The Man I’m Supposed To Be

I cried today.

To some of you, that may not be such a big deal. Sure, I’ve cried several times in the last couple of decades but it was all out of anger. Angry cries stem from knowing you can’t kill the person who did you harm. Frustration. The last time I cried out of sadness was 1993 when my Grandmother passed away. Never since. The Army made damn sure I wouldn’t do that again. Sadness and fear aren’t part of their agenda. They erase that part of you. I’ve had several other friends and relatives die since then but they never warranted tears of loss. I can’t explain it.

Today happened.

I attempted to enter the assisted living facility through a security door but the code didn’t seem to work. A nurse eventually noticed my bad luck and allowed me inside without inquiry. Fortunately for her, I’d left my machete and mask in the vehicle. She and the others will live to see another day out of my failure to produce my junior serial killer starter kit. Still, what’s the point of a security door if you’re going to allow anyone inside who exhibits difficulty with a four digit code? I was thankful nonetheless and wandered the main hallway in search of a familiar name.

Why did I do this?

He laid atop the hospital bed while the noonday sun warmed the tiny room. The noise of the machines working to help keep him alive drowned out the eerie silence of the hallway beyond. I wasn’t quite certain which was more disturbing. The man’s eyes darted in all directions but never made direct contact with my own. It was almost as though whatever was catching his attention existed on a plane other than the one I was occupying. I observed my Grandfather stealthily, not wanting to disturb the current path traversed by his fading mind.

Is this how it all ends, regardless?

I am currently the same age he was when I was born. As I grew, I watched this man work full time as a firefighter and then full time as a carpenter when he wasn’t at the station. When he wasn’t at either of those jobs, he was fishing, gardening, or sitting in a porch swing with my Grandmother as the afternoon sun set at their backs. I have many childhood memories of their shadowed images moving back and forth accompanied by the squeak of a rusty support chain.

Did he even know I was there?

I continued to watch in silence as his labored breathing lifted and lowered a blanket which had probably been draped over many during their final moments. If only that blanket could speak. When I could take no more of the sight playing out before my tearing eyes, I took that first step toward the door in guilt. Nothing would change no matter how long I stood there. My presence would create no miracle cure to cause a leap from his destined death bed, landing him somewhere in the vicinity of his prized vegetable garden grown asunder many years ago on Trinity Street. No, his breaths were numbered and dwindling. So are mine. So are yours.

Life is meant for love. Nothing more.

I announced my love for this man to four white walls and life support equipment. I’m sure those inanimate objects have heard it all, both said in truth and lies, from hundreds of people occupying that same room in similar situations over time. As I made my move, his eyes suddenly shot in my direction. Raising a hand with his remaining strength, the dying man motioned for me to come near. His lips began to move accompanied by no sound. I leaned in closer in hopes to hear what could very well be the final wisdom of a man so intricately involved with my youthful upbringing. I prepared myself.

“I love you too,” he whispered

I know it’s just a matter of time now. My phone awaits the call of finality. After breaking down in the arms of my own son upon returning home, we grabbed some dinner before he left for his work shift. We ate in silence at a familiar park a few blocks away from our home. Young children laughed in the fading sunlight of the February afternoon as they flew kites with their parents. I recall ice cream afternoons in my single digit age at that same park with my Grandfather as he pushed me on a swing set. That particular swing set no longer exists. It’s sad to know that all swing sets, kites, and laughter most always turn to cries of sorrow beyond the veil of time in a nursing home room. The room has nothing better to do but await the arrival of the next grieving family…but that’s life. No matter how good it is, no matter how much money you make, and no matter how much a significant other loves you, both parties are destined to hurt in the end. Mine’s been tough, I’m chasing a writer’s dream, and I’m thrice divorced. I know those three facts must’ve disappointed him when compared to the life he lived.

Am I the man I’m supposed to be?

That’s for my Grandchildren to decide.

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