Things I Learned from R. B. … August 9th, 2020

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4489)

Episode 27

I had never seen the house I rented for R. B. and the single mom with her kids, until one day she called and invited me over. I had refrained from interfering in their arrangement, allowing them to influence their own situation.

But she called me, upset because the house was stinking. She was positive it was coming from the upstairs and R. B.

She was caring—she did realize that he was sick, and that hygiene was not high on his concerns. But her children were complaining, and she felt it was her duty to let me know.

I told her I would be over in the early afternoon, and to let R. B. know of my visit.

Hanging up, I took a good fifteen minutes thinking about what I wanted to do—or maybe not do—upon arriving at the house.

I formulated a plan. I decided to pass on a tour of the downstairs, patted the children on their heads and headed up the narrow staircase to R. B.’s domain.

Rounding to the top, a bit winded because of the steepness of the climb, I looked over in the corner, and there he was, sleeping peacefully on a twin bed with no sheets.

Blessedly for me, Jan and Dollie had come along to assist. Immediately upon reaching the top and looking around, they launched into cleaning. Dollie took dirty clothes and Jan tackled the bathroom, which was speckled from the floor to the walls with what looked like dried human shit.

I decided to work on R. B.

I woke him from his nap, walked him over to a chair, sat him down, got myself a basin of warm water with shampoo, tilted his head back, moistened his hair and began to scrub.

I had never washed anyone’s hair before. His locks were so filthy that it took three pans of water to get them clean. I had no idea what I was washing out of his hair.

I just talked quietly into his ear—about old times, old songs and old promises.

He settled in, totally relaxed, as if it was merely an appointment with a caretaker, performed weekly.

After the washing was done, I grabbed a hair dryer and attempted to carefully brush out all the tangles. He had a huge head of graying strands, knotted, twisted, almost seeming to have no path to straightening.

I just took my time.

I felt silly. I felt pretentious.

But for the most part, I calmed those feelings and stayed focused on him.

It took about an hour and a half to gather the dirty clothes, clean the bathroom and wash R. B.’s hair. When it was done, the room smelled better, his hair was clean, and he was so at peace he had fallen asleep.

Knowing that I couldn’t leave him in the chair, I stirred him just enough to walk him over to his bed.

As I laid him down to sleep, Janet and Dollie brought a clean sheet and a blanket to tuck him in.

I stood over him and just looked at who he was.

I wanted to pray but I didn’t know what to pray. I didn’t know what to say.

The three of us stood quietly, side by side, as if at rigid attention.

Finally, I just proclaimed, “Amen”—to no prayer.

We turned and came down the stairs. The lady of the house continued to explain to us why she had called in the first place—how much she appreciated the assistance and how they all loved R. B.

I just nodded. It seemed ridiculous to me to criticize her for not doing what was painful for me to accomplish.

I didn’t want to wash dried food and shit out of his hair. I didn’t feel noble doing it.

I just felt like it was the only thing available for me to contribute.

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