this is a picture of my grandfather walking the streets of Seattle, circa 1950. he can’t be older than 21. i just found the photo the other day in a shoe box in his empty house; if i hadn’t found it there and it didn’t have his name written on the back of it i don’t know if i’d have known it was him. i might have mistaken him for a poet or a philosopher or an actor.
because needless to say he doesn’t look like that anymore.
now he’s propped up in a bed in a nursing home, his skin like a thin sheath stretched over his skull, eyes half open but seeing nothing. his hair white as snow, oddly beautiful due to the contrast of the rest of him.
his right arm is lifeless due to what they think is a recent stroke, his toes flexed up and twitching in a way that doesn’t look either comfortable or possible, caused they think by the cancer that is eating his insides bumping against the nerves.
the oxygen tubes that are draped over his ears wrapped in cloth or kleenex to soften the rubbing and friction that was causing his ears to bleed.
the tubes that were in his nose to supply him with oxygen now allowed to rest in his mouth, as that’s where he’s breathing from anyway, and still he gasps for breath.
a year ago he could’ve kicked your ass.
or at least, you know, thrown a punch. fought back.
even a month or so ago when i had to take him to the ER for shortness of breath because i was the only one in the family that wasn’t at work that morning, when he was being examined by the nurse he looked over and with his deadpan expression made his ears wiggle up and down the way he always would to get a laugh out of me when i was a kid, and i couldn’t help but smile.
but the fight, and the jokes, are gone.
you know how you hear of old couples dying within 6 months of each other?
it’s as if a part of him made that decision to do just that as my grandmother lay in the same bed in the same room in the same nursing home dying of heart failure a few months ago.
it’s as if his body knew his love of 60 years was dying, better get a jump on things if you want to follow her in a timely fashion.
considering she passed in october, if following her is indeed his soul’s goal, it seems he’s right on schedule.
i couldn’t help but think of this photo as i watched him lying helplessly in his bed this morning gasping for breath, unresponsive due to the possible stroke or the cancer or the morphine or all of the above.
this same body that once roamed the streets, a young man about town with his good looks and his wits and his whole future still ahead of him now is a mockery.
his body has betrayed him. a body that a few months ago walked 3 miles a day with pride and without fail now is unsteady to go down the hall to the bathroom.
his mind which had one of the best memories of anyone i’d ever met- you know how when you preface any story of something that happened to you, you say “one time…”? he knew the month and the year, no exception- his mind now can’t remember what he had for lunch.
his gregarious nature denied in an unresponsive body in a lonely room in a nursing home.
his very manhood mocked by his current helplessness.
and i stared at him with no point in speaking to him since he cannot respond nor show sign of having heard if in fact he did hear and i don’t know if i could have thought of something to say even if it were worth it.
because the thought i couldn’t get away from was “this is our future”.
mine. yours. everybody you’ve ever known or will ever meet, everybody you’ve ever loved or admired or hated, it doesn’t matter.
death plays no favorites.
it is the one indisputable truth of all existence- all else is conjecture.
a way to kill time before death comes to make a mockery of all you once were, and all you could have been.
i don’t care how young you are now, the time will catch up with you and i learn increasingly every year that it is as the blink of an eye and i doubt there are many people who react to the increasing uselessness of their body with the thought “right on time”.
your strength and your beauty will fade and recede and let you down and you will become helpless and old like the ones you made fun of in your youth. as if you truly believed it wouldn’t happen to you.
as if your body wouldn’t one day betray you and your wits abandon you and the world you knew in your youth wouldn’t disappear and become almost like legend and be replaced with something you can’t understand and would rather not speak of. your loved ones dead and your grandchildren a disappointment to you.
i know it’s customary in such situations to say he’ll soon be going to a better place. that he’ll be reunited with his wife. i don’t know that i believe that. i can’t say for certainty that it’s not true, either, and it’s certainly a pleasant thought- more so than that his consciousness has simply been erased as if it never was in which case what was the point of consciousness in the first place. nor do i think that religion should be mocked, for even if it is nothing more than an “opiate for the feeble minded” it’s an opiate to which i feel people have a right and it’s nobody else’s business, goddamn it.