Walk Down Misery Street

“This isn’t a clinic. It’s a fucking business,” Liza said indignantly. “No one is thinking about the patients. Peter, I know you never got high. But try to put yourself in their shoes. They just got out of prison yesterday. They have no job, no education, no money. They don’t have a damn thing! Don’t forget they’re chronic drug users and alcoholics, and twenty-four hours a day they want to use. They hate everyone and trust no one. But all the same they have hope. And tell me: How do people at the clinic treat them? Like cattle!”

Next, Liza directed her criticism toward the director, holding her responsible for the terrible state of the clinic. Most of all, she resented Francesca’s passion for fashionable clothes. She had a point. “Franchi,” as we called her, would often leave during work hours in her sparkling new Jeep and return a couple of hours later carrying huge bags imprinted with designer names. Her expensive wardrobe was in stark contrast to the clothes most of our patients wore.

We turned down a side street to take a shortcut. This was not the best idea. Liza was wearing a red woolen coat that evening and carried a handbag under her arm. In short, she looked like a socialite going to an event.

What happened next, well . . . scenes like this in novels and films haven’t made a strong impression on us in a long time—they are too trivial. Who today is interested in reading about a banal street robbery, where some young robber intends to take a woman’s purse containing twenty dollars, a subway card, and makeup?

But in this instance, the events unfolded in an unpredictable way. Liza grabbed the purse, which was already in the robber’s hands. I instinctually wanted to help, but realized Liza didn’t need me. She rushed wildly toward the guy and kneed him between the legs. He was taken aback and must have been shocked by the fighting spirit of this respectable lady. Clutching her handbag, Liza not only set her free hand in motion but, even worse, her tongue. She gave him a real verbal lashing; the choice words she unleashed I had not heard even from my roughest patients. Moreover, she took off after him.

Fleeing for secured space, the guy stopped and answered her from a distance, also swearing.

Liza had a ready retort. “Get some treatment, you fucking junkie!” Even in such a situation, she remembered her professional duty.