March 28, 2001
Monday morning I have promised to be in Westwood at 10:30 to drive Ed to the Dedham Medical Center to see an ear specialist. Aliceann is unavailable because she has taken Sheba to the airport, after arranging to have her shipped by freight to Florida. The standard crate is still one inch too small, so she’ll be picked up and delivered to the family’s veterinarian to await the arrival of the other kids.
Something else is going on Monday morning—the rain-delayed final round of the golf championship at Ponte Vedra, Florida. Woods is on the verge of catching up with Sutton. Tiger’s eagle on the 16th cut Hal’s lead to one. Greater love hath no Tiger Woods fan than to turn off the TV at that spell-binding moment and heed the call to service.
We use Kathie’s car because I can’t possibly lift Ed’s wheelchair into my trunk. Kathie comes out to the driveway to show us the lever that operates the contraption on the roof. This remarkable invention automatically lowers Kathie’s travel wheelchair with a set of chains and then reverses the process when it’s time to store it again.
I am surprised when Ed remembers exactly how to get to the Medical Center. He doesn’t know his doctor’s name, but he guides me accurately to the correct intersections and turns. He even warns me that "there’s some construction around the next bend,” and sure enough, there is, along with two policemen directing traffic.
Ed tells me I am a good driver. “That’s because you have many of the attributes of a man,” he adds. I button my lip, knowing he thinks he has honored me with the ultimate compliment.
I stop in front of the medical building, and Ed does as Kathie instructed—pulls the lever forward to lower the wheelchair. We hear a humming sound as the mechanism goes into action, then see the chair sink past Ed’s window and onto the pavement. Now I remove the metal rod that was supporting the folded seat and tell Ed to push the lever the other way. With a rattle and a clank, the chains rise toward the roof and are scooped into their container.
Leaving Ed by the entrance “Are your brakes on?” “Yes, they’re on,” I find a parking place. At the front desk the receptionist asks if Ed has his blue card. No, he doesn’t have anything, not even his wallet. The computer answers the necessary questions, and we are directed to the elevator and the second floor. Dr. Benjamin’s office is at the end of a long corridor.
Now we must fill out a form about Ed’s medical history, allergies, medications, etc. When I get to medications, he says, “Parkingson’s.” I say, "Can you think of the names of any of your medications?"
“Tylenol,” he says.
“Tylenol,” he says.
Operations? Ed looks weary, and I don’t see the point of going into his back-to-back triple-bypass and carotid-arteries surgeries of 12 years ago and his knee-replacement operations. This Dr. Benjamin is only going to be cleaning his ears, for goodness’ sake. Then I remember that Ed was troubled off and on by ear infections until he finally got one in 1968 that didn’t clear up as quickly as usual—interfered with his swimming, and that was it . . .
The operation was something he should have had done years ago, but like all busy business-men he kept putting it off. The doctor chipped away at the excess bone growth, taking great care not to damage facial nerves, etc. Then he stuffed a corncob in there. That’s what Ed said it felt like, and he was very unhappy because the corncob wasn’t due to come out for a week. Should have a pun about ear and cob here, shouldn’t I? Nope, can’t think of one.
* * *
Ed had his two-week checkup today. He came home and told me the doctor tested his hearing and said it’s better than ever.
Deciding to put him to a little test of my own, I looked at him and said very softly and questioningly:”Unphadundil prantivostic?”
Without flickering an eyelid he replied, “Take your clothes off and lie down and I’ll show you!”
Ed waits outside the medical center while I get Kathie’s car. We ease the wheelchair up to the open door on the passenger side, Ed stands, braces himself with one hand on top of the door, turns and backs toward the seat until he is able to sit down and lift his legs into the car. “Good job,” I tell him, impressed by his lack of grumbling and complaining. Lately he seems almost as accepting of his disability as Kathie is of hers. He did complain recently that his knee operation was a “disaster;” and it hurts to stand up. Wife #2 says “That’s because you never do your exercises. Wife #1 says, “Edward, you must exercise that knee. Otherwise, it will freeze up on you, as it’s already doing.” Getting it from both barrels, Ed utters not a word.
