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first person

Illustration by Drew Shannon

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

Climbing a muddy hill while carrying your three-year-old’s bike and gushing blood from your head isn’t ideal during a global pandemic. But it happens.

Like many families, my husband and I are both balancing working full time and being present with our high-energy kiddo in our apartment. We are getting groceries as infrequently as possible and staying home. But as anyone with a small kid knows, getting outside is important. He understands that he can’t go down the slides or play on the swings or see his friends now, during “the sickness,” as he calls it. We even watched Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s address to the children of the country together: “He’s like the king of our country,” I explained.

Before Toronto’s parks were closed, letting my son ride his bike through trails near the Don Valley was definitely the highlight of the day. We even sat on large rocks by a pond, several metres across from another family with young kids, all the children shrieking with joy while “fishing for slime” with their bendy branches.

Eventually it was time to get back to the car before my son (or I) had a meltdown. As we climbed the muddy slope, me carrying his Ironman bike with its training wheels, I rapidly slipped and gashed my forehead on his bike.

“Mama, you’re bleeding!” he yelled as I watched red drops fall from my head to my jeans. Three thoughts came to me at once: No. 1: Why did I stop carrying wipes when we finally potty trained him? No. 2: There’s no way in hell I’m going to a hospital today, and No. 3: how will my son eventually describe this ridiculous event and its impact on him to his future therapist? Then I moved on to wondering how I would ever get up this slippery hill while carrying this bike and bleeding from my head.

At some point, my son actually offered to help and reached down to lift the bike as I awkwardly pushed it uphill to him. As we hobbled onto the actual path, still a 15-minute walk from the car, I pressed a tuque I’d found in my purse to my wound, while pushing my son’s bike along and saying, “it’s okay buddy, everything’s all right,” while he cried.

Most of all, I was nervous that some kind soul might offer to help us, which would involve breaking the rules of physical distancing.

On the path, a woman with a stroller took one look at me and offered her baby wipes. I explained that she didn’t have to do that, I had wipes in the car, was she really comfortable with me touching her wipes? When she held up her phone camera to my face, what I saw was straight out of a horror film. I took the wipes.

My son was playing with some rusty barbed wire and I mumbled, “don’t touch that” while curiously observing the red blood on the wipes. Two women my mom’s age then stopped to help. We all stood about a metre or two away from one another. They had lots of questions: “Was I dizzy?” No. “Did I have someone to call?” Yes. They persuaded me that driving myself home while pressing my head wound would be untenable. Suddenly, I realized one of these women was actually holding my bloody tuque and the other was pushing my son’s bike uphill while genuinely asking him questions about himself.

“You’re holding my blood! You don’t have to do that!” I called out. “Well, do you have a cough?” she asked. No. “Do you have HIV?” No, I don’t but we are hardly even allowed to be walking in this park right now!

At the top of the hill, one of the older women confessed she was actually getting a kick out of seeing a younger woman like me going through the same kind of nonsense she had gone through at my age. She then proceeded to stop a random man on a run, “excuse me sir, are you a doctor?”

“No," he said, "but I played professional hockey.”

Good enough, he was summoned to look at my head. I would need stitches.

“Will I have a scar?” I asked her.

“What do you care, aren’t you already married?” she laughed.

My son was happily playing with one of their dogs as they helped load his bike into the back of our car. My husband arrived in what was apparently the only taxi currently operating in downtown Toronto.

It was only hours later, after I was cleaned up, that I realized I hadn’t asked anyone’s name.

These women (and the hockey-doctor-running-man) risked everything, their health and peace of mind, for me, a mama with a head wound and a three-year-old. Of course, we all would have been spared this if we had stayed indoors. Some have said this virus is nature telling us all to go to our rooms and think about what we’ve done. And in my case, a muddy slope – Earth itself – smacked me right on the head.

What did I learn? That being human means we don’t accomplish anything of substance alone. This virus both demands we keep our distance while highlighting our necessary connection to one another, locally and globally, entwined through the air we breathe and an irrepressible desire to help one another.

To those who walked with the bleeding lady and her kid, thank you.

Esther Maloney lives in Toronto.