While I am visiting Ed at the nursing home, Dr. Scott drops by to see how his patient is doing. He thinks the incision looks great and approves of the way Ed can lift his leg and bend it at the knee with no pain. After Dr. Scott leaves, Ed comments on how good it was of him to drive the four or five hours from New York. “Edward, he lives in Dedham,” says Aliceann. “Oh,” says Ed,” I was thinking of the hospital in New York where he operated on me.” Both wives inform him simultaneously that the hospital is in Boston. “Oh yes, that’s right,” says Ed. His confusion is becoming more and more pronounced.
Mark, the physical therapist, spends half an hour coaching Ed in various exercises that will stretch his muscles if he practices them regularly. Then comes the walk down the hall. Ed thrusts his head forward and scurries along on his toes, pushing the walker as fast as he can. I watch him, perplexed and pitying. He never in his life walked in such a strange way. Why is he doing this now?
Proud of his speed and agility, Ed moves the walker next to his wheelchair and cautiously inches his way into the seat. Mark tells him that next time he should take slow wide-spaced steps instead of quick short steps. Dr. Scott had said, “We’re going to have to equip you with a governor, Mr. Malley. We have to slow you down from a hundred miles an hour to about twenty.”
Mark observes that the quick steps are typical of Parkinson’s patients, and Ed should try to overcome this tendency. “Should we try once again?”
Ed grasps the idea very well when Mark helps him from the wheelchair and lines him up with the walker. He pushes it along with a more normal-looking stride. I am relieved.
After his workout, Ed asks from his reclining position in his hospital bed if I have some more stories to read to him. I have started bringing collections of anecdotes about our pets, and I don’t know which of us enjoys them more. I guess I do because I don’t keep falling asleep in the middle of a captivating description of Moppet. When Ed dozes off, Aliceann tells me not to stop reading, she wants to hear what happens next.
December 14, 1963
Moppet had her first taste of freezing weather and doesn't like it any better than the rest of us. Yesterday morning Ed went out to turn on the heater in his car, stopping on the way to put the pup out. I heard him chuckling as he came upstairs and asked, "What's the joke?"
Moppet had started out the door briskly enough, Ed said, but when her front paws hit the icy top step, her ears flew out at a horrified angle and she tried to retreat. Thwarted by the momentum that was propelling her downward willy‑nilly, she descended the stairs on her two front legs, her hind‑quarters distastefully elevated.
"And they say we poodles are pampered," Ed heard her muttering to herself.
Moppet has finally learned how to beg. Instead of falling over backwards, sideways, or on her face as she did at first, she has overcome gravity and is able to balance beautifully on her haunches, curling her front paws appealingly against her chest.
Lately she has developed an aversion to the command "down." She'll flop down any old time when she feels like it, including times when I'd rather she didn't‑‑in my lap, for instance, when I'm trying to drive the car or fly the airplane‑‑but if anyone says, "Down, Moppet," what happens? Nothing, that's what. She knows what she's expected to do, but she's consarned if she'll do it.
I'm stubborn, too. Yesterday I decided this mutiny had gone far enough. I was going to teach this new dog her old trick, even if I never made the hairdresser's, my lesson at Norwood Airport, or Ed's dinner.
Moppet sat and looked at me vaguely as if she hadn't quite caught what I said.
"Down!" I repeated louder.
She opened her mouth in a wide yawn; a tiny squeak emerged from the back of her throat. She cocked one ear in surprise, then snapped her jaws shut and regarded me innocently.
"Moppet! Listen to me! Down!" I ordered, my right arm extended over her head. I might as well have been stationed on the beach, commanding the waves to stand back. Apparently stone deaf all of a sudden, Moppet turned her head and gazed with interest at a flock of birds flying past the window.
"Pay attention, Moppet," I said, waving her reward under her nose. "Do you want this cookie?"
Oh yes, her tail replied, she wanted that cookie very much. She leaped up on her hind legs and hopped around in circles, trying to snatch the tidbit from my fingers.
"No, Moppet! No, no, no!! Down, not dance."
The Mop seated herself once more and looked me in the eye, as if to test the strength of my determination.
"Down!" I said, for the fifth time.
Her eyes on her reward, Moppet slowly slid one paw forward and began settling herself on the floor‑‑ah, capitulation at last? But no, it was all just too humiliating, Moppet decided, springing back into a sitting position; this groveling servitude was too much to ask of a self‑respecting poodle. She wasn't gonna do it.
