Falling Leaves

February 27, 2010
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Sunset painted tulips and dainty daisies spring from the flower garden in the center of my neighborhood where Dan and his ten year old daughter used to toss a yellow lacrosse ball. On the netted basket at the top of a long pole, the sun colored sphere skipped between them. Strollers with shaggy dogs and cars slowly cruising, enchanted by his welcoming smile, stopped for simple conversations. With his large, stocky body cloaked in a black zip-up sweater, standard blue jeans, and a Raven’s baseball cap, he would boom out friendly greetings in a deep, strong voice.
In the fall, leaves tumbled off the trees in his yard, falling into a golden-red infused heap on his front steps. Dan, who loved the smell of autumn and the crunch of the rake against the ground, could be seen scraping the dead foliage away. Scooping up the piles into black trash bags, he was extra careful to tie a double knot on the top before placing the bags on the curb.
One lazing morning, after I pulled on my slippers and donned my extra large sweater, I ate a blueberry bagel as my parents somberly explained to my sisters and me what had occurred the night before. Dan had had a stroke, a bad one. He went to sleep after a steak dinner and a long talk about winter break with his wife. Then, as of 3 am, Dan was no longer Dan.
Dan remained in the hospital for three months, paralyzed; the only sounds to escape his lips were empty gurgles. The lacrosse playing, neighborhood watching, conversationalist disappeared into a frozen doll. The leaves he used to seal away stayed, sweeping his lawn, back and forth, back and forth. Even when he returned home, wheel chair bound, the leaves clung to the frozen grass. Dan stayed cooped up in the house while his daughter played on a swing hanging from a tree on their front lawn. If one walked by, and peered into the far right window, one could still see him lovingly, and still, protectively, watching her.
Dan emerged one day. He wobbled and twitched even with the support of a cane and could not say more than a heavily slurred hello. Awkwardly, I said hello back, averting my eyes to refrain from staring. As we both walked our separate ways, earlier images filtered through my mind. I pictured the man I see, and the men I know struggling like Dan, with their minds racing but bodies turned into rusted metal, incapable of functioning as before. From living as treadmill kings, and debating pros, to becoming one who is handfed bread and grunts goodbye.
Dan walks normally now as long as he has his cane. He can barely chat about the weather, or about one’s well being, but he knows different types of hellos. He still can’t play lacrosse, but he is always outside. Seven out of the ten times I leave my home, I’m sure to run into Dan. He keeps walking round and round the block, round and round, round and round.

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