This is not primarily a funny piece – quite the opposite. But I’m adding it here anyway, as I have nowhere else to put it. (mn)
He sits in his four-wheeled walker, facing the facility entrance. His wander-alert bracelet sets off the alarm if he comes closer, and after many breaches, my husband knows this. So he waits just out of range, beyond the lobby carpet.
As I approach the glass doors from outside, I see him, twenty feet back, where the linoleum starts. He’s bouncing up and down a little and waving. His vulnerability pains me. I’m all he has, and we both know it.
There’s no question that I’ll always be there. He is my once-strong partner, my manly trucker, a legend on Vancouver’s docks for solving truck-loading problems for his company. Like the oversized glass panels that had to be mounted on specially-designed racks. He designed those racks, and they’re still used today by local trucking companies.
“You should have patented those,” I told him.
“Nah…I just did it to help out the guys.” And he had.
Now that inventive mind can no longer think logically or remember what he just said or what he had for lunch half an hour ago.
How can he bear it?
How can I?
The automatic doors swing open for me and I feel guilty; he can’t understand why he cannot come and go as I do. But he endures it, as he endures all else in this place. He is a marvel of adaptation, sunny and cheerful, never blaming me for putting him here.
Why isn’t he angry at this sudden turn of fate? How can he remain so forbearing with me and others? Why doesn’t he resent being so frail? He’s not completely befuddled, so why is he not depressed? My theory is that he feels safe here. And he doesn’t think about himself much. It’s a wonderful quality.
The friendly, young receptionist smiles as I pass by her desk by the entrance door. I can see that she has something to tell me.
“He told me ‘a friend’ was coming,” she chuckles. It’s a small joke, unwanted, perhaps, but bearable. He’s never referred to me as “a friend” before.
It’s alright, I tell myself. But it hurts a little. After 45 years together, it hurts.
It’s another measure of how I’m losing him.
“I’m 75 years old!” he tells people proudly.
Yes, you are. And you’re frail, too. These are my thoughts.
Right now, I hurry forward, in case impatience makes him cross the alarm barrier. He’s already standing, bobbing up and down with arms outstretched. I wrap my arms around him and we hold each other tight for a long moment, whispering sweet nothings, reassuring one another and ourselves. Only twenty-four hours have passed.
After disarming the wander-alert, I call him forward and we exit together. He pushes the walker while waving to the receptionist. He’s out of ‘San Quentin’ at last, as he calls it, and for the next two hours, we’ll drive around, laughing and talking nonsense, stopping off at Tim Horton’s for a hot chocolate in the car. Best of all, for him, will be smoking two or three cigarettes in the motorized warmth. It’s a complete luxury for him, as the “home” allows only ten per day, taken outside in the freezing cold. The car is much better; it has become his refuge, a cozy place where he can smoke at will, travel the city streets and be with me. It has become our gypsy caravan.
“I just love driving around like this!” he often exclaims. “I could do it all afternoon.”
And if it weren’t for my sciatica, so could I.