Things I Learned from R. B. (August 30th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4510)

Episode 30

I seized on a space of silence to attempt to calm my troubled mind.

I reflected back on the early morning phone call from Johnny, when he explained, in a fevered huff, that he had been arrested and was in jail, requiring bail.

From his disjointed explanation, I was able to comprehend that he had gone to a local mall to window shop and was “suddenly overtaken” with an obsession to steal a woman’s purse. Unsuccessful at obtaining it, he had been detained and now needed me to come and pay him out of his travail.

Mentally, I was halfway down the hall of my home, keys in one hand and wallet in the other, when my spirit tackled me and forced me to reconsider.

I heard a voice in my ear whisper, “This is not your business. Call Johnny’s family.”

So I did.

I telephoned one of his brothers in Rhode Island, who sheepishly took responsibility, not seeming to be surprised.

I went back to sleep and awoke the next morning, refreshed. I had a lovely day until just shortly after lunch.

Another call from Johnny, requesting that I meet him at the hospice. He was trying to talk to R. B. about some necessary business matters and had hit numerous snags.

I kept waiting for that sweet spirit-voice from the night before, to whisper in my ear, freeing me of responsibility.

But this time I was on my own.

I agreed to come. When I arrived, I was surprised to discover all sorts of paperwork laid out on R. B.’s bed and the two brothers embroiled in a nasty conflict.

Johnny explained that the government was asking R. B. to take some of the thousands of dollars he had in the bank, which had been given to him as disability, and spend it in a productive way, or they would stop issuing checks in his direction.

I felt like someone had punched me in the gut.

For a solid year, I had been paying R. B.’s rent, utilities and groceries. Now I was discovering that he had sought assistance from the government, received it, and had so much money in the bank that they were requesting that he disperse it or lose his supplemental income.

I stared at the two brothers. It had not occurred to either one of them that I had been suspended in a spider web of their lies—cheated out of money that R. B. did not need.

My instinct was to turn on my heel and leave. Or maybe I could join the screaming match they had begun, adding in my own lamentations.

But then I looked at the thief and the skeleton sitting in front of me. My responsibility in this matter was not going to last much longer.

Yet five years from this moment, the only thing I would have left was my dignity and the memory of how I conducted myself.

So I tried to be helpful.

It seemed the best way for R. B. to keep the government money flowing into his coffers was to buy a grave plot in Gallatin, Tennessee, which was permissible to do and would lessen his bank balance.

Also, there was a huge argument about R. B.’s car.

Johnny wanted it, and R. B. was digging in his heels, refusing to release it.

It was pathetic—this crippled, hurting and broken man quibbling over an old car.

At length I proclaimed, “Tell you what, R. B. Give Johnny your car. And then, when you get out of the hospital here, I promise you that as a celebration, I will buy you a brand-new car.”

He should have seen through the offer.

He should have realized his situation.

But instead, his eyes lit up with glee.

He stuck out a bony hand to shake mine, confirming the arrangement. It was just a goddamn ugly meeting.

The final piece of wacky meaninglessness was when Johnny took out a book he had purchased about heaven, written by Billy Graham, and began to read passages aloud to R. B., whose eyes welled with tears.

I suppose there was nothing wrong with it. Some people would suggest that it was therapeutic or great ministry.

But it left me cold.

I excused myself and made my way out the door.

As I shuffled down the hallway, looking at other human souls who were hanging in the balance, I realized that a hospice is no place to come if you’re searching for hope.

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