Nothing really interesting happened until about 2PM yesterday. I get a phone call from my teacher. Always a delight, I hadn't talked to her yet that day, and couldn't wait to wish her a Merry Christmas.
"Merry Christmas, Peter."
Are you okay?
...no, you're not. I've known you for almost twenty years. That is not your usual voice.
It takes me a while to break her down. "I don't want to bring you down on Christmas."
We are friends. You've been there for me through a lot of trials and frustrations. Here's a time when I can give back. What's going on?
My teacher had come back to Illinois because her niece was overwhelmed taking care of her kid, the one I've dubbed the Munchkin. Her niece became pregnant again, and it was a very difficult pregnancy -- she almost lost the baby twice that I know of. Constant medical checkups or rushes to the E/R to make sure everything was fine, not to mention an extended stay when Elizabeth was born due to further complications.
This has put a strain on the family's finances. The local parish they are a part of decided to help out just a tiny bit. The niece was going to get a Christmas turkey dinner with all the trimming from them, on the house. Others in the family planned to converge there on Christmas Day and celebrate.
Someone stole the food. Right off their doorstep.
It takes a lot for my vision to tint red with absolute rage. That did it. And my teacher was clearly trying to keep from crying as she related this and let all her feelings pour out. There were five kids there, the oldest no older than seven. The stores were closed because it was Christmas. And that was the food.
Suddenly, the red haze was gone. My brain is a remarkable instrument. It is capable of splitting into two independently operating units when needed, slowing down only to share the bus between them. As I listened to her vent her frustration, I went into the kitchen. Because of overtime, I had a slew of fast and easy to make things (when I'm working 12 hour days, my first rule of dinner is, "Anything that takes longer to make than it does to eat is not worth the effort"). Turning on the TV to create distracting sounds, I start throwing together some stuff for meals to take to them right now.
(Part of it was concern for the kids being without food. But the other part was for the whole family. I've been there. I've been robbed, more than once. I've been screwed more than once. And I know the feelings. The despair. The anger. The helplessness. Thinking that the only reason you exist is for others to exploit, that things are only yours because no one is interested in taking them, but the instant they are, you will be a victim and there is nothing you can do. I know what it is like to sit up and night and just wish for the whole goddamn world to burn to a cinder. And the fastest cure is for someone to care, to reach out, to show you DO have worth in the world. Sometimes, just a sympathetic shoulder is all it takes. But I'm a compulsive overachiever -- I had the ability to do more, and goddammit, I was going to do so. They would not suffer on my watch.)
The kids' portion of the meal was a breeze -- kids are easy to please. I crumbled up some hamburger, browned it, a couple of jars of Ragu, instant pasta (I decided to cook any noodles once I got there, it would only take 11 minutes). I also started my trademark meal, my Super Delicious Ultra-Nutricious Incredible Edible Salisbury Steaks, for the grown-ups. I just hoped they would soak up enough in the pot. I also grabbed a couple of packets of frozen vegetables from the freezer (if you've seen pictures of me, you know I'm a meat eater, so I have to actually remember vegetable side dishes).
Once everything was finally cooking, I decided I'd reached the PNR. I told my teacher, I'm coming over with food.
"I didn't tell you that to make you do this!"
Well, this is an awful lot of food. If I don't bring it over, it's just going to go to waste. You might as well take it. (No, I did not do an evil laugh. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)
"No! I feel terrible! I...."
I went right for the throat. I told her in a singsong voice, Think of the children.
I could almost hear the synapses in her brain exploding like the Big Bay Boom. And by the way, I do feel guilty about shamelessly exploiting her emotions like that...ah, no, I don't.
So, a scant forty minutes after I started, I loaded up all the pots, boxes of noodles, vegetables, and other miscellany into the Angry Red Dragon (my car) and took off.
When I got to the house, it was her, her niece's husband, and Elizabeth. Where is everyone?
"They went to find a store that was open so they could get food for tonight."
Didn't you tell them I was coming?
"I did, but...wait. How much food did you make?"
I started bringing it in, and my teacher and the husband's eyes went wide as I made a number of trips. He looked unbelievably grateful. She was starting to tear up. No sooner had I set the last pot down than she wrapped me in a huge hug.
They tried calling the niece and others to say come back, but the phone was on the fritz. So I stuck around to wait. The noodles didn't take long, and we watched some of the My Little Pony -- Friendship Is Magic eps on my tablet on their TV (he had never seen the show before, he was hooked before too long). We had some dinner together, it was all very nice and sweet.
About 7:30, I said I had to be going because I had work the next day and, if I was late, I would lose my holiday pay. No sooner was my hand on the door than there was a knock. The rest of the family had returned. They found stores open on the east side of Chicago.
The niece looked at all my pots and stuff. "What's this?"
My teacher just smiled. "He made us Christmas dinner."
"But I brought food! You didn't have to do that, Peter!"
Once again, I shamelessly played their emotions. I pointed out, it is now 7:30PM. It will take you at least forty minutes to get something made. THIS is ready RIGHT NOW.
As if to emphasize the point, the oldest boy and the Munchkin were picking at the noodles and hoping no one would notice.
So, after the screaming projectile that was my teacher's niece launched herself at me to hug me, everyone started digging in. Tears of joy streamed everywhere. And the niece is now calling me Superman (my teacher just called me her knight in shining armor). They called to thank me when I got home. And they called me again today.
(I was forced out of my last position at my job because my boss thought I was weird. Unlike her normal friends, I didn't drink, I didn't watch Springer, I loved cartoons, I loved Pokemon, I collected comics...I was weird and didn't fit in with her little group. Well, this weirdo just saved Christmas for a poor family. Would any of your normal friends have done that? Hell, would they even associate with anyone below the poverty line? Rethink what makes a person worthwhile, because the day is coming when you'll wish you had a standup guy like me in your life. And to whoever it was that stole food from children, I hope to God you burn in Hell.)
So what did I get for Christmas?
I got to be the hero.
And it feels good.