There was a woman on the McPherson Square Library lawn, and she looked like she was dying.
She was turning purple, her breath a rattle.
This was Monday. I'd witnessed the same scene more than a year ago on the lawn of the library in Kensington, waiting for a librarian to rush out of the doors with a dose of Narcan. Now it was happening again.
The woman had fallen back onto the ground, slowly, almost as if she was lying down to sleep. But you could tell, even far away on the library's wide veranda, that this wasn't sleep.
I was with my colleague Aubrey Whelan. She was reporting on a rash of overdoses across the city — 165 people, many in this neighborhood. I was reporting on how, after a year of the city's attempts to fight the opioid crisis in Kensington, the park was slipping.
The crowds weren't as thick Monday, but they were there. I'd been to the park dozens of times since those first visits, and seen how the city had cleared it: stationed a police car on the lawn, swept the playground of needles.
It wasn't enough — and wasn't really a solution. If anything, it was illustrative of how fragmented the city's overall response was back then. But in a crisis with no easy answers, where the needs of people in addiction must be balanced with the needs of the community, McPherson being returned to the neighborhood's children felt as close as Kensington gets to relief — even as the epidemic spiraled in the neighborhood.
But now people are injecting again, sleeping on the benches and under the trees and on the walls again. Children are watching again.
The woman's legs were buckled unnaturally underneath her. A needle lay on the pavement. We dialed 911 and gave her a dose of the Narcan we now carry, and yelled for Sterling Davis Sr., the security guard who, along with a librarian at the branch, had saved so many people the year before.
Seconds felt like minutes. The woman's color was fading. Her breathing wasn't getting any better. People drifted over: two women dialing 911 themselves.
A few moments before, Tricia had been hunched at a table in the children's section, waiting for us to finish a conversation with Judi Moore, the branch manager. It was Judi and librarian Chera Kowalski and other library officials who last year took it upon themselves to get Narcan training after people started overdosing in their library. It isn't as bad as last summer, Judi said, the staff hadn't had to revive anyone this year.
But it is getting worse. The kids are seeing it again.
When we got up, Tricia waved us over to her table. She is 26, and she wanted us to read something she had written in her journal, a bright blue book that said "Stay Tuned." She began to cry. She covered her face with the book, so the kids wouldn't see her tears.
She told us a little bit of her story — how her path, like so many others, led her to the library lawn. She talked about how she felt a hopelessness in the air. How all the weekend people were overdosing. How scared she was that she would join them.
Now, on the lawn, she stood over our shoulders, calling to the woman to wake up. Sterling came running with a second dose. The next day, he would Narcan someone else on the lawn. Last summer, he perched on the veranda like a sentinel, calling out to the librarians when someone dropped. That was before most of us were paying attention to the crowds at McPherson, or Kensington at all, really.
Sterling felt for the woman's pulse as I held her on her side — the recovery position that Chera showed me the first time I went to McPherson. We waited for the woman to gasp back to consciousness. It was a sad, unnerving kind of déjà vu.
In that déjà vu, all the city's progress in the last year fades into the background. As a city, we are still on a path to another 1,200 overdose deaths this year. Scores of people nearly died last weekend on a bad batch of God knows what. And now a woman fought for life on a patch of lawn that we thought had become a symbol of that progress.
The city has moved forward. Officials want to open a safe-injection site. But all that progress rings more hollow and empty every day that strangers on a library lawn are again someone's best chance to live another day.
Until we have a place in the city where people can use drugs safely and get help for their addiction, and bring relief to a neighborhood, there is nothing but luck and chance. Those deaths are on all of us.