My Neighbor

By Alison P. Martinez

“Do you know where Mohawk Drive is?” The woman’s dirty housedress hung loosely on her bony shoulders; she wore socks but no shoes. Her face was tanned ruddy, as if she walked long and far in the sun.

03_Martinez_JN“No, I don’t,” I shrugged, and continued my stroll to the park. Then I saw the woman asking others, who all shook their heads “no.”

Something pulled me back, so I approached her. “You’re very thin,” I said. “You’re wearing socks but no shoes. What’s the situation?”

“I went to the drugstore, but I can’t see too well, and I got disoriented.”

“If you’ll wait on this bench,” I said, “I’ll get directions at the gas station.”

I went there and stood in line, and then asked directions to Mohawk Drive. The clerk pointed to a stack of two-dollar maps. By the time I returned to the lost woman, she was getting up. Her resigned expression turned into a beautiful, gap-toothed smile when I come close.

“Mohawk Drive is three blocks south,” I said. “Shall I walk with you?”

And that’s how I met my neighbor Carol.

Carol lives by selling aluminum cans and renting out the bedrooms in her tumbledown mobile home. She sleeps on the living room floor. She can’t afford a telephone, television, or bus fare, but she never complains. “What I wish is that I could see an eye doctor,” she said. “I’m afraid the cancer I had years ago is coming back, and that’s why I can’t see. I want to know where I stand.”

Over the next six weeks, I called several government offices and social service agencies. It seemed like every office I called referred me to another one. I had moments of hopefulness during these conversations, but ultimately was told things like the waiting list is a year long, or the agency requires paperwork Carol doesn’t have, or the program has lost its funding.

One organization that came through for Carol was our local interfaith service agency, which began delivering meals to her. The food helped her put on a little weight, and she began acting more clearheaded.

I heard Lions Clubs sometimes pay for needy persons to see an eye doctor. I went to the local club’s meeting at a nearby café, only to discover the Lions weren’t meeting that day.

That’s when I knew it was up to me to help my neighbor. I found a coupon for an eye exam, made an appointment, and drove Carol to the optometrist’s office.

The eye doctor was a heavyset young man with a kind face. He didn’t wrinkle his nose at the smell of Carol’s clothing. He politely helped her into the high, black, leather chair.

The examination began with a squirt of air in each eye. “Good,” the doctor said, “you show no sign of glaucoma.”

The doctor projected an eye chart onto a screen, but Carol couldn’t read even the largest capital “E.” He raised his hand with three fingers extended. “How many fingers am I holding up?”

“One,” Carol said. “No, two, I think.” I’m glad she couldn’t see the somber expression that passed over the doctor’s face. He completed the examination, then told her gently, “You meet the criteria for legal blindness.”

The doctor walked us to the front desk. When I handed over my coupon and credit card, he shook his head. “There’s no charge,” he told the receptionist.

As we drove back to Carol’s place, I asked, “How do you feel?”

“I’m glad to have the diagnosis.”

“You’re glad?”

“The diagnosis doesn’t make my eyes any worse, but it can help me get disability and health care.”

“That’s true.”

“Mostly, I’m glad because now I see that God has something more for me to do here on earth,” Carol said. Startled, I glanced over at my passenger. Her face glowed with joy. “If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have sent you.”

________

Reprint from Live, October 26, 2014.

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