Things I Learned from R. B. (May 17th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4412)

Episode 15

I excused myself from the table, walked through the lobby and out the front door to catch a breath of the frigid night air.

It was December 18th—my birthday.

I was at Captain John Longhollow’s Seafood House, courtesy of an invitation from R. B.

He explained that it had been a tough year for him, without employment, and he wanted to honor me with a dinner, but hoped I would accept it as his entire gift to the whole family–for Christmas also.

I agreed.

I was upset with the situation. It wasn’t that I wanted anything from R. B. for Christmas, nor did I think he should scrape together nickels to get drugstore toys for the full-grown kids. I just didn’t want to know his reasoning. I didn’t want a generous act to seem like a banking decision.

I didn’t say anything because I knew it was silly and childish on my part, but as the dinner conversation drifted away from our friendship and settled in on his airplane trip back home to Rhode Island for Christmas, I just needed to get away.

So as I stood there in the night, musing my fussiness, the heavens suddenly opened and a beautiful snow began falling to Earth. It was like huge cornflakes being poured into an ample bowl on breakfast morning.

Tears came to my eyes because I had been given grace to continue my delusion. For years, I had surmised that snow was delivered every birthday—a gift of God, offered for my enjoyment from the graying skies.

I stood in the snow until its dampness chilled me. Then I strolled inside, noticing that all the patrons had their noses pressed up against the glass windows—like children peering into a snow globe.

Everyone, that is, but R. B.

He was struggling through his salad course with a frown on his face, as if saddened that he had spent so much money and depleted his funds beyond the practical.

I was so enthralled by my birthday snow—and so hungry—that I sat down with great civility and ended up enjoying our evening. It had been months since I had seen R. B., so I decided to be grateful instead of resentful.

A lady entered the restaurant and explained that the snow was falling quite heavily, and that in no time at all the Tacoma road crews would be unable to keep up.

R. B. ignored the warning and ordered a sherry to finish off his dinner. He offered me the same, confident that I would pass. After he finished his liqueur, we headed toward the car.

He wanted me to drive.  We were not far from my home—perhaps ten minutes on a normal day—but on this night, we drove for an hour-and-a-half and still hadn’t reached our destination.

There was one final large hill to ascend—which had turned into an ice rink. Vehicles were sliding and bumping all over the place.

I realized we weren’t going to make it up, so I let the car go as far as it was willing to travel before sliding backwards. I then turned the wheel to the left and went to the other side of the road. I let the car gingerly bump up against a fence, where it settled in place.

R. B. expected that I would turn around and try the hill again, but his car’s tires were too bald and there was no way to gain the traction to perform the ascent. So after sitting for five minutes in the ever-chilling car, I explained to him that the best thing to do was bundle up, leave the vehicle and walk the rest of the way—a little less than a mile.

R. B. didn’t like the idea. He kept insisting that he was certain we could make it up the hill.

I should have let him try.

I should have kept my mouth shut.

I should have given him his rightful position as owner of the vehicle to do what he wanted.

But I was cold and the lobster I had just eaten lay bitter in my stomach. I tucked the keys into my pocket, got out of the car and started walking. R. B. stumbled from the vehicle, screamed at me, but still followed.

It took a little while to get home. R. B. wanted to argue in the middle of the blizzard, but finally we arrived at my doorstep and climbed into the house, greeted by the bubbling of youthful energy from my children, screaming in delight about the precipitation.

We joined together in the living room and lit a fire to warm the house, as we continued to stare at the beautiful, heavenly flurries.

After about an hour, R. B. thought he might walk back to his car and try to get himself home. I could tell he was completely uncomfortable being with us. It made me sad and mad all at the same time.

Even when we started singing Christmas carols, he was fidgety and kept looking out the window, saying over and over again, “I think it’s clearing.”

Disgusted, he finally stood to his feet and headed to the door.

I had to make a decision. Would I let him do what he wanted to do—knowing how unsafe, dangerous or even deadly it was?

I probably should have honored his autonomy and his human choice.

But I had watched for four months while he deteriorated, lost his way, failed to get employment and acted and dressed more and more like a derelict.

Right or wrong, I made a stand, and explained that we would not allow him to leave because it was dangerous. He cursed me, became violently angry and stood over me, screaming his defiance.

My kids were scared.

I think my wife was waiting for me to kill him—because she had selected where to bury the body. But I let him yell while standing my ground.

Not only did R. B. have to sleep in our house that night, but the blizzard was so massive that the community shut down. The airport was closed, so R. B. was unable to go to Rhode Island for his Christmas holiday.

We invited him to stay, which he did—but he was really never there.  Over and over again he explained that it “just didn’t seem like Christmas” without being back home in Providence.

Our little family worked awfully hard to change our surroundings into R. B.’s childhood memory.

It got better. He calmed down.

He started singing with us.

He helped make Christmas treats.

And by Christmas Eve, it seemed like he had settled his soul and was just a little bit grateful to be safe and warm.

Realizing that we didn’t have gifts for him, on Christmas Eve morning I asked my two older boys to hike up the hill to the bus stop. I gave them forty dollars to buy “R. B.-type” gifts. I also gave them ten dollars for lunch.

They were thrilled. They returned early evening and placed their purchases into the garage, where my wife wrapped them up for Christmas morning.

About 7:40 A.M., we awoke R. B., who overnight had uncovered a fresh batch of grumpiness, but quickly changed his mind when he realized there would be presents under the tree just for him.

It was an unexpected Christmas.

R. B. laughed. I had never heard him quite as tuneful in his voice and open in his spirit.

The next morning, the roads cleared, and R. B. walked to his car.

I didn’t hear from him for almost three months. I pursued contact, but every time I left a message, he never returned the call.

Yet, that year we had a Christmas that was planned by the snow from Heaven. It was significant, it was enlightening, it was surprising, and it was God-like. As it turned out, that was the last time I got to see R. B. in Tacoma.

In May, when I told him we were moving on down the road to brighter prospects, he grunted—and wished us his best.

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