A Brief Reprieve
An old man and his wife are walking in the park. All of a sudden, a bird flies overhead and lets loose a gigantic, creamy white shit all over the old man's head. "For Christ's sake," the man shouts. "Honey, you got any Kleenex or toilet paper or something in your bag?"
"What on earth for," she asks. "That bird's got to be a mile away by now!"
I told that joke to Pop-Pop Saturday afternoon. His eyes crinkled tight and he laughed, long and hard. He needed a laugh pretty bad. When I lifted him up in his bed, the IV portal in his arm erupted with freshets of dark blood, streaming thin like rubbing alcohol down his pale, frail arm.
He's on blood thinners to prevent the pooling blood in his heart from clotting, letting the damaged heart do its work. The spray was completely normal, no big deal, but man, it's a shock seeing that much blood.
I helped Pop-Pop shift in bed, my armpits under his shoulders. I've been going to the gym for years now, but there is no weight like the body of your own grandfather. Wheezing, nervous and wide-eyed, he looked at me waiting for my three-count, steeling himself for battle against diabetic hospital cuisine and its nefarious general, chopped cooked carrots.
"This crap gets more like Army food every time they serve it," he swore. "At 4:30 this morning, two enormous colored women came into my room, surrounded me. 'Quick,' they said -- 'we can get some blood from this one', and they jabbed me in the arm. I thought we were having some kinda terrorist attack. Do what you want with your life, Jeffrey, but never, ever get old."
I helped Pop-pop navigate his lunch, coaxing, bargaining and wheedling with him to eat something, anything. He had two bites of the beef and noodles, part of a dinner roll, sucked down his iced tea and was ready to call it a day. Then he saw the Jell-O. I've never said it before, but I'm sure I'll say it again -- thank God for Jell-O.
We got him through lunch semi-okay, the process set to the soundtrack of the heart patient in the room next to crunching, and I shit you not, his way through a contraband sack of pork rinds.
Didja hear the one about the old couple walking in the park?" Pop-Pop asked me, just before we left for the night.
"No," I lied. "Tell me."
Today's lunchtime symphony was conducted by Daro, a master wrangler of Pop-Pop's moods and willpower.Once I got him upright, Daro was huddling over the lunch tray across from him, tasting, salting, mixing and coaxing. "Do you need your teeth in or out," she asked, holding their Tupperware home away from home. I wish I'd remembered that.
Daro stood there, all love and business, a 92-year old woman pushing the hard line on some crap chow, breathing deeply the smell of a sporadically sponge-bathed octogenarian who has seen the doorway of death. If she felt it, she didn't flinch. She was clucking and fussing with warm Christian cussing, and I'll be damned if she didn't get some more lunch in there.
You can read so much online about dating. Everyone wants not just a partner, but the perfect partner. We want flat abs and wit, we want money and initiative, frequent great sex AND fidelity, humor, business acumen and flawless manners. I think we're missing the boat.
That's the stuff of great beginnings. That's what we say we want, a beginning with sparks and crackle. This weekend, I spent a lot of time thinking about the end. And when the end comes, I want someone to stand there with me as my body fails, feeding me, hoping and praying that they can stand next to me for one more night, one more year while our bodies and minds gently give out together until the only thing left is our love for each other and the people that care for us.
You can keep your flowers and your nights on the town. Take all your dinners, all your dates, your designer jeans and your brand-consciousness, all your nights out at the club and cram 'em. Because unless you can give me -- and unless you're patient enough to let me give you -- what my grandparents give each other, all you got is special effects without a script -- high expectations and no substance to hold them up.
"Hey, Pop-Pop," I said after lunch, "Did you hear the one about the old couple in the park?" "No, I don't think so ... tell me!"
He's on the mend. They let him out of the hospital tonight. He'l be convalescing at my aunt and uncles' house until we figure out just what to do.
As a family, we have been granted a bittersweet reprieve. Pop-Pop's out of the hospital today, staying with my aunt and uncle until further notice. He needs a first-floor bathroom, and although I did not hear a doctor say this, I doubt there will be many more country ham sandwiches in his future.
He is back at my uncle's place, resting. He's been placed in front of the 24-hour Western channel, where he sleeps uninterrupted by anything other than fictional gunfire. While this is not the end of the road for Pop-Pop, it's been a glimpse of thing to come. Modern medicine, money and good old-fashioned love have been enough. This time.