Today is Jr's birthday. He's been telling people for months that he's 87, so today he caught up with himself. More than a few times he's said he may not make it to his birthday. The day is here, he's having a good day. Was up earlier, but went back to bed just because the bed felt so good. I have a feeling that time in the nursing home looking at the ceiling for 2.5 months rendered him inwward. He stays in the bed most of the time now, because I think he likes that place between asleep and awake where he can follow whatever floats through his mind. It's easier than being up attempting to pay attention when he doesn't hear well anymore and his mind drifts indward. "I'll be damn it to hell, I can't remember shit!"
Richardsons turned up with chicken cooked some kind of way from some place that specializes in chicken done a special way. Betty brought a "cake" that was a big rectangular chocolate chip cookie and white icing on top with a little toy tractor looking like it was going through the snow except it left no tracks, like it was set down from above. A gallon of tropical fruit drink. A bawdy birthday card about being old. Ross and his work partner Harry Taylor came in. Harry is a retired helicopter mechanic. He's somebody who loves to work. He's like Jr in that way. He'd rather be doing something than not. Ross's biker nurse girlfriend from Wilkes brought the chicken and quite a lot more. I held the storm door open for everyone coming in with hands full. Jr sat in his place like a hen on a nest, focused inward.
Betty asked him, "How old are you, Junior?" He said, "Sixty-six." She said, "And holding?" Jr said, "That's right." And he drifted back into what I've come to think of as his in between place, in between asleep and awake, in between paying attention and not. He shifts back and forth with ease. It's an effort for him to pay attention to so many people in the room, them talking, and it sounding like a blur where all the voices mix together and he can't make anything out of it. Then he drifts back within. Someone speaking to him has to call his name a second time to get his attention. The first time alerts him it's time to emerge from the dream state and pay attention, somebody is saying something. He understands well what is being said and responds in kind according to subject.
He was in tune with the gathering, needing periods of rest from the effort of paying attention. He would fade away for awhile, then someone would speak to him and he'd have to say, "What?" A paper plate heaped with food was set before him. I knew what he was feeling: I can't do it. He'd had a bowl of Total raisin bran about an hour before and didn't even want that. At the end he choked on it so bad he coughed and gagged and carried on for a long time. I've learned to pay it no mind. He works at it until he clears whatever the problem is, spits a glob into the wastebasket of wadded Kleenexes from a continually running nose. And it's over. He'd been resting from the energy drain of all the coughing and gagging.
We decided to take a drive in the car over some back roads, starting with Cheek Mountain Road. He hobbled with the walker to the car, tiny footsteps at a time. Half way to the car, which was about 15 feet from the cement slab porch, and it a slightly downhill incline to the car, he said, "I'm not gonna make it." I said, "I won't let you fall." He said, "I know it," and kept on pushing the walker. At the car, I opened the door and felt the rush of heat billow out. Holding the door for him, I saw Robin drive up the driveway and stop. He was ready to go back to the house, glad she turned up. She got him out of going for the ride, which he realized by the time he reached the car he didn't want to go, but wouldn't have told me, not wanting to disappoint me, thinking I wanted to go for a ride. I'd suggested it as something I believed he would enjoy. I like it when he tells me who lived in an old house that's falling in and something from their lives, or points out the place one man shot another man over something or other, or another man's pickup fell over on him and killed him.
Jr crept up the hill pushing his walker with baby steps. I stood behind him ready for a sudden lurch in any direction. He doesn't like me hovering, but when I'm behind him he can't see, hands often just a few inches from his ribs on either side ready to catch any sudden change in direction. He couldn't see it, so it didn't provoke his need to be self-sufficient. I respect that need in him at all times. When his knee gives out and he starts down, I catch him and hold him by the ribs long enough in place until he can gather his balance and be ready to take the next step. It has become torment for him to walk. Mostly, it's the pain in his right knee and the knee's propensity to let him down.
Yesterday I picked up a wheelchair and brought it into the house while he was sleeping, putting it in another part of the house. I didn't want to give it to him for his birthday. "Happy Birthday! How d'ya like yer new wheelchair, Junior?" I want it here in the house for the first time we'll need it. I don't want to suddenly need it NOW and it be a Friday night, or just have to drive in to town to get one and get back as fast a s possible. I want it to be a moment when he realizes he needs one and has to give up the pride of not being in a wheelchair. More practice in humility. I'd like to be able to say the day he finds he cannot stand up from a chair and can't stand on his legs anymore, "Let's see how this works." He learned to operate one in the nursing home, so he's checked out on wheelchair mobility. I don't want to introduce it before it's necessary and want it to be on hand first time needed. This appears to be the direction we're headed.