Dad insisted than his children would not be troublemakers and we would make up for any problems we caused. The very next day after the fight Dad marched me up the hill to apologize to Eddie and his parents. I walked quietly because Dad would not accept any discussion or arguing. My apology was just a man to man thing that had to be done.
Eddie met us halfway up the hill. His face was still swollen, and in the deepest part of my heart, I was glad. Eddie was a bully and treated everybody badly. As we continued walking I began to see another of Eddie that I had not known before.
He pointed to a small hole in the ground. “That’s our storm shelter if a tornado hits,” he proudly boasted.
I didn’t dare say this out loud. “That’s way too small. The rain would probably fill it up before anyone got inside.”
Eddie stopped in front of a dingy, dirty shack. There were large holes in the roof. All of the windows, except for one, had been broken out and replaced with cardboard. The last window had half a pane and flies flew in and out. There were no screens on the windows nor were there screen doors. Nevertheless, the doors were open to let any breezes in.
I soon understood why the doors were open. As we entered the house I noticed a strange sickening odor but I didn’t say anything. I was already in trouble because of the fight and Dad would not appreciate any impolite behavior from me. I stepped cautiously, avoiding a large gaping hole in the middle of the floor.
Eddie introduced us to his brothers and sisters. Except when it rained they’d probably never been in water. Eddie casually said, “This is my mom.” She nodded but said nothing. She continued to rock a tiny baby who had diaper rash down to his knees. I could imagine the terrible sores that would be hidden by the soiled rags that served as diapers.
I didn’t want to think about the baby being in pain. I had seen enough. I wanted to apologize and leave as quickly as possible, but I was trapped, at least for now.
The house was not suitable for a family to live in. I studied the paper thin walls, wondering what held them up. I saw the wood burning stove and thought how easily a fire could burn everything. I looked around, trying to locate a sink or water faucets. There was only a water bucket. Through the doorway I could see their outdoor toilet, too close to the house. I shuddered and turned away.
I was led into a bedroom and saw dirty quilts covered with tiny specks and suddenly realized those specks were lice. But my attention was focused at the center of the unkempt bed. There, with his back to me, was another of Eddie’s brothers. He gulped and clawed food from a cracked, food encrusted plate. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this! Then he turned, and I recoiled in horror. His eyes were covered with flies. His tongue pushed them from his mouth. I did not need to hear the words, “He’s blind.” I already knew that.
“I’m sorry,” I blurted out. “I didn’t mean to hurt Eddie. I would never have….” My voice trailed off. I was going to say, “I would never have gone for Eddie’s eyes if I had known”, but Dad interrupted me just in time. “I think it’s time for us to go,” he said quietly. “We’ll be glad to stop by and give you a hand anytime you need it.” Eddie’s mom smiled at us but said nothing. There was too much pride to accept help from strangers. And Eddie’s dad? I found out later that his dad was lying drunk beside the road as usual, trying to drown out life.
Dad explained later that Eddie and his mom were often beaten and punched after the dad’s drunken binges. The family just put up with it. There was nothing that could be done. Then, a few months later, news came that Eddie’s dad was run over by a car as he staggered across a highway.
Dad and I stopped at Eddie’s house every Saturday and found projects we could help with. People from town began helping or donating supplies. Dad talked to a doctor and convinced him to check on the family. Soon the children were wearing clean clothes and had begun receiving medical care. Around Christmas a miracle occurred. Someone had donated a modern house with plumbing and electricity.
I began tutoring Eddie after school and found out he learned quickly. He was way behind at first but over the next two years he gradually worked his way up until he was at grade level. Eddie and I had become fast friends. The fight was never brought up again.
Eddie got a steady job when he was fifteen because he was dependable. He appeared tired sometimes, but I knew he was tutoring his brothers and sisters as well as doing chores. Often I volunteered to help and I would help when they would let me.
One of Eddie’s brothers was killed in an automobile accident and another became the town drunk. The rest of the family kind of drifted away and I lost contact with them. I heard from Eddie for awhile but then he stopped returning my phone calls. I wish I knew what Eddie was doing now but I bet he’s a company big shot and helping lots of people. I sure hope he’s happy.
By helping Eddie I had learned much about myself and about others. I decided that self esteem is what life is all about. If I felt good about myself, then I would probably feel good about those around me. And if I helped those around me feel good about themselves, then perhaps their views of the world would vastly improve. Since then I have learned to be more accepting of others. I may never know what hardships they’re going through or hardships they’ve gone through, but I will try to help whichever way I can.