"Okay, Moppet," I said. "No cookie." I placed the biscuit on the counter and left her alone in the kitchen to think things over. When I returned, dressed for slacks and a warm jacket for my trip to the airport, I gave her one more chance.
Mopsy had indeed thought things over. In response to my command to lie down, she sat up and begged. Beautifully. Beguilingly. Adorably. Disobediently. No matter how I argued with her, pointing out that what she was doing was cute and charming but hardly what I had asked her to do, she still maintained her suppliant attitude, gesticulating at me with her paws as if saying, "Come on, let's compromise. Isn't this worth a crumb or two?"
I longed to relent and give her the cookie, only I figured this would be a sure way to raise a Timmy‑type poodle. So I gave her half a cookie. Then, to save face, I squashed her down on the floor ("Down, Moppet") and gave her the other half.
Aliceann says she wishes she had known Moppet, then picks up her sewing basket, kisses her husband, says Ciao to me, and departs. Refreshed after his doze, Ed begins spinning his fanciful reveries of what will be happening next in his life. First he asks about the extra bedroom and bath he thinks could be added to the apartment at Kathie’s house. I say this isn’t possible, the town won’t allow it.
“I was sure someone told me, I thought it was you, that there could be an addition so you could have your own bedroom, the way you always wanted to.”
“Ed,” I reply to his latest overture, “you wouldn’t expect me to give up my condo, would you?”
“No, no, of course not. But you could stay overnight once in awhile.” He’s obsessed with the notion that he and I have to find a way to spend the night together. He asks me if I remember Joe Powell, his roommate at college. Of course I do, we spent a lot of time with him and his wife in our younger years. “I heard she died a couple of years ago,” I say.
“Right,” Ed says, “but you should see his new bride. When he was in Florida last year, he called and said he’d like us to meet her. We invited them for the weekend, and Ellen’s a knockout, 30 years younger than he is. He’s daffy about her.”
“How does he keep up with her at his age?”
“I wondered the same thing. I knew he’d had a prostate operation, and you know what that does to a guy’s virility. He told me he’d had an implant, and it worked like the real thing.”
Ed tells me he longs to have the kind of romance in his life that Joe and Ellen have, and Blake and Grace. “People like that are proof that it’s never too late.”
And people like my ex never give up. I’d bet my condo he’s thinking he’ll have a penile implant like Joe’s.
“Joe showed it to me, Barbara, it’s fantastic.”
“Isn’t that lovely,” I say non-committedly.
Next the conversation turns to his desire to go back to Florida. When I repeat the family’s concern that Aliceann will have trouble dealing with him on her own if his Parkinson’s gets worse, his solution is less than reassuring. “Then I could live by myself. You could come down to visit once in awhile.”
“Ed, how would you take care of yourself? You’ll be much better off if you stay in Westwood where Kathie and Frank will see that your needs are taken care of, arrange for a visiting nurse . . .”
“A visiting nurse? Why would I need a visiting nurse? Is there something wrong with me that my family isn’t telling me about?”
“Have you done any reading about Parkinson’s Disease?” I ask, doing the very thing Kathie and I had agreed to avoid—worrying him by confronting him with the facts.
“Yes, I have. I read that it can be stopped and improved.”
I can think of nothing to say to that. Ed thinks of plenty: “Are you trying to tell me that because Kathie built that addition, this means I’m supposed to stay there whether I want to or not? I’m not going to be allowed to go back to Florida? Well, just wait till Blake gets back from his vacation, he’ll set you all straight.”
I can feel my blood pressure rising. “Okay, Ed,” I say, not very nicely. “Go right ahead, move back to Florida, it’s your funeral.”
Unfazed, he chuckles at my macabre joke while I wish I could delete the words.
* * *-
Kathie wants me to avoid confrontational subjects with her father, but nettled by his constant talk of moving back to Florida, I can’t resist reminding him how much more difficult it is for her to come and go now that she has converted her garage into his apartment. Because she can’t leave the Quickie outside all day, she keeps her traveling chair in her study, and transfers from the Quickie into the traveling chair inside the house, then from the traveling chair into the car—a whole extra set of transfers which have to be repeated in reverse sequence at the end of the day. Even this process is not as easy as it may sound.
