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Thursday, June 05, 2008

What brings you in today?

I suppose I must have wandered into her office without realizing it. Though she didn't say a word, her body language told me she would listen, empathize and advise me.

I met a man -- no, not like that. We were in line at the hardware store and began by commiserating about the ratio of customers to sales staff. He was in his eighties, but not frail. He was slightly taller than my five-eight, with large dark eyes and thick salt and pepper hair. The topic quickly shifted to my kids because they were running around, driven insane by the prospect of holding still for five minutes. He was from Guatemala, legally, he took pains to tell me.

When Jasmine asked for him to lift her up (she does this with just about everybody), his voice cracked, 'Oh no, I can't, my wife just died.'

I didn't quite understand at first. His body was tense. I touched his upper arm and tried to give my impotent sympathy. As his eyes welled up and reddened, he told me of fifty-four years of being half of a team of two. They were ready for the well-earned rest in the house they built with their own hands. 'She didn't survive back surgery. Three cracked vertebrae.' An injury and a further injury when she was dropped by a nurse. He held out his hands that had helped build their house. Some fingernails were unnaturally short, some fingers were slightly too short as well, but the deep tan and callouses made me think seasoned or weathered rather than scarred or disfigured. 'My son is helping me sell the house so I can move to California with him.' He was buying sprinkler parts. His house must have been newly finished if he was touching up the last of the landscaping. I could feel his world dropping out from beneath his feet.

I realized that Jasmine was in my arms. That happens sometimes. My body handled the parenting reflexes while I'd listened. I watched the pain ebb and flow over his face like waves in the ocean. He looked at Jasmine and smiled, 'You can give me a kiss.' She did. The cashier was ringing up my items. I paid. I didn't know what to say to this man. I told him again how sorry I was for his loss and I felt it was so inadequate. I touched his arm again, it was rock hard with tension and well-developed muscles. How strong he is. Eighty years old. He looked like he might crumple right there. 'I can't cry no more. I have no more tears.' His puffy eyes looked like they'd been sandpapered and I understood.

I walked away shaken. The cashier turned his attention from me and asked after the man with an unknowing, 'Long time no see!' He answered, 'My wife just died...' His words continued like a litany and followed the same furrow in my mind that he'd made during my audience. His voice faded as I left the store but it continued in my head.'

My councillor finally unclasped her front legs and the spell was broken. My time must be up. I had relived the story once again. She'd listened politely but there really wasn't anything to say. I still don't know what I should do or should have done. I guess listening was a good start. I got myself out of the vetch and clover and went back inside.
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Matt Dick said...

This is your story? It is indeed heartbreaking.

Hypatia said...

Yeah, I met this man just last weekend. I don't know his name or where he lives, just his story. It's been a while since I wrote-wrote (meaning something other than blogging). I just couldn't get this out of my mind. Part of me really wanted to express the intensity of the feelings he was transmitting.