After he is settled in the passenger seat, I shut the door, and he pulls the lever that will make the chains and metal rod descend from the roof. I have folded the wheelchair and have the folded seat ready to receive the rod that will lift it skyward. It’s still a few inches too high, so without being told, Ed gives the lever another pull, and now everything is lined up as it should be. I am so proud of him, this Parkinson’s patient who three months ago couldn’t operate a TV remote control. “Okay, all set,” I say, and my ex pushes the lever the other way. I watch as the chair rises toward the roof’s big metal clamshell, which gasps a mighty gulp and then tidily shuts its mouth. I say to a man passing by, “Isn’t that the most fantastic invention?” “Incredible!” he says.
* * *
Aliceann is waiting for us when we get back to Westwood. She has agreed to join us for lunch at Uno’s and let me treat on this final occasion. I go into Kathie’s side of the house, while Ed uses the bathroom. Kathie is busy with a student and says yes, it will be all right to use her car again, so I won’t have to take my golf clubs and shopping cart out of my trunk.
Aliceann is in the kitchen, helping Ed push his arms into his warm down jacket. It’s just like Frank’s, which Ed wore for the first month he was up here. Aliceann ordered an identical one from the same LL Bean catalogue Frank uses.
“I love this jacket,” Ed says. “I’m going to take it to Florida with me in case it snows.” Snow in North Palm Beach? That would be one for the record books.
“Careful,” Ed says, as he always does when we get to the end of the driveway. A car is sitting there, courteously waiting for us to move onto Country Lane. “Some of these guys go whipping by at 60 miles an hour.”
Aliceann agrees that there are a lot of reckless drivers in the neighborhood. We have gone only half a block when the door next to Ed flies open. Of course he is wearing his seat belt, but we are all startled.
“Edward, what did you do?” cries Aliceann.
“I didn’t do anything. It opened by itself.”
Aliceann and I get out and take turns trying to slam the door shut. It makes a banging noise but the latch seems to be broken. No matter what we do, the door hangs open, waving in the breeze. Ed says he’s glad he’s wearing his warm jacket because the breeze is freezing. “My nose is dripping icicles,” he claims.
“Edward,” says Aliceann, “maybe leaning on the door the way you do has lowered it, so it won’t latch.”
“No, that wouldn’t do it,” says Wife #1, coming to the accused’s defense. “Let’s turn around and go back. Ted is coming over late this afternoon to say goodbye to his father. He’ll be able to figure it out.”
I cautiously back into the next driveway and return to Kathie’s house.
“Maybe she’ll know what’s wrong with it,” says Ed. “Why don’t you go in and get her?”
“No, she’s with a student and another one is coming. I don’t want to disturb her. We’ll go in my car, Aliceann, if you think you can get the wheelchair into the trunk.”
I unload my golf clubs and shopping cart, while Aliceann helps Ed get settled in the front seat and fastens his safety belt . She folds his wheelchair, turns it sideways, and lifts it into the trunk, where it sticks up and out, no matter which way we position it. The problem is the spare tire, which neither Aliceann nor I feel like grappling with.
“We’ll have to go ahead slowly with the trunk open,” says Aliceann.
“Wait a minute, here’s something that may help.” I reach for a straightened-out coat-hanger. It has come in handy many a time when I locked myself out of my vehicle. Between us, Aliceann and I are able to partially secure the trunk’s lid, so that I can drive at a normal speed.
At Uno’s, Ed orders the crab cakes again, and Aliceann and I have chicken and veggie roll-ups. This time the ketchup bottle behaves itself, and Ed douses his lunch liberally. Then he tries to cut the crab cakes into pieces but his hands aren’t strong enough. I watch him sawing away until at last he snags a very large piece on his fork. It is much too big to put in his mouth, so he tilts his head and bites a section off the dangling chunk. Oh, what a struggle he has, but I don’t offer to help, as I did when we were alone. Aliceann might be offended at any implication that Wife #1 can be more thoughtful than Wife #2.
