Friday, September 2, 2011

Red Writing Hood: Returning the Favor

Sweat dripped off my nose. A blister sprouted on the small of my hand. I shoveled and shook my bloodied fist at the heavens. Why must rural living suck with such intensity? Why don't dirt driveways gravel themselves?

I heard footsteps. A young boy, probably twelve years old, put on some gloves, and began to work. "Do you mind, Ma'am?" he asked, mid-shovel. He tucked his long hair back in a baseball cap, his legs planted firmly to the ground.

"How much are you charging?" I would give him anything.

He gazed at me, and shook his head twice. "Nothing, ma'am."

I looked down. My face reddened. I still was such an outsider here. 

We worked in companionable silence. I forced a Pepsi into his hand, and heard his footsteps crunch against my completed driveway as he returned home.

Later on, when talking to another neighbor about the encounter, he said, "Oh, that's Eli. Great kid. He just likes to help."

The seasons twisted like a kaleidoscope. Eli left middle school, and moved on to the high school. His bike gave way to a truck of his own. He grew a mustache and stayed out of his house as often as he could.

He lifted his arm as we passed in our car, as if a full wave would exhaust him. My husband and I called him "Joe Cool" as we watched him saunter around the neighborhood, trousers sagging, a cigarette dangling from his lip.

One late spring, Eli knocked on the door. He was dressed in a white colored shirt, holding a tie in his hands. It was high school homecoming. "Is your husband home, Ma'am?

I nodded, and listened from the kitchen as my husband explained, "First, you twist this part under that part. You loop it through, and pull it up." I pressed my hand against my swelling belly, felt the kick of my growing son.

I prayed he would always have a daddy to teach him such things.

Eli graduated high school,and found a job working construction. And then he disappeared.

"Drugs," a neighbor confirmed. "He'll be in for six months. He broke into most of the neighborhood houses to get money."

Our house was never touched.

Come spring, Eli returned home, his shoulders defeated, and his eyes clouded with steel. Once again, he rode his bike around the neighborhood, the truck long sold to feed other needs.

We lived in darkness for the six days, thanks to Hurricane Irene and her bad attitude.

On day three, Eli's family had power. Soon, we heard that knock on the door. He stood there, holding an extension cord. "For your fridge, Ma'am.Use this as long as you need it."

Each morning, I sat at my kitchen table, hearing my fridge hum with life amidst the darkness. Humbled.  Reminded once more of the thin orange cord that binds us all. Empowering us. Until, once again, it is our season to return the favor.

*We're writing about seasons of change at Write on Edge this week.*


Cheryl said...

I need to know more about Eli. What was his home life? Why did he get into bad stuff?

Beautifully written as always, Nancy.

Also, six days without power?? YIKES!

Jessica said...

I have goosebumps Nancy, beautifully written. I thought for sure it was fiction. You have such amazing talent.

angela said...

I'm with Jessica; I was sure it was fiction for a while. Your writing is so beautifully imagined.

I love that he is so unfailingly polite, even with his eyes of "steel". I am sad for him.

Elaine A. said...

You make us want to rescue him. I love that he is so chivalrous even though you know he's been through hell.

I'm kinda sorry it's not fiction. Your words are beautiful but they bite a bit.

julie moore said...

Thank you for sharing such a beautiful young man with us. I love that his heart is still soft toward you and your family even after the troubles in his life.

The Drama Mama said...

Oh tears! I love that you weaved the little surprise in after making us fall in love with him. I hope he knows how favorably he is viewed in from your eyes. Beautifully written as always!

Ms. Moon said...


Patricia Iles said...

**Blinking back tears**

Is this fiction? If not, I sincerely hope you know how much someone like you means to the life of the Elis of our world. Someone who sees them with clear eyes, and not just for the mistakes they've made. Someone who OPENS THE DOOR to them.

Fiction or non, this was beautiful. Tightly written and so deeply, clearly descriptive. Well done!


CDG said...

We so rarely get to really see the lives we impact. I hope he knows that his impact on you has been equally meaningful...

RJ said...

I want more! Beautifully written!

Katie @ Chicken Noodle Gravy said...

*sigh* This gave me chills! I'm so often cynical and snarky about people, but this proves to me that there is still good in the world, sometimes where we least expect it.

Beautifully told; I couldn't stop reading!

Galit Breen said...

Nancy, this is lovely, poetic, heart wrenching.

I love the mutual respect and affection, the friendship of sorts that you've described, all wrapped up in your beautiful language.

Lines like this -The seasons twisted like a kaleidoscope - are perfection.

Renee said...

This is beautiful. I hope he always finds comfort in your friendship. And you in his respect.

Karen said...

I thought this was fiction and so wanted to know more of Eli's tale. With a jolt and Irene, I thought nonfiction. Whether your story or fiction, thank you for giving us Eli. :>

Ash said...

I so wanted Eli to be another character from your incredible imagination.

I hate a world where sons go without good fathers.

Victoria KP said...

This breaks my heart and gives me hope in one piece.

The Girl Behind said...

This is beautifully told and very real to me. I work with young people, some of whom have been touched by drugs and crime. But, whatever people are mixed up in, there's so very often a real heart in them does have some kind of sense of where the line is - even if it's a very long way from the one that most of us operate to.

I'm so pleased that you've chosen to write about Eli and explain a different side to the one that most people will perceive.

From Tracie said...

You have me crying so hard reading this. It is beautiful in the midst of heart break.

I hope that Eli finds peace and sobriety.

erin margolin said...

in awe of you & your writing. as always. and the photos? omg.

you are so incredibly talented.

Andrea (ace1028) said...

I really need to go to bed,but you and Eli pulled me in, so beautiful. So powerful, such worlds apart and so many words to bring you close together, thank you for sharing this beautiful piece.

Coby said...

My jaw is hitting the floor. This so powerful!

Sara said...


This made me cry. I loved how you told about "connections" in this story. It seemed to me that this theme was central, perhaps even more important than the separate characters.

From Eli's stopping to help new neighbors, to the husband serving as a temporary "father" and then to Eli returning, offering the extension cord...all connections.

This story is a beautifully told reminder to look beyond the flaws and find the treasures in people. After all, we all have both.

Well done and thank you for sharing this:~)

Denise Emanuel Clemen said...

Just found our blog. It's beautiful. The whole deal. The header. The writing, especially.

Kim said...

Your beautiful teacher soul shone through here. I love that we got all of him here. And now I'm grateful for your most recent piece even more.