When she first wheels up next to the door of her car, she has to take the footrests off the traveling chair and toss them carefully into the back seat—carefully in order to avoid aggravating the pain in her rotator cuffs. Then she turns in her chair, lifts the straps on her back cushion off the wheelchair handles and throws that cushion into the backseat. Next, after lifting her legs one at a time into the car, she grabs her transfer board from next to the car seat, shimmies it under her hip, and slides into the car. Then she has to get the board out from under her and re-stow it before reaching out to her chair, lifting off the heavy gel seat cushion, and struggling to lift the agonizingly heavy cushion over her shoulders into the backseat.
Next she pushes the switch to lower the hook on the lift, shoves it into place under the wheelchair seat, and pushes the switch the other way while guiding the chair up. And when the weather is bad, she and the traveling chair both get wet and cold and cranky while she is struggling first to transfer herself into the car, then to remove the seat cushion, and finally to operate the hook and pulley system that snatches the chair up and lifts and folds it into the carrier. Ed has seen the whole process and empathizes with her when he’s watching, but forgets all about it when he gets caught up in his own complaints and longings.
“What about the carport?” he asks when I’ve triggered his guilt feelings over the garage. “Ted and I can see that she gets the money for a carport.” This has been his theme song throughout the construction of the apartment. “Ted and I will reimburse her.”
“But, Ed, even inside a carport the Quickie would get ruined by the elements if she left it outside in the bad weather, so she’s gotten herself into a real no-win situation trying to help you. And now you talk as if she’s going to benefit the rest of her life from this wonderful investment while you and Aliceann enjoy yourselves in Florida.”
He thinks for a moment, then comes up with an inspired solution. “It’s very simple, Barbara, all they have to do is add a storage space to the side of the carport.”
And all Kathie has to do, I ponder as I’m driving home, is wheel over to the storage space, stand up, push the folded Quickie into it, then fly (let’s make this really miraculous) to her car and pop in, all set for the day. I think sometimes we forget that she just can’t walk—or in little Timmy’s case, don’t understand why she can’t . . .
During dinner at the golf club, my youngest grandson turned his attention to Kathie. “Why do you always sit in a wheelchair?” he asked.
“Because I can’t walk.”
“Well, it’s a long story,” said Kathie.
Timmy sat back and folded his arms across his chest. “Tell me about it.”
So Kathie began telling him about the accident in Arizona. He leaned forward, cupped his chin in his hand, and listened attentively.
“If I’d been in the front seat, wearing my seat belt, instead of in the backseat taking a nap, I wouldn’t be in a wheelchair now,” Kathie concluded.
“I think I can fix this,” Timmy said. He pressed both hands to his temples in order to think better. “I know! I’ll use tacks!”
“On top of my seat cushion?” Kathie asked, catching onto the scheme immediately and throwing her head back to laugh one of her soundless laughs.
“Yes! The tacks will make you fly into the air, so you won’t have to sit in the wheelchair anymore.”
“What about when I come down?”
“I’ll have tacks all over the place, all over the floors and chairs and tables. You’ll fly-walk, that’s what you’ll do, fly-walk.”
This image made me think of astronauts floating in outer space. In such an environment, why couldn’t Kathie fly-walk as easily as they do?
Timmy put on his pondering expression. “I’ll think about it some more, and maybe when I grow up, I’ll know what to do.”
I wonder if Timmy would suggest the same remedy for his grandfather, I’m thinking as I return from my reverie and find myself absent-mindedly turning the steering wheel into my condo parking space.
I phone Kathie to confess how my concerns as a mother had wrecked my intention to be the perfect ex-wife. She laughs at my image of the flying paraplegic and then comforts me. She knows how hard it is to stay calm when her father is being irrational. “I’ll be bringing Sarah with me tonight to the nursing home, so that will help keep the conversation from getting out of hand.”
Later Kathie calls and says that Ted also came to visit Ed, and then who walks in but Big Tim and Timmy. Tim had been on an errand in Boston, became lost, and finally found himself just around the corner from the nursing home. Being that close, he decided they’d stop to see Timmy’s grandfather.
“He was well-behaved,” Kathie tells me, letting me guess which relative she’s referring to.
The family gathering was exactly the kind of scene Kathie had envisioned for her father when she invited him to move in. There he was, sitting propped up on his pillows, a slightly crumpled patriarch, dazed and bewildered at having been bounced back into the bosom of his family.