He loved trains, music, and women mostly women.
Age and disability notwithstanding he was still very sensual, always wanting to make love.
It never occurred to him that being nearly immobile presented some difficulties in that regard. For the most part, he sublimated quite nicely into fervent hand-holding and conducting his imaginary orchestra. He had a silver shock of hair that flopped around on his forehead like Leonard Bernstein when he got carried away.
When I met him he lived in an exclusive residential facility on top of a hill with a million-dollar view he never saw.
He sat in the middle of a huge room where he was enthroned amongst the trappings of a life gone by. A more lonely man I think there never was.
He was once very powerful and bitterly missed being important. He’d been a very high-level aviation executive; awards, plaques, and memorials to his service and leadership were all over the walls. There were accouterments of wealth and refined taste everywhere; rosewood, and Chinese black lacquer furniture along with high-level trinkets interspersed with family pictures.
Ah, the family who rarely came.
He was divorced by a wife who’d dumped him when he got older and lost his good looks and influence. He still roared like a wounded beast when he talked about her. But I could soothe him with the magic of trains.
One year around Christmas I decided to get him a train set to fill up his cavernous room and got the big kind – H.O., I think — and the track and set them up in front of his recliner. They were red and gold and had a lovely whistle.
He was beside himself the first time they made their circle around the little village. I was on the carpet assembling it, and before I knew it this distinguished gentleman had slipped out of his chair and onto his knees and crawled over to join me next to the track. He was seven years old all over again and life was grand. He ran that train around and around and around engineer’s cap on his hoary head.
Even better than the trains, we’d had a good laugh because the witch of a house manager had gone by the window and seen us all on the floor and thrown a fit. She “couldn’t understand,” “never thought,” and “just didn’t see how” for about five minutes, and after she’d huffed and puffed and we remained unimpressed, she simply shrugged and walked away. He delighted in having escaped her control, even if it was probably a one-time event.
When he tired of the trains, we pushed and pulled to get all 200-plus pounds of him back up into his Barcolounger and tucked up nice and warm under his blanket with the remote in his hand. He fell asleep, blissfully exhausted.
Not long after that, he was moved to a nursing home where he continued to have poor impulse control; a hand up a dress, a fist in someone’s face, food flying at someone who bothered him. He’s got roommates; two unfortunate blokes who have to share a small room with his imperial highness of the ionosphere.
I try to soften the strain on everyone while waiting for a private room. I sing and clown to ease the tension, and scold when I need to.
I wanted to bring his trains and suggested we could set them up somewhere in the hospital where everyone could enjoy them. George could be station master.
It might even keep him out of trouble thought I, but for reasons inexplicable to me, management thought differently. The only nod to the needs of a troubled soul was permission to have a stuffed animal, so I got him a gorilla. He named him – of course, Georgie. The last time I saw him he was holding the black gorilla in his lap, explaining to him in confidential fashion that the food there was lousy.
Then he surprised me. He used Georgie to talk to the woman next to him who had a bear of her own sitting on her lap. She smiled, delighted. The sweetness of it nearly slayed me. Two lonely people in wheelchairs stuck in a nursing home found a way to connect.
Maybe they even became sweethearts – God, I hope so.