I started getting to know him a year ago. It was odd because I had expectations of behavior that weren’t there. I thought he was just stubborn and wouldn’t take a shower or shave because he didn’t want to. I found that infuriating. I don’t do stubborn.
I found that he wasn’t as stubborn as he was scared. He was frightened to death of falling over in the bathtub, to the point where he just wouldn’t get in. He had trouble holding the razor in his right hand, him a right-handed person. He shook.
I started noticing that he looked emaciated, as if he were fading. Even though he had weight on his bones, he still looked fragile, less muscular, less sturdy.
I saw how he walked, dragging that right leg behind him and trying to hold onto the walls to help him stay upright. One night I caught him crawling up the stairs on all fours rather than even trying to walk them.
I see the bones under his skin now. He’s lost almost 20 lbs this year. I can feel the bony part of his spine. His head looks skeletal and with his very short haircut, it’s even more pronounced.
But he smiles. He smiles at everyone and they remark about how much they love his smiles. He is a gentleman, even as his brain atrophies and he can no longer walk at all, just a few steps into the bathroom and out. He smiles anyway.
Sometimes he falls. He fell last night. They called me from the nursing home to tell me. They have to do that. He wasn’t hurt, just tried to sit in his wheelchair before his wheelchair was ready. He’s frightened to death of falling. He becomes agitated even when the wheelchair is wheeled, when he knows he’s not going to fall, but just the sense of movement frightens him. He’s not in control of this movement anymore.
He smiles when I walk into the room. He can hear my voice and he knows I’m there to see him. If he looks at some other point in the room, when his eyes come back to me, he smiles.
He lets me know he loves me, although he can’t say the words all the way now. I tell him I love him too. I talk about what I’ve been doing over the two days since I’ve seen him last. I talk about things that we’re going to be doing this month, like the Father’s Day BBQ on Thursday. I tell him what his son is doing. I talk to him about his son’s health, because he worries about him. I talk about knitting socks, making clothes, cleaning house. I ask him what he needs and he says “Nothing.”
He is different from the workaholic electrical engineer I married back in 1978. He can’t talk a lot now. He can say a few words and he can still say things that only he would say. He makes hand gestures. He won’t be controlling robots anymore with his programs, his wires and his overdeveloped brain. He’ll just rest, sitting in his wheelchair, being helped at the nursing home, staying safe as long as he can.
And I’ll get to know him even better. This man who is still a gentleman, who is still my husband and who is new to me, all at the same time.