned
crowd. But this was no place to stay. The people occupying the benches
seemed to have settled in for the long haul, and she couldn't stand for
the duration of the concert. She was wobbly enough right now.
With a heavy sigh, Catherine took in her surroundings. The crowd, although
no longer a massive throng, was still moving in one direction, and she
would have to move against that tide to leave the Park. She was so angry
at herself now that she got stubborn all over again; she had gotten
herself here, and she was going to hear this concert even if she couldn't
The key was to find a place to sit without fighting the crowds. It was a
tall order. Perhaps she could skirt the paths…or bypass them and create
her own shortcut. The latter seemed like a better idea.
She moved into the trees at the path's edge, pushing further into them and
away from the path. Normally she'd never do something this dangerous - who
knew what lurked within? - but with tens of thousands of others in the
vicinity, her courage surfaced and she grew a boldness to match her
There was a light buzzing building in Catherine’s head which was a little
disorienting. She squeezed her eyes shut tightly to banish the feeling,
then realized its probable cause. She could attribute it to the pain pills
she’d swallowed, and she wondered if she should have taken two or just one;
she hadn’t read the label first.
She was making slow headway when suddenly she stumbled forward, thrown off
balance by a branch that snapped back on her as she passed. With chagrin
she realized she was about to fall flat on her face and would not be able
to break her fall because her hands were all tangled up in her crutches.
Wondering what else she might break today, she closed her eyes tightly and
braced for the impact...
...which never came.
Instead of the expected headlong fall into rocks or tree roots, she found
herself awkwardly cradled in someone's grasp. Surprised, she opened her
eyes, but her face was buried in some dark material, perhaps a blanket.
Then a voice came out of the darkness. "I've got you. You're safe." An
aroma surrounded her, surprising in its intensity, and also surprising
because it was so out of the ordinary for the middle of Central Park:
The tall stranger who had caught her was very strong. She squirmed in the
man's arms. One of her crutches had fallen and the other was akimbo,
leaving her defenseless and feeling incredibly stupid.
"I'm going to help you sit. Please, don't struggle." There was that voice
again... like a wave breaking over the shore. As she was still halfway to
falling, she was in no position to protest; she needed the help. She
considered her limited options then did as he suggested and held herself
"OK," she said, surprised to hear how meek her voice sounded. Yet despite
her precarious position, her racing heart was slowing, and she was
shedding her fear of this stranger. Why? She couldn’t understand her
reaction. It seemed to be based solely on the sound of his voice.
She was suddenly off her feet. The stranger lifted her by cradling her
behind her back and under her thighs then gently lowered her to a mat on
Catherine could hear the stranger shuffling among the branches, and soon
the crutches slid toward her, close to her left hand. She squinted in the
dimness under the trees, trying to get a good look at her companion. What
she thought was a blanket initially she saw now was a long cape of some
kind. It had a hood which he had lifted; it covered much of his face.
“Do you have a flashlight?” she asked. It was too dim to see clearly and
only going to get darker, the night already settling in as the music
“No, I’m sorry. But I have a thermos of tea. Would you like some?”
Caution warred with the need for something warm in her stomach to ward off
the chill of her damp clothing. She considered her circumstances and said,
“No, thank you.” Who knew if this guy had put something in the tea he was
offering. But then she reconsidered. She had stumbled upon him, he hadn’t
tried to lure her into the trees. “On second thought…yes, I’d really like
She made herself comfortable against a tree trunk while he uncapped the
wide-mouthed thermos and poured tea into the cap. The hand which offered
her the cup was gloved.
“Thank you.” She sipped the hot tea gratefully, tears beginning to form in
her eyes as she considered her circumstances, beginning to feel sorry for
herself all over again.
“You’re in pain.”
“I’m in pain, yes…and I’m stupid,” she admitted, surprised at herself for
being so honest and familiar with this stranger. “I broke my ankle today
and I was too stubborn to stay home and rest. I wanted to come to the
concert and meet my friends. Well, I got in over my head, and now here I
am, sitting under a tree somewhere in the Park, drinking someone else’s
tea, practically crippled and in pain. And I have no clue how I’m going to
make it home.” Suddenly she burst into tears, embarrassed but unable to
“S-sorry,” she blubbered. “I guess I’m just feeling sorry for myself.” She
sniffed and dug into a pocket for a tissue.
“Perhaps you should consider your situation in another way.”
The voice spilled over her, causing small shivers along her spine. The
buzzing behind the eyes she had been experiencing had progressed to a
feeling of lightheadedness and briefly she wondered if it was solely
because of the pain pills…or something else.
She also wondered in what way her circumstances could be viewed other than
as the result of a foolish misadventure.
“You were determined to attend the concert and you found a way to do that
despite the obstacles. That speaks of your perseverance. You were
tenacious about achieving your goal. I admire that.”
Catherine’s eyebrows rose in surprise and she was just about to voice a
contradiction when his words sank in and she realized that while a part of
her had been foolhardy…a part of her had been tenacious, and now here she
was. She was not exactly where she’d planned to be, but she had a place to
sit and she would hear the concert…and she even had company, someone who
had been nicer to her than her friends had been today.
Pulling herself together with an effort, she remembered her manners and
said, “Thank you very much for rescuing me from myself.”
