As I was unlocking my door Monday afternoon, Cherie, a nurse’s aide, came down the hall.
“Are you bored?” she asked.
“I’m always bored, but more bored than usual today.”
“Probably the weather,” she said.
“When I get home tonight,” Cherie said as she started back down the hall, “I’m going to have a glass of wine and think about you.”
“Me or your husband?”
“Well, him, too.”
With that, the door to Richie’s apartment opened, and William, the loudest, most obnoxious lout at Covenant Woods, yelled, “Hey, we’re trying to watch TV in here. Keep it down,” and slammed the door shut. I gave him the finger. William didn’t see it, of course, but on this nothing day there was something immensely satisfying in the adolescent act of shooting him the bird. An half-hour later, the sun came out. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Other than Monday’s boredom-inducing conditions, the weather has been bordering on lovely for nearly a week. The morning temperatures have been in the sixties, down from the mid- to high-seventies of the last five months. By mid-afternoon it is uncomfortably hot, but the air cools when the shadows begin to lengthen.
Meandering through the Covenant Woods’ parking lots after dinner Friday, the sunshine, cool air and pleasant breeze took me back to Ashtabula, to Cederquist Park, watching Russ and Beth playing Little League ball. Alas, my reverie was disturbed by the realization that in six weeks the clocks go back to standard time, and my early evening wanderings will go on hiatus for a few months. “Straighten up, Thomas. Don’t fret about what will be. Enjoy the moment” I told myself. Too bad I seldom listen to myself.
This morning I found out that life on this side of Mr. Mason’s and Mr. Dixon’s line has taken its toll on me. I am now a weather wimp. At ten-of-eight, attired as usual in shorts and a T-shirt, I went outside to enjoy the abundant sunshine. Sunshine or not, the brisk morning air was too much and I headed for the main entrance. Annie, who was in the lobby, gave me a funny look.
“Too cold,” I said.
“Too cold?” Annie said. “Mr. Ohio Man thinks it’s too cold?”
“Yes,” I said softly as I headed back to the apartment to put on long pants and a jacket.
My life is now a chapter in a book. Penelope, the activities director, and her friend Beverly wrote short biographical pieces about fourteen Covenant Woods’ residents. I am the baby boomer in the midst of greatest generation folks. Fortunately, my story, appropriately titled “Tom-Foolery,” is the final chapter in Black & White Tales in Graying Times. That fortuitous placement gives the reader something boring to fall asleep to after the excitement of the previous chapters.
There was a book signing Sunday in the dining room; a very pleasant affair with lots of cookies and pastries. Those of us featured in the book were scattered around the room – Al and I shared a table – and folks came by with books and asked us to sign our respective chapters.
That system worked well for me. I don’t have much trouble getting around the dining room at meal times. Everyone is busy eating. Dances and other events in the dining room, however, scare me. People sit down, stand up, walk about helter-skelter and inevitably get to where I’m trying to get seconds before I get there. All the people at Covenant Woods whom I’ve come close to running into with the wheelchair were in the dining room when I almost hit them. It was a wonderful feeling to sit in the middle of the room and have people circulate around me. Much better than being a forgotten man in the corner. I used to think I was the only wheelchair-bound resident who felt this way, but others have told me they too feel isolated and trapped at the dances.
Mae joined Al and me for dinner Wednesday. Al talked about the junk mail he has been receiving. He is a very generous man, and all the charities he has given to over the years regularly send him reminders of his previous generosity and of their on-going need for donations. Then he turned his attention to telephone solicitors. When he was through, Mae took up the subject.
“Some guy called me last night,” she said. “He was trying to raise money for some organization; I forget what. Anyway, I told him I didn’t have any extra money. He said, the amount didn’t matter, even a small donation helps. So I told him, ‘I’m going to a séance tonight. I’m hoping to reach my aunt. They say before she died she hid thousands and thousands of dollars. If I get to talk to her and if she’ll tell me where the money is, I’ll be able to make a huge donation. Is there a number where I can reach you in case I’m suddenly rich?’ He hung up. He never said a word, not even ‘good-bye.’ He just hung up.”
Wednesday afternoon was different. I was sitting at the computer squandering another hour when Tee, one of the housekeepers, came to give the apartment its weekly once over. She was in a chatty mood – among other things, she asked why I didn’t go online and find a woman. As we were talking, someone came a-knocking. It was Stacie, a server in the dining room, who was going to the rooms of some of the people featured in the book and reading their stories. Before Stacie started reading my story, however, she and Tee swapped gossip. While their tongues were wagging, there was another knock on the door. I yelled, “Come in,” and in came Laura.
Laura is a retired teacher who comes to Covenant Woods every few weeks with a craft project for interested residents. Not being a crafty guy, I hadn’t met Laura until Sunday at the book signing, where she talked to Al and me for fifteen or twenty minutes. For reasons known only to him, Al told her the tote tied on the back of my wheelchair needed something to firm up the bottom. Could she make something to fit in it? She said she could.
I promptly forgot about it and assumed Laura had too. She hadn’t and had come to measure the tote. Three women in the apartment; this had never happened before. Laura talked knowledgably and at length about knitting and crocheting. It all sailed over my head.
Stacie finished reading the story about me and headed to Al’s room to read his story. Tee finished cleaning my apartment and went to another, one probably inhabited by someone less slovenly than I. As Laura was getting ready to go, she said she’d read somewhere recently that eating three radishes a day can help you lose weight.
A refreshingly out of the ordinary afternoon at Covenant Woods.
On theatlantic.com I came across an essay titled “Why I Hope to Die at 75,” written by Ezekiel Emanuel, a healthy fifty-seven-year-old, who serves as a director of Clinical Bioethics at the National Institute of Health and who is head of the Department of Medical Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania.
“But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss,” he writes. “It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.”
Covenant Woods is full of exceptions to Mr. Emanuel’s rule. But barring a miraculous medical breakthrough, I won’t be one of those exceptions. I’m in no hurry to make my final exit. I am, however, disabled, faltering and on my way to becoming feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic. I would like very much to go before I get there.