I am currently sitting in the pharmacy, waiting to pick up prescriptions for my neighbor, X. He is one of the more colorful characters on my block: a young man with an easily distractible but friendly affect who loves to pound on the door and invite himself in when it looks like someone is home. Last weekend my family and I were cooking a little and, true to form, he came around and we sat him down to eat. “This is good,” he said between bites, eating like he hadn’t in a while. “I never get home cooked meals,” he said, looking at me. “You’re so lucky to have a mom who cooks. My mom never cooked.”
My mom and I looked at each other. “Where is your mom now?” I asked casually.
“In Baltimore.” Not here. He didn’t elaborate. I didn’t press.
Every time X comes over he asks for a slice of bread or toast; I try to give him something more if I’ve been cooking, and so when he came pounding on my door again last night, I was relieved that we had food to offer.
He sat down to eat, hungrier but quieter than usual. “This is the first food I’ve had in days,” he said. “My throat hurts.”
Understatement of the day. He showed me his tonsils, which he said should have been taken out years before:
He had been drooling more and felt feverish, so I told him he should go to the ER. What else could I do?
Early this morning: *pound pound* A little weaker this time. I had been sleeping, but bleary-eyed I open the door. He looks thinner than before. He tells me he got something IV in the ER, then went back home. Still can barely eat. Hasn’t filled the prescriptions because he’s afraid of how much they would cost, and because I suspect a falling out with his dad means he doesn’t have access to a car. He’s been sleeping on a makeshift couch in the entrance of his father’s house, with a little space heater pushing warm air through the tepid cigarette smoke.
The prescriptions are ready. They only cost $15, a small price I think he really shouldn’t have trouble paying back. He’s been a good neighbor and friend; he always asks me how I’m doing and nearly came to visit me when I was in the hospital as a patient. I wrestle a lot with questions of paternalism and condescension in the way I serve others, often feeling self-conscious about positions of power and privilege. But I am slowly learning what it means to simply love your neighbor, and it is a relief and liberty and joy to do.