The phone rang and when I saw his name come up on the screen I knew it wasn’t going to be good news.
“Hi. Is everything okay?”
“Not exactly,” he said.
I wasn’t surprised. A few mornings before, out of the blue, I’d awakened with his wife on my mind. “I wonder how she’s doing,” I’d thought.
The last time I talked to him, about three months ago, he told me that she’d been acting “strange.” He couldn’t call it Alzheimer’s exactly, but–well, “she’s just not right in the head.”
I felt a stab then, when he said that. From the beginning, they seemed like two frail birds to me, each with a broken wing—his broken by Parkinson’s, hers by heart disease—and I was awed at how, once they’d found each other they could practically fly as one.
Before this all happened, before they’d met, I’d lived with him for 18 years.
Oh, how hard I had tried during that time to love him. So hard. Therapy. Meditation. Support groups. In the end, when he finally left, I told him he deserved somebody who loved him without trying.
“She’s kind of a plain woman,” he’d told me when he met her. “Not at all flamboyant, like you. But she loves the hell out of me and I’m going to go for it.”
It was amazing how he found her. He had moved up there, Parkinson’s and all, to live with another woman and instead, having met her and fallen in love with her—or better said—her having met him and fallen in love with him, their love was strong enough to put a dent in his original plans.
I was glad for her and glad for him and glad to hear him say that she loved the hell out of him. It might be just an expression, but the truth is, that’s what the love of a good person can do, love the “hell” right out of us.
Turns out it happened at choir practice of all things. She was just rehearsing as usual when all of a sudden she simply fell back into her chair, her eyes staring, her mouth agape.
He was actually there. He saw it. He knew. No need to call 911 he told them. But they called anyway.
“I’m so sorry,” I said slowly. I meant it. “I’m so sorry.”
“This is harder than Parkinson’s,” he said, his voice breaking. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
I waited in the brief silence.
“You and me,” he went on after a moment. “We more or less made it work and it was okay. But her and me? We didn’t have to make it work, it already worked. We were a good match from the very beginning.” His frail, Parkinson’s voice tugged at me, sounding so familiar, so far down deep inside himself and so far away all at the same time.
“I’d fly there to go to the funeral if it wasn’t so damn hard a place to get to,” I told my husband when I got off the phone. “I’d go there for him.” Down deep inside I knew I wasn’t telling the whole truth. Down deep inside I was grateful for the excuse that he now lived in a place that was so hard to get to.
Not that I feel mean or that I feel angry or that I feel anything other than just so, so sad. Poor bird. Poor bird without his other wing.
I’m not the one to be that for him—that other wing that she was—I never was. And I’m sad for that as well. I think I’ll call him in a few days just to see how he’s doing. He was right. This will be the hardest thing he’s ever done.
I know. After him, I’d married a widower.