The Men We Were
Reading is something I’ve started to attempt again. It’s not easy. Every attempt is a battle. At the moment I’m on the heavy stuff: “Charlottes Web”. As I make way through the 3 or 4 pages I attempt everyday (any longer would be exhausting) I scowl, puff my cheeks out and scratch my head like a student wading through “War And Peace”.
I am near the end though but my overly emotional brain is finding the twists and turns of the plot quite gruelling. Charlotte’s death is particularly traumatising.
“No-one was with her when she died.”
Really … this is a kid’s book right?
No-one was with her when she died?
Lord almighty … that is hard. I start with a tasteful little tear but slowly make my way up to bawling my eyes out and taking those big jagged breaths that sobbing kids do. Poor Charlotte. Nobody, not even a spider, deserves that.
“No-one was with her when she died”.
I need something that’s easier going than this. I yearn for a less troubling kid’s book. I think I’d be OK with “James and the Giant Peach”. But doesn’t something bad happens to the spider in that one as well doesn’t it?
Come on old chap, I tell myself. I think the worst bit is over. I knuckle down and plow on.
Today I’m on the last pages. On the ward it’s business as usual, Ian mumbles to himself, Richard has been taken out for the day and Jenna is wheeling Kev to the shower. As I said, Kev’s family are a bit rubbish and Jenna has taken on all the “mothering” duties. She comes everyday and does things like wash his clothes and shower him.
But today Kev calls her to a halt.
“I don’t want you to take me. Sarat … can you do it?” Kev asks. “Sarat can get me in and out of this bloody thing properly. You’re not strong enough. You nearly dropped me the other day.”
Sarat awkwardly looks at Jenna over Kev’s head.
“Go on then…” says Jenna and gesticulates weekly at the shower room. “Whatever.”
Sarat wheels him away and I reflect that Kev was terribly blunt … and so does Jenna. She begins to absentmindedly fold up one of Kev’s clean shirts. Then she pauses, slowly pulls the fabric up to her face and begins to quietly cry into it. Trudy who is attending to Ian, notices this and comes over. She wraps and arm around Jenna and makes soothing noises.
This is awkward. That’s the thing about not being very mobile. I can’t just cough and shuffle out of the room.
I bury my face back in the book, even though I’ve finished it … but I do listen in … of course I do.
“He can be so rude sometimes.” Says Jenna, dabbing at her eyes with Trudy’s proffered hanky. “And the thing is … I don’t think he even realises it.”
“Well, there’s a lot going on for him at the moment.” Trudy replies. “Stuck in hospital … having to get better…”
“But he’s not even doing that anymore. When was the last time he went to physio?”
This makes Trudy pause. She thinks and then offers rather feebly “Well, we got him to do a little bit last week.”
Jenna throws the shirt on the bed. She’s angry now.
“Where’s his fight gone?” She turns to Trudy. “Where’s Kev gone?”
“Well, strokes are …”
“Because that wasn’t him. That wasn’t Kev.”
Jenna’s eyes are ablaze.
Trudy breathes in, puts her hands on Jenna’s shoulders and looks over her glasses into Jenna’s eyes.
“Well …” she says slowly. “That was him. At least that was who he is now …” Trudy searches for the words. “And … well… you’ve just got to accept that.” It sounds very harsh but Trudy delivers it quietly … with warmth. “At least for the time being.”
“But it’s not final right? He’s still got further to go.”
“Well, yes. He may turn a corner and be more his old self again …” Trudy pauses and steadies herself. She breathes in and I can see her summoning up her internal strength. This isn’t going to be easy.
“But he may not. He may not. And … that’s just the way it is … and I can’t give you anymore reassurances. We just don’t know at this point.”
Jenna takes this … absorbs it …
“You’ve done so well with him. He couldn’t hope for nicer fiance but I’ve seen this before,” says Trudy. “And this is going to sound hard but I feel kind of duty bound to tell you.” Trudy pauses and addresses Jenna quietly and with gravity.
“He may not return to his old self. And when it’s clear that’s not going to happen you’re going to have a choice.”
She lowers her voice.
“Learn to love him how he is … or … get out.”
The clock ticks … the air is heavy.
Trudy holds Jenna’s gaze.
I’ve forgotten that I’m supposed to be reading. I am completely drawn in to this charged little moment. It comes in dribs and drabs but life in hospital has its flashes of intense drama. Crikey … I thought Charlottes Web was harsh.
Jenna glances at me through her red, wet eyes and I cough and bury my head back in the book.
As Jenna cries and I try make myself as small as possible … I ponder. Kev … who is Kev? I only know the new Kev … and I like him. He’s a good laugh, rude and bold but apparently he has lost something. I know this from Mum (who is of course a bit of a gossip … like me), from conversations she has had with Jenna.
Before the stroke, although Kev was still very much a man’s man (and self made), he had a sensitivity. He was thoughtful, kind and could be terribly romantic.
I glance at Jenna …
Now that’s all gone.
How is she supposed to feel now?
Kev is a good-looking man and Jenna is … well, Jenna has the kind of beauty that can make your eyes ache. She is stunning. She’s got it all, classically beautiful and criminally curvy. They must have made one hell of a couple.
And I’m not being a bitter little short man (yes I am – the best I can hope for is “cute”) but Kev was obviously quite a catch. He had the nous, looks and charm to bag Jenna – a nice, loyal goddess.
I know it’s crass to talk about leagues in love but we do so because there is a modicum of truth there. And I guess what I’m trying to say is Jenna is well out of my league. And I’m quite jealous of Kev. She is a hell of a woman but if he’s not careful Kev could be losing her. And the strange thing is that I think he vaguely understands this but actually doesn’t seem to care that much. Something in him has died. He has lost something …
And so I think about the men we were and who we are now. How have I changed? Well, my temper has exploded a few times in here. That’s a new thing. I never had a temper before. And what if I’ve lost other things, things that I don’t know are missing but my loved ones do?
I brood. Who, exactly, was I before? I think I know … but there’s something else. I have an ominous feeling. Something I can’t quite place but that is definitely there. A shadow on the edges of my vision.
“It’s not fair,” says Jenna blankly. “It’s just not fair.”
She hands the hanky back to Trudy, she’s not crying anymore.
“I just want the old Kev back.”