I had a visitor. I never had visitors. I didn’t have any family. My parents died decades ago and my only sibling, an older brother, died last year. Most of my friends were gone too.
They wheeled me into the commons area where I waited. I did a lot of that.
A young man about 30 years old turned and walked toward me. He scrutinized my face for the longest time, then did a quick visual assessment of my body. I hadn’t been strong enough to walk, even with a cane, for about six months. I knew I probably had no more than a year at most but sometimes I wished death would hurry up and take me. This place, these people…but it was best not to stew too much in my miseries.
“Hi, my name is Robert,” he said, extending his hand.
I shook it and said, “I’m Robert too, but you probably already knew that.”
“Yes. I suppose you’re wondering who I am and why I’m here visiting you.”
I nodded and said, “I suppose so.”
“I’m your son.”
If he thought he was being funny, I wasn’t laughing. “I don’t have a son.”
I studied his face and did see a resemblance, perhaps to my brother when he was that age. But I didn’t have a son, had never had a son or a daughter.
“How is it that I didn’t know about you? Who’s your mother?” I asked.
“Rita McMurray. Do you remember her?” His eyes bored into mine as if he were willing me to remember this woman.
“I don’t. How old are you?”
“I’m 71,” he said.
I laughed, looked at him and laughed again. “Who put you up to this? The orderlies? Kenneth got you to play a little joke on me, right? Oh, he’s too funny,” I choked out and then began gasping for breath. My ribs hurt from the laughing and then from trying to catch my breath. I grabbed my handkerchief and coughed up a little blood. It wasn’t too bad this time.
“Do you remember Rita?” he asked again.
“Good Lord, son, I went to high school with a little gal named Rita and I guess that would have been over 70 years ago but you can’t be her son or mine. You can’t be a day over 30.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. I try to stay in shape. It gets a little harder every year. But I suppose you already know that, don’t you?” He chuckled and for a moment I wondered if I was the one laughing, he sounded so much like me. Only I didn’t feel like laughing.
“Now look here, young man,” I said, “Enough of this nonsense. Just who are you and what do you want?” His joke was no longer funny and it was almost time to watch my soaps.
“Do you remember Rita?”
How the hell would this young man have known anything about Rita? Of course, I remembered her. How could I not?
I remembered her beautiful face.
I remembered the way her soft tender body molded to mine, her sighs in my ear as I held her close, her whispered words of love. “Do you love me, Robbie?” she asked. I never answered her. I wished I had.
I remembered how I couldn’t wait to see her each morning at school and how I’d try to coax her out to the equipment storage shed. Sometimes she came with me.
I remembered when she came to me with tears streaming down her face and told me, told me her decision, a decision I condoned, God forgive me.
I remembered taking her to a house to meet someone who could help girls like her, girls in trouble.
I remembered her blood all over the seat of my car, her face ashen, her gaze unfocused out the front windshield.
I remembered the emergency room, her parents screaming at me, her father choking me, threatening to kill me. I wished he had.
I remembered kissing her goodbye.
“Yes, I remember her,” I whispered, then cleared my throat. “But Rita died. She never had a baby.”
“No, she didn’t,” he said. “I brought Rita with me. Would you like to see her?”
“Yeah, sure kid, wave your magic wand and bring her on in. I’m feeling nostalgic.”
Robert hopped up from the chair he’d been sitting in opposite me and then disappeared in the direction of the lobby.
“Hi Robbie,” said the blonde woman who walked in a few minutes later with him.
“Well, I’ll be. You’re the spittin’ image of Rita McMurray. Are you a relative?” I asked.
“Robbie, it’s me. Don’t you recognize me anymore? You used to call me Sunshine, remember?”
This time it was me chuckling. “Yes, I do. How’d you find out about that?”
She shrugged and said, “I remember. Are you ready to go now?”
“Go where?” I asked puzzled.
“Out there,” she said, nodding her head backwards. “It’s much better out there, trust me.”
“You can get me out of here?” I asked. None of this made any sense. But if I had a chance to leave Brookhaven Senior Home, grab it I would.
“Sure. When you decide that you’re ready, we can go.”
“What about this fellow here?” I asked, nodding at Robert.
“He’s handsome isn’t he, Robbie? He looks a lot like your father doesn’t he? You’ll really like him once you get to know him.”
“Have you decided, Dad? Are you ready?” Robert asked.
I looked at Rita and Robert and then around the common room. I looked at my gnarled hands that were curled into claws now, hands that could no longer hold a fork or a pencil. My knees and back ached. I could barely hear anymore yet Robert and Rita I heard as clearly as if they had been speaking directly into my brain.
“Yes, I’m ready,” I said.
Robert pushed my wheelchair outside. The sun’s rays danced upon my face, warming it, and dissolved the pains from my joints. My back straightened, ribs expanded broadly as I took a deep breath. I remembered everything then, everything, and felt God’s forgiveness cradling me like a newborn baby.
“Aw man, another one keeled over in the common area. Shit, that’s the second one this month,” said Kenneth the orderly. “Robert, I guess it was just your time, wasn’t it old man?”