The Old Man
By Mark Kodama
I waited for no one in particular at the Sunshine Home for Assisted Living. The little time I have left is slipping away like grains of sand in an hour glass. And yet I have all the time in the world – watching television all day long and seeing the world pass me by. Look, Michael J. Fox is young again.
I do not know the weather outside because the weather in my room is always the same. Is it sunny? Is it rainy? Does it really matter?
Much friendliness resides here since my health insurance pays for it. But there is no love. It is like the artificial flowers in the blue Chinese porcelain vases that adorn the lobby – grand and beautiful in the sunlight that streams forth through the windows – But upon closer look, they are plastic. But I should not complain. They feed and clean me, and give me my medications on schedule. The people are nice and the plastic flowers are too.
Every day I see other residents and the nurses and administrators. We eat together for lunch and dinner. Once in a while I will see a doctor. Sometimes we will go out on an outing. One woman likes me but I wear my ring and tell her I am married. I make up stories about my wife’s visits. I was supposed to die before my wife – I have been dying for many years. But she died last year of a sudden heart attack. My wife visits me at night, telling me what an idiot I am. It is strange but I always look forward to seeing her. In life, I used to avoid her.
Mrs. Watson, down the hall, is dying. She cheerfully talks to an imaginary infant she cradles in her arms. This seems to comfort her as her distraught family, silently look on. But why should her family be so distressed? It is Mrs. Watson who is leaving this world. Why can’t she find solace during her last days here?
Although I do not receive many visitors, many ghosts from the spirit world come to see me. To be honest, I cannot tell if they are real or not. But that is not important. I am just glad that they come. They are certainly more real to me than the real people in my life. I am like the cactus on the window sill. I just need a little water now and again.
Death is the passing between two worlds that cannot be explained by the certainty of science. Who is to say what is real and what is unreal in the dimension of the dead? Does God exist? Is there a heaven? Who can say for sure. I love what Bertrand Russell said. He was going to tell God off when he died for not giving us enough evidence of his existence.
Are the dead here? Am I there? Who calls me? What is dream and hallucination? The great cosmologist and atheist Carl Sagan shortly before he died said he was visited by his deceased parents. He dismissed it as a hallucination.
Who touches my arm? It is my Uncle Sid and he can walk again. And is that my Aunt Diane laughing again? Although they were certainly older than me they now look younger than me now. And is that my friend Bill sitting in a chair across the way? We were newspaper reporters in a lonely place called Barstow many years ago.
Is that my father? I want to see my Dad. We need to finally talk and reconcile our misunderstandings in life. Did I say things that hurt you Dad that never healed? I meant them . . . at the time. There was that time that you carried me in the house by my throat because I lost my bat and accidently scratched your Mercedes. Riding in your car always gave me the creeps. We need to talk. “I love you, Dad.”
Perhaps there is no sadness nor hurt and no need for anger on the other side. I hope all the things that get in the way in life do not exist in the afterlife. Does God exist? I hope I can finally find out.
If the dead can visit me, will I be able to visit the living? When I die, I hope I can see my son again in life. When I told him this it really freaked him out. What is reality in the realm of the dead? Horatio there are things in heaven and earth that cannot be explained by your philosophy! Someday, I will know! Or, if the end is nothingness, I will never know.
My son was supposed to see me. But his new job is demanding and his kids are sick. You know: “The new job is a hassle and the kids have the flu – but its sure nice talking to you dad. It’s sure nice talking to you.”
We used to be close. Somehow we’ve grown apart. He used to think I was some kind of superman. Yes, the days when he was a little boy were the best days of my life. Never did I feel so close to another human being. Never did I love a human being more. When he did not make the varsity basketball team he cried. I cried too – for him.
I still can remember carrying him to see the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. And we had our first BLT together. One time we went to the airport together and he pointed the airplanes out to me. I was a young man then. Inside I feel the same as I always did. But then I look at my hands and hear my voice. I am old.
I don’t want to make him feel guilty but my time here is slipping away. But I do not want to leave him with feelings of guilt.
I am reading a novel – Catcher in the Rye – a book of my youth. I wish Holden Caulfield could have caught me in the rye so I did not grow old. But maybe it is good that I cannot get what I wish for.
I remember that the Greek gods granted immortality to a mortal that married a goddess. As he became old and decrepit, he shriveled up into a grasshopper.
I can’t complain too much. I sit here, sipping my hot chocolate as I had when I was a child. If you savor it, you can taste that bitter cacao beans, the savory vanilla beans and the sweetness of the sugar and milk blend into something irresistible.
“You want another one?” the orderly asked.
“I think I will,” I said.
He chuckled and then poured chocolate into my Beatles coffee cup.
I raised my cup. “All you need is love.”
I think life is like that – a blend of flavors – bitter, savory and sweet – a combination that tastes irresistible. I would not want it any other way.