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Two Doors Down
“Kris and the kids are doing well, but I am absolutely blown away by how fast they are growing up. The days seem to zoom past us as we move from one sport practice to another, followed by late nights of repetitive procrastination. But, boy do we miss your wit and boundless heart surrounding us everyday.” My voice was soft as I peered at my deer neighbor and friend lying before me.
The room was quite cool this day, but the brisk blue sky was cutting through the half raised blinds. Perhaps a cloud or two lurked in the heavens above but it was a day that seemed rather ideal. It wasn’t a very spacious room, but just cozy enough for one. A rich maple wood dresser showcased countless pictures of old friends and beloved family members. The bed, which was situated in the corner, was dressed with soft flannel sheets and a powder blue blanket on top. In between the two, there lay a man whose prematurely aged body lacked any trace of color and life that may have once existed.
“So how’s this old bed treating ya’, huh? How about your lovely wife Luanne, hopefully she’s not driving you too crazy waiting on you hand and foot,” I said with a slight smirk.
My answer was a placid silence, but I somehow felt comforted by this. Maybe it was the memories of Willie that warmed me at that moment, or my gratefulness for being able to have known that man. I looked to him as a prominent voice of wisdom and fatherly advice that just happened to live a mere two doors down. Unfortunately for the past few months, he hadn’t been able to get out very much. The idea that a tumor had invaded his brain and transformed him into the figure presented in front of me was absolutely incomprehensible. There were still no answers as to how and why this disease had so quickly encroached on his will to live.
A distant memory of one of our neighborhood gatherings lingered in my mind. We would all congregate in Willie’s driveway with a fire pit placed strategically in the middle of our circle of chairs. It was one of the instances in which we had thrown back a few too many Corona’s and stayed up way past both our bedtimes. Our conversations had been forgotten by the next morning but the joy of being in each others’ presence was everlasting. With a grin painted across my face I came back to the present, and just as quickly as it had appeared, that smile was diminished.
The room felt smaller than it ever had before. The background music was the redundant beating of a machine that tracked his vitals and heart rate. I sat in silence and peered at my neighbor that was slowly slipping just as my own father had many years prior. Though I kept trying to convince myself to remain optimistic, thoughts kept creeping their way into my head, foretelling the dreaded. The one thing that kept me smiling was seeing his comfort in his own home, bed, and favorite room. Willie had always called it “the cave” because it was his own place where he could retreat for either an afternoon nap or just some time to himself, in between tending to his astoundingly gorgeous sunflowers or cracking jokes with the kids.
“You know, you really need to cut down on all that caffeine Willie, you’re talking my ear off right now!” I chuckled to myself, knowing he thought I was funny as well.
Still there was but the muffled sound of the beating machine next to me.
I ran my eyes across his face and down his body, tracing every crease, vein, scar, or freckle that could be programmed into my mind as a part of him. His leathered skin could have told endless stories of adventures and mischief partnered with compassion and growth. As I reached for his hand I longed for the life to suddenly gush back into him and to hear his whole-hearted chuckle but one more time. That laugh that could be heard half-way down the block now ceased to exist, as Willie’s lifeless frame was all that persisted.
“Hey Willie,” I said with one hand resting on his shoulder “Remember years back when your grandkids all came out to spend the summer with us? Those were some of the best times we had together. Massive squirt gun fights through the neighborhood and back to back days at the beach and skate park. But I’ll never forget when six foot tall, 16 year old Cody thought it might be fun to ride Morgan’s little two-wheeler. He attempted to ride it down the street and made it but a few feet when one of the peddles broke off.” My face was now shielded by my forearm as I snuck out a quiet laugh. “I don’t think I ever saw Luanne as outraged as she was in that instant. She jolted out of that house, demanded he apologize, and then proceeded to restrict him from the rest of the activities planned that day. Then I remember glancing over to catch you chuckling to yourself as you kept at your yard work.” Suddenly it hit me how long it had been since I had seen Willie’s youthful self out and about in the neighborhood. I instantly felt a warm sensation gliding down my left cheek followed by many more tears that I quickly wiped away with the palm of my hand. I then realized that the monotonous beeping had now stopped and the room was silent at once. With this stillness came no sadness, rather a relief that he was done suffering at last. I stood over him and snuck in a short prayer, before beginning my path to share the news with our families outside.
I walked out through the front door of my beloved neighbor’s house by myself, though now I did not feel alone.