I pondered. I listened I observed. I decided it was my time to go.
He was curled up, lying on his side. He was sleeping. He did not look peaceful, but rather fretful. He had oxygen tubes in his nose, but his breathing was not easy. He did not look much different from the last time I saw him, which was four years ago. His hair is mostly gray. This day he was unshaven, with nearly three weeks of growth. His beard is also gray.
His gown had slipped off of a thin bony shoulder.
I quietly watched him for a few minutes and then I called his name. His eyes flickered at the sound of my voice. I took his hand and called him again.
He opened his eyes. He did not seem startled. His face showed no expression. His eyes were staring eyes. I asked if he knew who I was. He shook his head yes. His hand laid limp in mine.
I asked him if he wanted to go back to sleep. He sat up a little straighter and said, "No, I want to enjoy the company."
He speaks with a natural whiney cadence. I suppose his unique speech pattern developed from years of begging, cajoling, and telling "feel sorry for me" stories.
He asked me how I was feeling. I said that I was okay.
He asked me no other questions and never said my name.
He told me that he never wanted to go back to that life again. And I couldn't help but think about how he said that very thing to us so many times before. But, this time I knew he wouldn’t ever go back to that life again, because this time the choice isn’t his.
As an introvert, when I am in an intense or unbearable situation, I leave. I don't physically leave, but I emotionally detach and become an "on the sidelines" observer.
But at that moment my focus was so intent on him that it felt as though I were him and he was me.
I asked him if he knew why he was there. He struggled with the words saying something about a "girl" who..." and his voice drifted off.
Even though he is in his fifties, the women he meets are still "girls" to him. There was always a “girl” who took his money and stole his life. I realize now that he only wanted what we all want, to be loved.
Sadly, though, not one of these “girls” could ever compete with his first and only love.
She was an evil and selfish love. And she was the one who ultimately stole his life.
When his dinner came, I understood a little more about the extent of the damage his body and mind have suffered as a result of his illness.
He fed himself, as a child might do, who has finally learned to eat with a spoon and without help. Get the food on the spoon, bring it to your mouth, chew and swallow, then repeat. He did not seem to be enjoying his meal, but rather he was satisfying a basic need.
After he finished every morsel, he asked for pie. His hands shook as he impatiently tried to remove the plastic wrap. There was also a piece of chocolate cake on his tray. The whole time he was eating his pie, he did not take his eyes off of the cake. "The cake is for later" "Okay?" I said. He shook his head yes, and then reached for the cake.
He told me "I almost died, you know."
"I know," I said. I thought about how under different circumstances I might have said, "You were very lucky."
His eyes started to get droopy, and he began to nod off.
I told him that I had to get going and that he needed his rest. He didn't say anything. I said good-bye and gave him a little wave as I walked out the door.
As the elevator descended to the first floor, I began my own descent, deep down into my own basic instinctive protected world.