The year didn’t start out great. And the one before that didn’t end well. A heavy gloom seems to hang about the old house, and there are cracks on its walls and holes through the floors, as if the hulking chunk of cement at the end of the street has puckered into a frown.
He can’t walk by himself anymore. Someone has to grasp his arm, let his mind know he won’t fall. Someone has to push at his back, lead his muscles to where he wants to sit. Someone has to show him how to make a step, let his eyes see that walking means lifting one foot and then the other.
One day he forgot he needed help. He tried to move by himself. The legs failed to hold him up. His head suffered a gash. There was blood but he claimed there was no pain–of course the cut would bring blood. The house was in an anxious uproar. Yet he was calm, taking his usual seat near the tired windows. Now and then he would hold up a hand to touch his head.
One day there was the sound of a chair being dragged. He was looking at the floor, a nail cutter in his hand, his feet tugging at a helpless stool. The toenails have gotten overly long. We got them onto the stool. I took the cutter and proceeded to snip. He had made it look so easy and quick when I was a kid, trimming my nails in maybe ten minutes. I did his in more than half an hour. I never would have thought that our roles would be reversed. He had always been the big man. There was always a spring in his steps. There were tough times but he never worried, always finding a way to provide what we needed. I never would have thought there would come a day when he wouldn’t be able to do for himself the everyday things we all take for granted.
One day he couldn’t change his shorts by himself. One day, without his knowing, yellow liquid began to drip from his chair. One day he forgot I didn’t live in the house anymore and called out to say it was time to eat.
One night he phoned to let me know he was going out to work. He used to be a security guard, and one of his shifts started at midnight. He said he had played softball during the day. He sounded happy, like he always does when he recounts his adventures. Softball is great, I said, but let the young fellas keep watch over the beverage plant. Old men like you need their rest. He laughed–I can work. I am still strong.
That he is. He always has been. I don’t know how he can still sing his favorite songs despite his debilitating illness. I don’t know how his face breaks into the sunniest of smiles when his grandkid teases him about his booze-induced debacles–when he would dare the neighbors to fight him in the dead of the night. I don’t know how sadness does not seem to touch him. He takes each day as it comes. Sometimes it lets him walk. Sometimes it holds him a prisoner of the chair by the windows. But he lets it be. Perhaps he feels lonely too, but he lets it be.
One day, puffing my way down a mountain, I suddenly thought of how he might have enjoyed such a hip-splitting trek. It may have taken him back to his youth and to his own mountain adventures. I know for him it was different–he explored places so he and his family could survive. But they were adventures for him too, lighting his eyes whenever he speaks of them.
That light dispels the gloom hanging over the house at the end of the lane. It is trying to take back the bleakness ushered in by the year, a gray cloak that seems to follow me everywhere. I have to keep reminding myself of one thing: the disease that robbed him of all adventures could not steal his spirit. And for that I must be grateful.