July 1, 2014 at 1:00 am

'Don't be afraid to help'

Woman reaches out after driver has crisis in middle of busy intersection

Michelle Wolford Ball revisits the intersection of Maple and Middle Belt roads, where she pulled her Dodge into the oncoming left-turn lane to help a distraught young woman. (Neal Rubin)

Michelle Wolford Ball’s ears found the woman before her eyes did.

She had her car windows up, and the air conditioner and radio were on. But could that be ... screaming?

Ball was westbound on Maple Road in West Bloomfield, halted by a red light at Middlebelt. It was two Fridays ago, the end of a frenzied day in mortgage operations for a bank in Troy, and she was looking forward to her pajamas and her remote control and her weekend.

The sound made no sense. It was 6 p.m., on a routine night, on her standard commute home to Wolverine Lake.

Screaming?

She looked across the intersection. There was a small sedan — a Toyota, or maybe a Nissan — facing east, straddling two lanes. There was a woman next to it with her face buried in her hands.

Screaming.

“I can’t take it anymore!” she was shrieking. Again and again, as north-south traffic churned past: “I can’t take it anymore!”

Then the light changed.

It would be dramatic to say that Ball’s life changed with it, but that would be far too sweeping. Ball, 47, simply did what she was raised to do and what she hopes she’s taught her daughter to do.

Which is to say, she did what she could.

Going into 'Mom mode'

Ball is not shy, but she is not boastful, either.

She’s heard people refer to their random act of kindness for the day, and she has thought to herself, “It doesn’t count if you tell everyone.”

She’ll tell you about Bras for a Cause, a riotous annual fundraiser for Gilda’s Club in September, but that’s different. That’s for charity, and she’s the volunteer promotions director. She’s supposed to call attention to what they’re doing.

With the woman in the intersection, she wasn’t trying to be noticed. Afterward, though, she did what we do in the modern world when we’re overwhelmed or flummoxed or too emotional to speak:

She posted something on Facebook.

That’s the only reason anyone knows that as she dialed 911, she pulled across Middlebelt, slid over the center line and parked behind the little sedan, facing oncoming traffic.

The woman was still screaming. She was 23, Ball says, the same age as her own daughter. She was petite, with long, wavy, light brown hair. She was neatly dressed, with a skirt.

She was sobbing.

There was a young man in a necktie nearby. He turned out to be her husband. There was a man in a pickup truck who also pulled over; he quietly moved the small sedan and then Ball’s Dodge Avenger out of traffic as Ball steered the woman to the curb.

“I went into Mom mode, I guess,” Ball says.

She hugged the hysterical young stranger, rubbed her back, asked what was wrong. The woman said she was anxious, panicked, that she hadn’t been sleeping.

She said she didn’t have insurance. Ball said there were therapists who would see her anyway, and she suggested an agency.

Three police officers and two paramedics arrived, and the woman broke down again: “I’m going to get in trouble!”

Ball soothed her, introduced her to the officers by the names on their badges, steered her to the ambulance, and gave her phone number to the husband.

“Promise me you’ll call me and let me know what happens,” she said, and maybe an hour after Ball arrived home, the woman did.

A reassuring voice sometimes needed

Seven years ago, Ball beat breast cancer. Now she’s the source for comfort and expertise when someone she knows hears the same paralyzing word.

“Don’t be afraid to help,” Ball says.

A friend, a colleague, a shattered young woman in an intersection: “It might feel a little uncomfortable at first, but trust me, just do it.”

Even if you get back to your car and start bawling, the way Ball did, just do it.

On the phone, the young woman said she was feeling better. She promised to find a counselor.

Ball said that sounded good. She also said, “Don’t lose my number.”

Maybe a reassuring voice can help sometime. Or maybe it’s help enough to just know a voice is waiting.

nrubin@detroitnews.com
(313) 222-1874
@nealrubin_dn