Thursday, December 15, 2011

Will's gift

Thirteen Christmases have blown by since the last time Will received a gift. 

"I got this for you, Will," I say, placing the shiny red, green and silver bag on the table in front of him at my work.  He sits, drinking a pint of eggnog, though admittedly not good for his arthritis, looking larger than he is in six layers of long sleeved shirts, sweaters and jackets. 

His smooth cheeks glow pink, a flush of unadulturated joy and surprise framing his sixty-something features.  "For me?  You... you really didn't have to do that." 

"Oh, I know... I just wanted to."  Now I'm the one feeling shy.  "But don't wait until Christmas to open it - you may want it before then."

I don't want to embarass him or make a big deal of the gift, so I prepare to leave him alone, until he captures me with his invitation: "Do you want me to open it now?"  The way he says it, the way his eyes reflect vulnerability and excitement, barely contained, melt my heart. 

"Sure, Will, I'd love that."  I sit down across from him. 

He pulls each piece of clothing out with effusive thanks, saying they remind him of his kayaking days, out on the waters in layers of polypropylene.  "You know, I was just thinking yesterday, trying to remember, when was the last time I received a Christmas present?"  His gaze settles somewhere in his periphery, a distant smile playing across his lips.  "Thirteen years..." he finally murmurs.  I am mesmerized by his face, this kind older man, so street weathered yet gentle, with the distant eyes that flicker momentary light of joy.   

As is so often the case, I'm at loss for words.  The little I know - he has a daughter and a granddaughter and family back east, but he's called the streets home for the past twelve years - leaves gaping holes in his story.  Will possesses a voracious appetite for books - science fiction, philosophy and psychology.  In the year or so that I've known him, moving in and out of my workplace like an afternoon shadow, he's spoken about a book he's trying to write.  It seems he has a bad case of writer's block, or so he says, but I wonder if it's his mind that puzzles him more than anything. 

I invite him to join Ricardo and Mom and I for breakfast on Christmas Eve, but his face changes.  He protests, not wanting to impose, but I can't convince him it would be an honor to have him celebrate with us.  He explains with a story about his mom, about something traumatic that happened to her when she was young, how he can't celebrate Christmas because of that.  To honor her.  It doesn't make sense to me, but this is his story, and so I let it drop.  "Well, if you change your mind, Will, know that you're welcome with us."

"I'm used to being alone," he says.  His eyes are distant again, the spark gone, though he says this without gloom. 

He's inhabited his own world for more than twelve years. 

We rise from our seats - me, back to work, and him, to try his clothes on in the bathroom.  "Thank you, very much," he says again, then softly adds, "You have the heart of a real Christian.  Merry Christmas."

I'm the one who should be thanking him.   

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