She felt more than heard a quiet chuckle emanate from behind the veil of
his hood. “You’re quite welcome. And I must thank you…for rescuing me from
sitting here alone during the concert.”
Unaccountably, his admission made her feel much better. The demeanor of
this unusually clad man spoke of a good upbringing and a kind soul, and
she felt at ease with him in a way she never did upon meeting a stranger –
which was even more unusual considering the circumstances.
Trying to redeem herself from the poor first impression she had
undoubtedly made with her whining and self-pity, she offered more polite
conversation. “It seems we have these…” she waved one hand to take in the
area beneath the trees where they were sitting, “…seats all to ourselves.”
A smile broke over her face – the first in many hours, she knew. It felt
good to smile, despite the discomfort of her journey, despite the
disappointment of not being able to see the concert with her friends…friends
who hadn’t wanted to be inconvenienced by her injury, who hadn’t offered
to lend her a hand as this man beside her had - so gallantly - when she
had literally stumbled into his cozy hiding place.
The crowd’s cheering interrupted whatever the man beside her was going to
say. The swelling notes of the concert washed over them in their hidden
nook, and despite everything, Catherine felt drawn into the moment. She
wiped the tears from her face, finished her tea and handed the thermos cap
back to her savior.
The man pulled a blanket from a satchel and tucked it around her. It felt
wonderfully warm and smelled of candlesmoke too. “This might help,” he
“It does, thank you. You’re…very kind.” In fact, she was almost overcome
by his kindness. This sort of thing just didn’t happen in this city.
The man didn’t reply, just inclined his head slightly and settled back
against the trunk of the tree.
They listened to the concert, their silence together oddly comfortable.
The man beside her was still hooded, but it no longer bothered her.
Considering the circumstances, she knew it should…but there was something
about him that made her feel safe.
Catherine’s eyelids began to droop and it was an increasing effort to
force them open. Soon the combination of the pain pills and the stress and
exertions of the day took their toll. Before the concert entered its
second half hour, she was leaning against the stranger, her head on his
shoulder, sound asleep.
When Catherine woke up, she was sitting on a bench in Central Park. The
concert was long over and few people were about. The deep night would have
been frightening if not for the two young women sitting on either side of
her. They were dressed like hippies…if hippies were still in style. One of
them introduced herself in a sweet and friendly voice.
“I’m Rebecca. This is Olivia. Vincent asked us to help you get home.”
Still a bit disoriented, Catherine mumbled, “Who’s Vincent?”
Olivia smiled. “He’s the one who sat with you under the trees during the
“Oh.” Catherine shook her head, trying to dislodge the cobwebs. Her ankle
was beginning to throb again, and the pain made her come to full awareness
quickly. She gazed in turn at both of the girls. “I don’t think I ever
even introduced myself to him. That was rude.”
Rebecca laughed gently. “Don’t worry. I think he was happy to have
company. None of us wanted to miss seeing as well as hearing the concert,
so he was alone.”
“Why did he have to be alone?” She dimly recalled his gloved hands and the
hood pulled down low over his face. She hadn’t gotten a good look at him…or
any look at all, come to think of it. There was just…that voice in the
Neither girl seemed inclined to enlighten her, so Catherine finally
shrugged. It was a mystery destined to remain unsolved.
“If you feel up to it, we have your crutches.” Rebecca rose and held them
out to Catherine. “We can help you get home.”
“I just need to get out to the street and find a cab.” Catherine awkwardly
rose and put the crutches under her arms. “It’s so nice of you to help
“We’re happy to have a chance to help,” Olivia said, adding, “Lots of good
people have helped us over the years.”
An enigmatic comment, Catherine thought. But before she could ask Olivia
to explain, the women were assisting her onto the path that led to the
street, and between maneuvering her crutches and navigating her way,
Catherine lost the thread of that conversation.
Rebecca stepped out into the street and waved at a cab which seemed to be
parked and waiting for her signal. Catherine could spare only a moment to
wonder at such an odd coincidence before the cab was in front of her.
As Olivia helped Catherine into the back seat, Rebecca leaned into the
open passenger side window. “Art, could you please take this young lady to
her home and help her into her house?”
“Sure thing, hon!” He turned to Catherine, now comfortably ensconced in
the back seat. “Where to, ma’am?”
Stunned, Catherine stammered her address and he pulled away from the curb
so quickly that Catherine barely got out a shouted “Thank you!” to the two
women who were waving from the sidewalk.
As she sat back in the cab, Catherine mused over the strange evening. A
kind man hiding deep in the trees of the Park had saved her from a certain
face-first fall and offered her tea and a warm blanket. She had apparently
fallen asleep next to him but somehow woke up transplanted to a park bench
beside two strangely dressed girls about her age who had put her into a
cab that was waiting just for her.
Dimly she recalled the start of the concert. One song which floated up
into her memory was “Homeward Bound.” She began to hum the tune, then
murmured the words to herself, words which told a story about being in a
faraway place and wishing for home.
…like emptiness in harmony I need someone to comfort me….
Now here she was…homeward bound, having been comforted by strangers…with a
mysterious and wonderful story of her own to tell…if she would remember it
in the morning.