Page 75 - Vol. VII #8
P. 75

“It’d serve him right,” I said.
Our first visit to the emergency room, I couldn’t wake Frank from his afternoon nap. The ambulance took its sweet time getting to the house. Frank was in the hospital for two weeks. All the progress we’d made, and for what?
 Mother smacked me so hard on the side of the head that my vision blurred. For the next hour, we searched everywhere for Frank. I was the one who found him passed out on the floor of the storm cellar. Waxy red drool coated his chin. I thought he was dead. I remem- ber feeling happy. Then I heard Mother calling, so I screwed up my face and started bawling.
It was about that time he started criticizing every little thing. The rolls are burned. The roast is black. The peas are shriveled. He stopped eating. He refused to do his exercises. One day he passed out. He spent the next three days in the hospital being fed intrave- nously. The doctors told him they wouldn’t release him unless he promised to behave.
Mother told me later she’d held his hand the whole way to the hospital praying to every saint in the cata- logue. Jude. Anthony. Lost hope, lost causes. Frank spent the next nine months in and out of the hospital. One of his kidneys failed. I’ll never forget the look she gave me whenever she left for the hospital.
After his discharge, I told him I couldn’t take care of him any longer. I’m 82 and frankly, I was tired of tak- ing care of everybody. What else could I do? I looked into nursing homes, but he wouldn’t even open the brochures. All of a sudden, we had nothing to say to each other.
It was a long way from the Jersey shore to Central Park West. Frank could have hired nurses to take care of him. God knows, he could have paid for anything he wanted. But he called me one day about a year ago out of the clear blue. Clare, be a love and move in with me, he says. Forget it, I say. Well, then, can I live with you? he says. With me?
I say. You took care of Mother all those years. She was my mother. And Father? He was my father. And me, Clare?
A week ago, he needed to go to the toilet. I refused to take him.
Then he cried. The big-shot attorney with the fancy apartment and the Ivy League education broke down and wouldn’t stop until I gave in. Two weeks later, he arrived at my doorstep in a black limousine. His vi- sion was deteriorating. He couldn’t walk. And he was so very thin. What choice did I have?
“You’re not even trying.” I shoved his walker in front of him, then calmed myself down with a couple of Whitman’s chocolates. He squinted at me. His whole body shook. His pants turned darker where the urine ran in a stream down the leg and puddled next to his shoe.
First thing I put him on a strict diabetic diet. I hired a nurse to help me every morning. Together, we forced him through physical therapy. I checked his blood, adjusted his food and insulin. Sometimes he com- plained, but mostly he seemed relieved. Every day I could see little improvements. He could read the paper with a magnifying glass, for example. He began to read to me, making up obituaries based on the real ones in the Ocean City Sentinel or The Sandpiper. I remember once or twice he made
Frank stopped crying. “If all this time you wanted me to die, why in God’s name did you give me your kidney?”
me laugh. It got so he could lift himself out of his chair with a walker. He could go to the bathroom by himself. I took him in his wheelchair for long walks on the Ocean City boardwalk. We talked about how times had changed. How the shops we remembered as kids were gone. How the teenag- ers congregated on the corners like hoodlums and where were their parents?
He had a point. I licked the melted chocolate off my fingers, crossed the room, and lifted him up. He put his arms around my neck, and I lowered him into the wheelchair. In the bathroom I stripped off his wet clothes and helped him onto the plastic shower seat. It’s then he told me, “I don’t want to die alone, Clare.”
I began to wonder if this was what married life would have been like. I began to wonder what I’d missed by asking Jimmy Cleary to wait until Mother recovered.
be there in a minute. I wanted to finish washing the floor. By the time I got to his bedroom, he was convulsing. Delirious. Tearing at his clothes, trying
“You know I can’t move,” he told me.
“You think I’m impressed?” I asked.
I looked at him for one long minute. “You have my word, Frank.”
This afternoon, I settled him into bed for his regu- lar nap. Come to think of it, he did look a little more tired than usual. I was cleaning the kitchen when he started calling. I yelled down the hall that I’d
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