An aged man lay in his hospital bed alone. He listened to the beeps and hums of the machine next to him and the footsteps of nurses and patients as they passed by his room. He concentrated on breathing, coaxing his lungs to move in and out with every passing second. He kept his eyes opened and studied each wall in his small room – the generic art work, the cracks, the cobwebs that no one notices and therefore never cleans. The only view out his window was blue sky. He knew his time on earth would soon come to an end.
He was alone for a lot of reasons. He spent what could have been the happiest, most enjoyable time in his life, answering the call of his country in Vietnam. When he returned, his interests changed. And because he could no longer connect to the world on a normal level, he spent his years alone, drinking and smoking. He never caused trouble. He never harmed a soul, but the damage to himself was now taking its’ toll.
He lived in the same house for over 30 years, next to a couple that became the closest thing to a caring family he ever knew. Thirty years ago, the couple’s son, daughter-in-law, and 2 young girls came to live there as well. He and the neighbor became like brothers and together they became the unlikely playmates of the 2 little girls. On summer and spring days, he found himself outside entertaining, goofing around, attending tea parties, and discussing the vivid worlds of the girls’ imaginations.
When he, the little girls, and the grandfather were in the yard, neither parent worried about a thing. Although he was not a father or grandfather and had little to no interaction with children before, there was never a worry about the girls’ safety, well being, or boredom. It was a fond memory, for the girls had long ago moved out, grown up, and had their own families. They were most likely much too young re-call those days spent on the porch swing or in the garage-turned-playhouse.
A shadow came into the doorway of his room and he looked up. It was not a nurse or a doctor. It must be a visitor, he thought. He studied the face of the woman as she came closer to him, smiling. He wanted to say hello, but the tubes in his nose and mouth forbade him from speaking a word and even making facial expressions. She sat in the chair next to his bed, still smiling kindly and said hello. He soon recognized her. It was one of the little girls from next door. He could no longer remember her name, but he nodded his head up down to show her he remembered.
She sat with him for several minutes, talking about her family and giving updates on anyone he might remember from decades ago. He nodded along, amazed and grateful for her visit. The blue sky outside his window eventually grew darker and finally she gathered her things to leave. He wished he could thank her for coming by or do something to show his appreciation, knowing this would be the final time he ever saw her again.
Before she left the room, she leaned in close to him and paused for a moment. “You know,” she said softly in his ear, “You were the best baby-sitter we ever had.” He met her gaze. And because eye contact was all he could control, he locked his eyes onto hers as they shared an understood, silent moment of goodbye.