Aliceann has wine, and Ed orders a second beer for the principle of the thing, I guess, since he has drunk only half of the first one. I drink a glass of plain H20, not being the type to order the kind of water that costs money, as so many people do these days. Are they nuts or am I foolhardy?
Aliceann says it’s now or never if she’s going to dig a hole in Kathie’s back yard for the ashes of her four deceased pets. I tell her I’d be glad to participate in any ceremony she might want to have. “I’ll probably forget,” she laughs. “If I do, they’ll just move back to Florida with us.” I laugh, too, amused by the saga of the much-traveled ashes.
Aliceann asks if I’ll drive to the Westwood library, so she can drop off some books on our way home. While Ed and I wait in the parking lot, I hear him muttering angrily; words like arrogant, egotistical, imbecilic, smart aleck drift to my ears. He seems to be flagellating himself
“What’s the matter, dear?” I ask.
“I never should have cheated on you. I was a damned fool to jeopardize my marriage.”
I can’t help but feel a little warmed by these words, but all I say is, “Ed, don’t be so hard on yourself. Infidelity isn’t all that unusual. Why do you think the divorce rate is so high? Men and women succumb to temptation all the time.”
“It wasn’t worth it.” Then his thoughts veer in a different direction. “How I hated Rick Connor! I hate him to this day.”
Although Rick was only a friendly, courtly acquaintance, not one of the hard-core inner circle, I knew immediately what he was talking about. Like Ed, Rick often went on business trips. Unlike Ed, he always brought his wife along. Rick told me one evening he not only enjoyed Sue’s company but also considered her an asset at the conferences and cocktail parties they attended. “I wouldn’t think of traveling without her,” he said. The lights burned late at the Malleys that night.
“All right, Ed,” I concede, “so Rick was the exception to the rule—a monogamous husband.”
“Oh yeah, right!”
“Are you suggesting that he wasn’t?”
“He’s no different from any other man,” Ed growls scornfully. “They all cheat.”
“Isn’t that what I’ve just been saying to you? Why berate yourself for something that is so much a part of human nature?”
The discussion ends when Aliceann returns.
* * *
Back at the Westwood house, I take a minute to interrupt Kathie and her second student visitor of the day, and tell her about her car door. She knows all about it because it has happened before, not only with this Chevy but with the previous one. Her father is vindicated. Kathie says Ted will fix it for her when he arrives.
Aliceann comes in, and while she is talking to Kathie, I seek Ed out in his bathroom. He wanted to brush his teeth and wash his face before he kissed me goodbye, he said. He is sitting in his chair in front of the basin. “Would it hurt your knee too much to stand for a minute? If the operation was a disaster . . . “
”I was exaggerating,” he says, pushing back and starting an unsteady rise to his feet.
“I’d like to hug you all over just one more time.” So that’s what we do.
* * *
I call Tim at work to ask him how his visit to Westwood went yesterday. He had brought Timmy with him to say goodbye, and Ed and Aliceann had just returned from an errand.
“After Aliceann went through the process of helping Ed out of the car and into his wheelchair, Timmy came running out of the house, calling `Grandpa, Grandpa! I’m so glad to see you!’”
Timmy halted momentarily when he saw his grandfather’s face, which looked worse than ever with its scabs and sores. Then he manfully ran up to him and hugged him, pressing his cheek against a face that must have seemed a little bit scary.
“Good for Timmy!” I say. Then I ask if there was any tension between Tim and his dad and Aliceann.
“No, there was no reference to past grievances. Aliceann chattered about the wonderful antique doll show they’d gone to in Dedham after breakfast, and Dad chimed in with some affable remarks.”
“That sounds like Aliceann. She’s not one to hold a grudge for long. This may be the last time you’ll see your father for a long time, so I’m glad nothing unpleasant happened.”