Why did he go? He had nothing to lose but his name. His mind would not let him stay. He had no way to get out in the world he once knew…
The song echoed relentlessly and his brain: “…turalurahley the turah loo rah loo is an Irish Lullaby….: he could see his mother’s grey eyes… Dorothy, he could hear her in her scratchy but soft voice singing this as she rocked him to sleep.
Why hadn’t they even sung a song? That was all he wanted. But even on their 70th wedding anniversary, the family couldn’t or wouldn’t sing to he and Margaret. It was he who had to suggest the song and then suffer the humiliation of singing it off-key and overly loud to the assembled party.
The only one who paid him any attention was a sweet three-year-old Maddie, she tried to imitate him. But his son had failed him once again. It would not be the first time he had done so and certainly not the last.
Just because he wanted to live somewhere where he could hear birds singing on the porch… without having to watch the ninety-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s stare vacantly at arriving visitors… just because… a place where adults wore proper undergarments and not diapers… a place where a revolving door of staff called him “honey” or “sweetie” or any other inappropriate diminutive you might even use on your pet..a place where people called him by his proper name. Robert-damn it that is my name, Robert! Its cadence was so sweet; so endearing…
He wanted to walk into a local cafe and have the friendly young girl behind the counter greet him: “…hello Robert what do you feel like having today?” He could then choose from a toothsome array of goodies. Would he go for a sweet cinnamon roll? A simple chocolate eclair? Or would his tastes lean toward the more savory-a rich Gruyere and ham quiche…or a Bechamel and turkey Panini? The choices swam before his eyes and he realized he’d not had breakfast because he didn’t want to share it with Helen again.
He would usually have to eat with Helen and the euphemistically titled dining room where wheelchair stalls were coming and residents took interminably long to painfully push themselves along to get out of the way. More irritatingly and more often than not these sorts would get into long, incoherent conversations. Like what time is it now: at 1:54 they will come to get you on the bus and so nauseatingly forth. So it was into this environment he would push Helen; heavily in her wheelchair. Helen!… the image he thought of was Troy, and she had captured his heart long ago just as ruthlessly. The Platinum Myrna Loy mane, the ice cool blue eyes, those red lips and those legs! Helen stood 5/8 and weighed about a hundred and ten pounds in her prime.
Now Helen cried 8 days out of 10. Her platinum locks were shimmering white and no less abundant but they sprang out alarmingly from her head, like a shocked dandelion. Her hands trembled violently whenever she attempted to hold a fork or spoon. And she was proud, oh so proud. She did not want anyone to see this, so she masked her actions and took hours to complete a meal. Their only other dining choice was the small apartment. Here, Robert would break open a breakfast bar and brew a pot of coffee to entice Helen to wake up earlier, even though it meant he would have to summon a non-existent nurse to get her out of bed and get her dressed. Helen hated mornings and rising to face the day became a war. Lunch and dinner were longer versions of these scenes, and Robert had enough.
So, the first day of summer, Robert gave his wardens a 30 day notice he and Helen were moving back to their native Rochester from Tampa, Florida he expected his son to be unsupportive and unsympathetic. What he did not expect was Helen’s answer.
As he returned from the Assisted Living director’s office, he was astounded to find Helen waiting for him in the hallway in her wheelchair. She wore lipstick, her hair was tamed and her blue eyes shot ferocious bolts at him. She held out what looked to be a letter to him. The paper shook and rattled and her unsteady grip. Robert stumbled and gasped aloud as you read what it said:
” You’re looking at me like I live here with you and I don’t!”
A tune from ‘Les Miserables’ suddenly entered his head…why now?…why could he remember these tunes and words with such astounding accuracy….when he couldn’t remember his own age accurately?
“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken- there’s a pain goes on and on- empty chairs and empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone.
There they talked of Revolution…
there it was they lit the flame; there they talked about tomorrow
and tomorrow never came.
From this table in the corner, they could see a world reborn and they rose with voices ringing
and I can hear them now
the very words that they had sung became their last communion on this lonely barricade at dawn.
Oh my friends, my friends forgive me
that I live and you were gone.
There’s a grief that can’t be spoken there’s a pain goes on and on.
Phantom faces at the window, phantom shadows on the floor
Empty chairs at empty tables where my friends will meet no more
oh my friends my friends, don’t ask me what your sacrifice was for
empty chairs at empty Tables where my friends will sing no more.”
And yet for the life of him he couldn’t read that book…the real story of it…anymore…the story was so convoluted..he’d read a paragraph and the words would blur beyond his vision..his very head would ache.
“WELL”? She had barked rather than stated the question. He looked at her, too shocked at the sound of her voice to answer. “Where are you taking me now, and why won’t you stay with me?”