The Monadnock Roar
Yankee classic from November 1990
You’ve never heard of Eliot Elanman. It’s not even his real name. I came to know him during the two years my wife and I were resident-managers in a halfway house in Boston, Massachusetts.
The people who came to live with us were mostly manic-depressives or alcoholics or drug addicts. Occasionally a schizophrenic would come along, but primarily it was someone whose childhood had been so bad that it had altered his or her ability to cope with society in a normal way.
Eliot was a product of this latter condition. He had lived at home with his mother for 48 years. He managed to attend Boston University for a while, but when his mother died, it was as if his umbilical cord had finally been severed and Eliot had to learn to breathe on his own for the first time. The only problem was he didn’t want to.
Eliot had other problems, too. For one thing, he suffered from severe epilepsy. He was on heavy medication for this, but every so often in an effort to be normal, Eliot would get sick of taking his medication. The results were always the same: a grand mal seizure, some sort of injury caused from his fall or his thrashing about, and a brief stay in the hospital. Eliot also had Parkinson’s disease. He was on heavy medication for this also, but his head and hands always trembled and he occasionally couldn’t control his drooling.
Eliot’s shaking and drooling added to what many of us felt was his worst infirmity. Eliot was ugly. His head was twice the normal size, and his face was hairy. He also had several tumor-like bumps on his cheeks and nose, and there were some large moles on his forehead. He wasn’t horrible to look at, just sort of difficult.
When he first came to live with us, he was depressed. During the first few weeks he wouldn’t eat or socialize with any of us. When I brought this to his doctor’s attention, he put Eliot on an antidepressant drug. This worked most of the time, but now Eliot was aggressive, demanding, and rude. Eating with him was guaranteed to spoil the appetite. Taking advantage of his oversized mouth, he would wedge whole hamburgers into it or jam frozen Pop-Tarts into it and let them dissolve.
One day about ten months after he arrived, he suddenly started eating with a fork. None of us could remember his having done that before. Just as casually as he had picked up the fork, he stated that he liked living with us at the house, and he considered me to be almost the father he had never had. He went on to say that he would try very hard from that moment on, not only to adjust to living in a proper way, but also to help make the house a better place for everyone.
I was somewhat disturbed with his “father” idea, especially since Eliot was 20 years older than I, but the rest of what he said couldn’t have made me happier. By the time six months had passed. Eliot made good his promise and was indeed the strongest and most contributing member the house had ever known.
Eliot was the one who brought up the idea of climbing Mt. Monadnock. Everyone was extremely excited about climbing a mountain, especially since only a few of them had ever done so before. Four of them, including Eliot, had never even been out of the Boston area. I agreed to the trip, but pointed out that because of their medications and their physical conditions we would only be climbing up part of the mountain, halfway at best.
Their spirits were momentarily dampened, but I assured them that I knew a secret and special trail that provided some of the best views the mountain had to offer. And so, on the following Sunday, a beautifully crisp fall day, we crammed ourselves into two cars and journeyed north to the great outdoors.
I suppose in the back of my mind I knew it was going to be difficult. I had accepted and prepared myself for the inevitable: a lot of wheezing and stumbling, even more complaining, probably a few scrapes, and maybe even a bee sting or two. I was praying that no one would sprain an ankle, get lost, or worst of all, tumble off the mountain’s side. But with the help of an old friend who had recently hiked the Appalachian Trail, I felt that most, if not all, catastrophes could be avoided.
What I hadn’t counted on was the full extent of catastrophic possibilities that Eliot brought along with him. It was the darndest thing: If Eliot stumbled forward, his brain reacted as if he had stumbled backward, and vice versa; that old brain of his would just push him even farther in the wrong direction.
My friend and I finally solved the problem by walking directly in front of and in back of him. I was in back and would shout if he started stumbling forward, whereby my friend would stop and brace himself, letting Eliot land on him. If Eliot started stumbling backwards, I was right there to catch him. I don’t have to tell you which way Eliot and his brain chose to stumble the most. By the time we reached the halfway point, my arms were aching, my lip was swollen, and I had a mouse under my left eye.
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