Of course I failed to see the humor in his remark. I looked at him sideways and gave him the evil eye, and dismissed him off as an ignorant fool. "He" was my neighbor in the downstairs apartment, in my building in a suburb outside of Atlanta, Georgia. He had a wife and child that he adored.I liked his wife.
Since he didn't say much to me after that comment, and she did, I sort of lumped him together with her and thought of them as nice people. They had problems with DUIs. I know because she would stop me on my way up the stairs some days and share bits of her life.
One morning I got up and had cramping in my stomach. I took some pain medicine but it didn't seem to go away. I decided to stay home from work. It got worse. I was so incapacitated that I could barely walk. I knew I couldn't drive myself to the emergency room. I really didn't want to call an ambulance.
I called the front office. She called a taxi for me. I got dressed as best as I could and descended the stairs, one painful step at a time. I sat huddled on the last step gasping in between the shots of pain, waiting on the hard concrete steps for the taxi to arrive. I felt embarassed, afraid and alone.
Not in the least bit comforting, but who did I see walking up? My neighbor. It was him. I lowered my head and hoped he pass without a word. He did not.
"What's wrong with you?" peering down at me with a lit cigarette dangling from his lips. I may have been bent over with pain, but if just one piece of burning ash were to get on me, we would both be needing some care. By this time the lady in the front office had walked down to where I was waiting for the taxi. She was going to stay with me until the taxi came.
"I tell you what", he offered, "I'll give you a ride to the hospital".
"But we have already called the taxi," I responded with relief as I saw the taxi approach.
"Don't worry about it, I'll take care of it," he said.
I looked up at him, curiously. I nodded and let him do his thing. He opened the passenger side of the taxi and explained the situation. Then he pulled a couple of dollars out of his pocket and handed them to the taxi driver for his trouble.
There was no smell of liquor on his person, so I just acquiesced and went with him. He took me to my doctor's office. It turns out, she had two offices. So we left there and drove to the second one. I had to wait for an hour or so before she would see me. I laid on the floor, curled at his feet in a ball to try to stave off the pain. Every now and then he would peer at me, over the magazine page he was reading, from his chair and see how I was doing. He didn't say much.
When I finally got in to see the doctor, she told me to go to the emergency room. My neighbor helped me to his car and drove me to the emergency room. He made sure I got to where I needed to go for admission. He left because he needed to pick up his child from school.
In the meantime, he called my parents and gave them the name of the hospital and the directions. By this time, he had been with me for about five (5) hours. Everything turned out all right and I was discharged the next day. I never went back to that doctor again but that's another story.
I will never forget that man and what he did for me that day. He gave me comfort when I was afraid and alone. He helped me when I could not help myself. He stayed by my side until I got to where I needed to be. He made sure he found my parents and apprised them of what had happened and where to find me.
Nothing is ever black or white. People and things are not always what they seem. Never in a million years would I have suspected that this man would do what he did for me. He did, without question, without expectation of repayment.
Life is complex. People are complex. People and things are not always as they seem. I will never be able to repay him for what he did for me that day. But what I did do was further resign myself to be conscious of helping whomever I could in their time of need.
Perhaps he helped me because he had resigned to help people like me that they hung high where he grew up. After that day, he and I never had a conversation again.