When you see a UPS man, you get out of his way. This is for your own safety. UPS men (and women, of course) are in a hurry. They have to be. They have a truck full of packages that must be delivered before their day can be considered done. No exceptions.
So when on a morning walk I spotted a UPS man delivering a package to a lady in the neighborhood, and when I saw him actually stop and talk to said lady in a conversation, I paid attention.
Older woman, smartly dressed. She smiled and laughed and touched his arm in a motherly sort of way, and he nodded and smiled and tipped his cap as he left.
Funny thing about that house: I didn’t recall ever noticing it. Our neighborhood, though rural and against the mountain, is still a pretty big place. Very likely a few hundred houses in all. I supposed that with so many homes, misplacing one or two in my memory was bound to happen.
My kids did not trick-or-treat there. I was sure of that. And I was equally sure there were no Christmas decorations there last December. I would remember.
I passed by just as the UPS man paused at his truck to type something into his electronic clipboard.
“How ya doin’?” I called.
“Good,” he answered. “You?”
“Good. Busy today?”
He laughed. “Always busy, my man. Especially here.”
“Oh yeah?”“Oh yeah. I’m here every day.”
So began a rather lengthy conversation about the unseen woman in the unseen house. Eleanor, whom I had neither met nor seen in all my years in the neighborhood. Which was, according to the UPS man, a forgivable offense. No one else had really met or seen her either.
She was alone. No family. No children. She spent her life inside for the most part, venturing out for groceries rarely and only when the needs outweighed the trip. She wasn’t a recluse, he said. She was just shy and didn’t want to be a bother.
“Nothing wrong with that, right?” he asked.
“Not a thing.”
He turned and stared at the house. I did likewise. A corner of the living room curtain waved, as if someone was peeking out.
“But she’s lonely. Real lonely. I drop off something for her most every day. She gets these catalogs in the mail, see. Every catalog you can think of. She’ll call and order stuff all day long.”
“Guess everyone needs a hobby,” I offered.
“Ain’t a hobby,” he said. “Like I said, she’s lonely. She orders stuff just to have someone to talk to. Knows all those operators by name, mostly. Talks about ‘em like they’re her family. Which I guess they kinda are.”
“Shut up,” I said.
“Seriously. Told me so herself. I guess they don’t mind. They get her money, she gets some company. She started talking to me because I always delivered the stuff. I always hustle on my other stops because I know she’ll want to sit and talk a while.”
The curtain moved again.
“Gotta go, my man. Take it easy, huh?”
“Yeah,” I answered, still looking at the house. “You, too.”
He left. I stood. Staring at the house.
The curtain moved again.
I could imagine Eleanor in her living room, scared to death and wondering what the strange man by the driveway was doing. She probably had the phone in her hand, ready to call for help. Not 911, though. Given what I’d learned, it was more likely Pottery Barn.
I always considered the forgotten among us to be confined to some faraway city street, huddled beneath park benches or in soup kitchens. That many resided here in my peaceful town was unthinkable. That one resided just down the road from me was heartbreaking.
I walked up the driveway and rang her doorbell. The curtain moved again. There was silence.
Then the door opened.
Eleanor passed on recently. I can say that we had many a good visit with one another. I can also say, however, that loneliness is one of those things that doesn’t disappear at once. It takes time. Time she didn’t have.
If I have one consolation, it’s that I’ve learned the company she lacked in this life was found in the next.
Because according to the nurses at the hospital, her last words were these:“I see angels everywhere.”