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Former L.A. City Councilman Richard Alarcon:…

The Closeness of Strangers

My Brief Encounter in the E.R.

People talk to me. I don't know why, but they do.

I get a lot of "you remind me of my daughter" or "you look like my sister" or "you make me think of my best friend who moved away" and before I know it I'm hearing a complete stranger's life story.

The thing is—I love it. I absolutely love when someone I have never met before and will no doubt ever see again decides to share with me their most personal feelings.

This happened over the weekend.

It was the day after my birthday and since I had to work on my actual birthday my daughter and I were celebrating it on Saturday instead.

But that all changed when I fell down my staircase.

I have fallen down stairs many times in my life. You know, that fall where it's dark or you're not looking and you think you're on the last step but in actuality you're still three steps up and you walk directly into thin air and land with all your weight on your ankles?

Yep, that happened to me. Again.

Usually I "walk it off" but I could tell this time there was no walking.

So, instead of spending my birthday at a brunch with my daughter, sister and mother I spent it in an emergency room with "him."

I never even got his name. He was in blue scrubs, around 40 something, maybe 5'7, a round face, thin moustache/goatee and an accent.

He came in to wrap my sprained ankle (not broken, thank goodness) and to teach me how to walk with crutches. What should have taken a total of 15 minutes led to an hour conversation.

I learned about his expectant wife (their 5th child!) who was due any moment which is why he had to answer his cell phone when it rang, his other four kids (2 boys, 2 girls), the daughter who is having learning troubles in school and he's concerned, his favorite sister (who I look like) and the evil sister who he is in the midst of a nasty legal battle with because she stole money from him, did illegal activity in his house and nearly caused him and his family to be evicted and sent back to Mexico.

Detail after detail came pouring out of his mouth and when he realized I had signed all the papers necessary, had my crutches in hand, and the nurse was ready to release me he laughed, almost a bit shy as he looked me in the eyes smiling,

"I never talk to anyone about this stuff. You just remind me of my sister. My favorite sister."

I took his hand and smiled,

"I'm glad."

I picked up the crutches and as I swung my way down the hallway I heard him say to the nurse,

"I can't believe I told her all that stuff. I just felt something. A connection. Crazy."

And then he headed into another room to help the next emergency case.

I think we are all looking to connect.

To talk to someone who can listen with absolutely no agenda of their own. Why is it so hard to share with the people we are closest to? Is it fear of being judged, vulnerable, intimate, exposed?

Yes, yes, yes and YES.

Even therapists who initially we seek out as a "safe place" to dump all our inner most secrets to sometimes become too personal of a relationship and we find we can't even tell them the truth.

We have nothing to lose with strangers. Especially if we truly know we will never cross paths with them again.

So, I have carried the secrets of strangers in me for years and years.

Secrets shared on subways in New York, in DMV lines in Los Angeles, in train stations in Madrid, and boat rides under a Venice sky.

I have heard about marriages, divorces, deaths, demons, addictions, abuses, cancer and passions.

And like a floating diary I have kept these tales locked inside me. Hidden stories of nameless people who trusted me for whatever reason for one brief moment in time to simply share.

Perhaps I was meant to be in that emergency room that day, that hour. Perhaps a connection was needed. Maybe it lightened his load, or gave him clarity on a situation or simply made him think about his favorite sister.

And, perhaps, for me... it led to a column that will lead to you... and connect.

John Emerson March 05, 2012 at 09:36 PM
sorry this took so long, I was busy talking to strangers. Yes I am one of those, I like to call "open" or as my best friend of 53 years said at my retirement party "Anyone who has ever ridden an elevator with John knows his life story by the 2nd floor!" When my wife and I took a couples communication workshop, the Psychologist had all of us take a test to identify "extrovert? or introvert?" All of the 8 couples had married the opposite of themselves! She divided everyone into 2 groups. The introverts complained about all the noise and laughter coming from the extrovert room. I read that introverts can be "self absorbed". I feel a connection with people, like we all are tweaked in some way and we all wear masks sometimes. I just realized I could keep going on and on, sorry. One more thing, "favorite sister"??? or male Doctor and "hot" patient!
Susan McMartin March 07, 2012 at 01:53 AM
john, i always love reading your comments! i think YOU should start a column or blog. you tell great stories! thanks, as always, for reading and sharing. you make my day!
Mike Szymanski March 07, 2012 at 02:34 AM
Not trying to unseat any of our regulars, but heck, Studio City has amassed the greatest set of writers, and I always welcome new bloggers! I know I have some exciting ones in the works... see: http://patch.com/A-mC7c for all the info! It's easier than you think!
Diana April 02, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Susan, it's the writer in you. People can tell. I have no idea how, but they can. Once a Belgian man on a Second Ave bus turned to me and flat out said "You're a writer, aren't you? I want to tell you my story." It happens very often to me, so, thanks again for connecting and making me feel like my life is one of oddity. It also doesn't hurt that you're easy on the eyes :) And I must agree with John here... favorite sister????
Susan McMartin April 03, 2012 at 03:16 PM
diana, thank you!!


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