Each day is a colorless fade to the next early black and white morning which begins and ends the same. It’s 4am and through our common wall, I can hear his TV, teapot and sometimes, the unsure shuffle of his slippers on a path to the darkened front door he opens to again curse the late paperboy. An occasional cough punctuates the silence of the otherwise dirty, furry apartment where with two old cats, he’s lived eight years, and died one and a half.
He waits for no one but the twice weekly nurse with a key and a bag of useless treatments, because his condition is incurable. Lucy passed right there in the living room in a cold steel hospital bed he wanted to keep, if not only for a tangible but morbid memory of their final moment together last summer when he kissed her forehead and said goodbye to fifty-eight wonderful years and hello to this mere existence without her.
Neither poor nor rich, he’s now not much of anything but the shell of a man and husband trying to find himself and any purpose in a weathered, withered 89 year old body whose expiration date is long overdue. And this isn’t my own summation, it is his as he sits in the easy chair across from me, holding his frail little body, arms crossed, lying in repose, waiting for something inside to change. The depression is killing him slowly, deliberately and with a pain no longer quenched by tears or talking. He is a silent, dying man.
I saw her the day before she passed in their living room as a courtesy mostly. I’d been their closest neighbor with a common wall for many years and when I’d heard of the accident, I sent flowers, made food and cards for a couple weeks until she was gone. Nice lady. Very simple, Midwest Lutheran couple for 58 years, I heard them shuffle past my front door together sometimes on the way to church or the casino where it happened. She’d fallen her final fall which ultimately brought her to the end of her life and his.
I used to help him bring in the few bags of groceries around the first of the month but have since stopped at the door for the stench of the cats he loves, and who are as old and matted as he. The bending needed for a litter change is something he can muster only a couple times monthly. But he’s used to the smell. He’s used to a lot of things. But not used to being as lonely as he is without her.
I’ve cajoled him a couple times during our early morning conversations and if he could find it again, I’m pretty sure his laugh would be contagious.
“Don, do you love someone?” he asked me.
“Well, I have my three kids and my dog and they’re pretty special to me, but if you’re asking if I have a deeper love in my life like you had in Lucy, no. Maybe someday.”
While I was trying hard to get as used to the smell of the catbox as he, I listened to his autobiography of the couple who lived next door and the countless moments of their countless memories together for the good part of an hour. When we parted for me to get home to shower for work, I left convinced that my “maybe someday” love–if ever–was unlikely to be as incredibly beautiful as theirs. It was a “Notebook” kind of love and as I stood there in the shower, the hot water mixed with my tears and I think for the first time in my life, I finally tasted the salty love explained to me by a salty 89 year old man.
Work was rough. All day long, I thought about the hour in his living room that morning and the epiphany he’d given me. Arriving home, I hugged my dog harder and I texted my three kids to say I love you before bed, and went to sleep.
And this morning, I woke very early as I always do. And through the steam of my coffee on the patio at 4am, I watched his living room light turn on and heard his front door open as he cursed the paperboy once again, and knew we were both next door, thinking about love. And Lucy.
And through the wall, the teapot screamed.