In the far dark corners of the room lie deep, old, private stories. The place with its sterile feeling had pictures of grandchildren displayed upon the on windowsill, and, in the center was one framed with braided metal threads, standing vertical, shot in black and white tones of his deceased wife of 42 years taken dozens of years ago arms around each other young and beginning life.
Today he is dying slowly at 86 left in a nursing home by his daughter who rarely visits. Sharing the other bed in the room is a 92 year old also dying slowly sitting in a wheelchair facing a lit wall with nothing to see as oxygen flows into his nose through tiny tubes, sustaining his life, wrapped around his ears to keep it all in place.
Their lives filled with past worlds quietly held inside unless asked. Like a juke box loaded with single song records, their voices can tell stories of a lost time forgotten by many, while never shared by some held deep within the soul boxed and compressed pushed under piles of lost thoughts. A press of a button spins the tale.
Both men get dialysis twice a week, eat in their room because the dining hall is too discomforting. One lies in bed watching television, the other sits staring into nowhere. On his bedside tray is a partially filled snack bag, along with cups of water with lids, his urinal, and candy bars.
The conversation contained a hoping desire to return home, which appeared to be a losing dream. A return home would require more than what the one living there now could provide. The older man’s elderly wife doesn’t have the strength to lift her frail life partner who is unable to stand alone. The other man’s daughter appears to not want to be the sole caregiver to her own father who might find himself lost in the apartment hallway after stepping outside his cocooned space drifting further away from what would be most familiar.
Stories flowed from both as the three of us sat closely talking of the old days that formed their lives. The Second War had one in the Pacific as a fighter pilot’s tail gunner, and the other rode a Liberty ship as a Merchant Marine sailing from the Pacific to the Atlantic harboring in Australia, along side Chinese cargo vessels, roaming Sydney’s streets dancing the evening in the nightclubs far from the vast battlefield theaters. While docked in Italy, a German bomber attacked his ship exploding chards of metal breaking his legs, ultimately sending him home after 4 years at sea and war.
The older man returning from his tour unharmed went back to his hometown to design, and build valves for the rest of his working life. The younger man moved about the upper Midwest in search of a place to settle. Detroit lured him to a Dodge Motor Company auto plant close to his hometown in Ohio. Later, he found himself in Pittsburgh building electric heating elements for 40 years. At a big band dance, unable to artfully move his legs due to his injuries, he met his lifelong dream partner. As the dance ended, he drove her home knowing that he would never be without her.
Today both men alone in their rooms, after decades of setting suns, and as the sky changes from daylight to darkness, listen to the carts of food, bedding, medications being pushed up and down the halls. A smiling face enters their tiny space with a package of cookies for each and a word of encouragement.
We sit together talking as if huddled around a kitchen table sharing stories of our lives. Throughout the short 90 minute visit, both men smiling, joyful, and happy to be briefly cared for by a visitor.