Friday, December 01, 2006
Thanks, Eli
I'm not sure what reminded me, exactly, but something tonight made me think of a friend of Willem's, who has the unfortunately all-too-rare honor of having flabbergasted me in a positive, warm-fuzzy sort of way. Willem gets to do it regularly, and a few friends and family members are able to, but the general public, from acquaintances to thankfully-still-strangers, is able to appall and disgust me on a daily basis.

But. Setting aside the cynicism, which is sort of inevitable after watching a woman sit in the emergency department for 12 hours because she's too delusional and confused for a psychiatric hospital (stop and think about that one... too crazy for a psych ward... boggles the mind) but five years too young for a geropsych unit. Please, any of you out there, if you're thinking of developing dementia, don't do it until you're 65. It's really hard to get good any care before then.


June 2005, we've got most of the house packed up into a series of oddly shaped boxes, many of which were crudely and cutely labeled by 4-year-old Emily, in whose still-pudgy hands a permanent marker had suddenly transformed from a weapon against upholstery to an actual writing utensil. It was one of those high-humidity New Hampshire days in which thermometers simply burst into flames instead of bothering with silly things like numbers, and I was waiting at the house for Willem to return from the U-Haul place. And return he did... with the first of three cute tiny little Volkswagen Beetle-sized trucks instead of the single city-block-sized truck we had reserved. Fabulous.

We had asked Eli, a fellow almost-former-teacher at the high school, to come over and help him load up the truck, since our movers had ditched us for a more lucrative job two weeks prior and I was interested in keeping the children alive instead of tossing them into their own boxes. We promised him $300 for the day, which we thought was pretty reasonable for a planned six or so hours of heavy manual labor.

Twelve hours later, after the normal expected misery of sloughing boxes and furniture and big wooden swingsets around the yard, needing to ask Eli to drive across the state and back because of that third U-Haul truck, a completely unexpected bout of unreasonableness with the buyers-to-be of our house, and a truckload of other horrible unbelievable things that I keep trying to block out, we pulled up outside of Eli's apartment. It was mostly empty, he said, because he had already moved most of his things back to his parents' house, where he planned to live while he figured out what profession made sense as a follow-up to high school teaching. (Rumor has it he's a mercenary in Panama now, which is a totally logical progression to me.)

He got out, and waved good-bye. I got out, too, to hand him the check, which now seemed pathetic and inadequate for how much work he'd done that day, but which was as much as our cute little high-school-teacher/grad-school-student budget could handle.

"No, thanks," he said. "That's what friends are for."

Willem and I goggled, fumbled, and tried to insist, but he just smiled and went into the house. I never saw him again.

Even to this day, I could weep. Well, no, okay, let's ratchet back the melodrama a little. I do get choked up and teary, though. It had been such a horrible, stressful, upsetting day, and I didn't even know yet that my great-grandmother had died that morning. And by that one simple act of generosity, Eli restored my faith in mankind. Not all of it, of course. But in him.

So, thanks, Eli. I'm sorry we weren't able to thank you any better. I owe you one. Or many.