Last night I went to visit a friend in the hospital. My friend is older. She walks with a cane, can recall when coffee and a donut cost a quarter, and is on phased retirement older. My friend is a feminist with a rogue sense of humor and speaks in the colorful way only people from the south seem to manage. And the hospital staff seems baffled by her.
After giving her a package of Binders of women for Obama bumper stickers I found on the internet, a young nurse came in to give her a shot. She made small talk as she checked her I.V. and oxygen levels and typed notes into a computer. My friend held up her unmarked folder of bumper stickers and smiled. The nurse asked if my friend would be okay giving herself injections upon discharge.
“Honey, I am a holdover from the 60’s,” she quipped. “I will be fine.”
The nurse laughed cautiously as if not quite sure she should. She finished typing, chatted a bit about the weather—cold—then left. Shortly afterward my friend’s dinner arrived in a brown plastic container. We uncovered it to find pot roast. Or something to its effect underneath. She put the lid on thinking maybe in a few hours it will be more appetizing.
Eventually the nurse returned and asked her to eat something. My friend complied, placing the paper napkin on her lap and pulling the tray close to her thigh. She picked up the utensils and tried pulling the meat apart. But the position she’s required to lie in made it awkward, if not, impossible.
“Will you cut my meat?” she asked.
I nodded, pulling my chair towards the table. As I separated the meat from the gristle I was transported back to my parents’ home in Massachusetts almost exactly three years earlier where I was dicing canned peaches for another fine lady. I thought maybe, just maybe if I feed her just the right things she will bounce back.
At the time she was pretty much confined to a bed in a converted room half office half bedroom. She watched in disgust as the Red Sox blew another postseason between naps on a small television in the corner. Sometimes she looked out the window at the backyard. The leaves were changing. An early October snow flurry passed through before the roses finished blooming. A few weeks later she was gone. A single pink rose was still on the bush.
A different nurse came back to the room. My friend had accidentally pressed the call button for help when shifting positions. False alarm we told her. She waited a minute before leaving just to be sure. Then we chatted about more serious topics. Like which men we would enlist to pose in swimsuits for a 2013 fundraising calendar. And how her return date to work depends on the outcome of the election and whether or not she decides the future is worth getting up for. I think jokes are funniest when we are scared.
“I feel I still have things to contribute,” my friend said.
I agreed. So we talked about personal projects we wanted to pursue. I told her one, but left off the other two. I’m not sure why. Probably because the first one is the easiest to do and to write off. And I am not ready yet to stop bullshitting myself. My friend told me she has an idea for another book. It will be her eleventh. It will be different from her other life works. It will personal this time. And I think it will be her best.