The Wolf’s Tooth Chapter 15

Ted seemingly changed the subject when he asked us, “I know Blaine does, but does anyone else here know the Beatles song “Tomorrow Never Knows?”

Terry nodded, Helga shrugged her shoulders and Doug seemed too afraid to answer. I was grinning.

Ted said, “John Lennon was deeply influenced when he wrote that song by a book he had just read. Does anyone know the name of the book, except for Blaine.”

“Of course.” I said and smiled some more. No one knew the name of the book.

“It was the Buddhist Tibetan Book Of The Dead. The book describes how people who aren’t yet ready to enter God’s presence when they die may find themselves in the presences of bodhisattvas, which are in fact angelic beings, right after they die. Such bodhisattvas help and guide the deceased souls in their new state of existence.”

“And your point?” Doug had found his voice. Ted shot him a look.

“The little girl is obviously not a bodhisattva, as Nana is very much alive.”

“Good point.” I said. “And I agree, don’t you Terry?”

“Oh absolutely. Nana is a rock.” Ted nodded in agreement. Doug kept still.

We hung out there for a while, the talk slipping away from angels to more worldly things, like the Boston Red Sox. Then a doctor came in, and shooed us all out.

We grouped in the hall, and when he came out five minutes later. He smiled at our group and then said, “I am sure you will be happy to hear this, we are moving her to Port Rehab tomorrow. Her condition has stabilized enough to the point that this would be the best step to take at this time. If this improvement continues, she shall be back home in no time.”

Wow. I was stunned.

Everyone cheered. Helga clapped right along with us.

This was amazing, unexpected news. I was thrilled beyond words. The thought of Nana being in the hospital when I flew out had been killing me.

Because the sad fact was, tomorrow was my full last day here in America.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

LEFT ALONE WITH THE OLD PEOPLE

Jimi Hendrix asked us all in a song just two short years before he died- “Are you experienced?”

I was nine years old when this song was brand new, and I always answered “yes” when my brother was listening to Jimi in his tiny bedroom next to mine.

My older brother always laughed at me and said, “How can you stop when your feet say go? Blaine, when you understand exactly what that phrase really means, then you are experienced.”

My last complete day in America had officially arrived. Waking up knowing I would return to this very bed and lay my head down on this Milk Street pillow later in the evening was absolute bliss.

Tomorrow I would not have this luxury. Tomorrow I would be lying my head down on a German pillow some 6000 miles away. These days, my feet were always saying- “go”. Yes, I was now experienced. Experience has shown me that it would not be easy.

Excuse me, while I kiss the sky.

Dad’s creaky stairs had been climbed a number of times, sleepy eyes have since been opened, closed and reopened in Mike’s room and in then in ours, and fresh fruit had been peeled and consumed. I had not been here long enough for any of it to become routine, and it made me a little sad knowing that I never would.

Ray said to me back in 1975, “Life is a learning process.” Then he sold all of his cows, built an addition to his house, married a younger woman and added a swimming pool where they floated naked together nights under the stars sharing a bottle of French wine. Some people are naturals.

Unfortunately, that was long, long ago. I had visited Ray a few days ago with Helga; and it was a short, awkward visit. I always made it a point to go down and see him every time I came home. I was very loyal. Ray had talked to me about what life had to offer back in a time period where my father was constantly telling me what I could not do.

Ray had a serious stroke a few years back, and even though he has recovered fully, he still had his bad days. Regrettably, we had caught one.

He basically ignored us during our visit. His wife tried to entertain us in his absence, even though he was sitting right there in the room with us. I did not mind, I just wanted to see him, hear his voice, and see for myself that he was okay.

Helga however, saw things quite differently. Helga was rather upset by his behavior and she was not so cool about it. She did not shake his hand when we left. She told me as we were climbing into the car that my childhood hero was very rude. I didn’t say anything.

I was thinking her reaction was probably my fault. I had told her so many wonderful things about Ray over the years, that she was expecting nothing short of a God. And instead, all she got was a tired, ailing old man.

I guess I should not have been surprised. I had been shocked to hear from my father that he no longer visited Ray at all. They had been friends for a lifetime, literally from childhood up until this day.

But, Dad had experienced just one too many bad days, days where he would show up and Ray simply did not talk to him. Dad said yes it was hard, but he didn’t have a choice, Ray was not the Ray he once was.

Dad said that life is too short; you just can’t constantly spend time with someone who made you feel like a shot of Novocain.

That made a lot of sense to me.

Believe it or not, today we were not off to the AJ hospital. No, Nana was already in her room at the Port Rehab. That was the good news of the day.

This rehabilitation center, slash- nursing home- was not even five minutes away from the hospital.

The move had taken place earlier that morning around eight. Dad had been there, even drove with her in the ambulance, and now he was obviously relieved. You could see this written in his face.

But, before we took that ride to go see her, we had another ride to take with my father. We visited all the family graves in preparation for Memorial Day.

The Hawkes’ graves were for the most part all situated in neighboring Salisbury. There were a few in Newburyport. Dad was talkative and chatted away about our history and family tree as he efficiently planted freshly purchased Geraniums. It was awesome hearing all of the history. He gave me so much input in such a short period of time that I promptly forgot most of it.

The Hawkes gravestones were battered, and relatively small. It was obvious our roots were poverty-stricken. As if on cue, Dad casually added he doubted that anyone ever came to visit these graves.

In a few years my younger brother Larry would take over the maintenance of the family graves, including Mom and Dad’s. He was the only sibling with a green thumb. Larry was also able to retain the history in his memory. He was the ideal man for the job, and eventually began taking his own kids along with him as the years passed us by. It was picture perfect.

Helga had gotten down on her knees and was happily helping Dad dig the small holes. And there it was once again, Dad’s unnerving charm, filling up a room. In retrospect, he was the only one Helga had really liked during this visit.

Feeling lazy and melancholic, I walked off with the empty watering can and filled it with that rusty metallic scented cemetery water I remembered so well from my childhood.

We spent a lot of time hanging out in cemeteries as kids, playing hide and seek, telling ghost-stories, reading ancient gravestones and occasionally making out with daring south end girls.

Cemeteries were also a place- the only place- where we could always get a drink of water in the heat of the summer while out traveling on our bikes. The thought of stopping somewhere and buying something to drink was virtually unthinkable, who had money back then? And you could not get water in a store anyway. Stores selling bottled water? That was never going to happen, people are not so easily duped.

And you never went home if you were thirsty; you might not be able to get away again. Being outside was synonymous with freedom. So you came here to drink. The cemetery water tasted like crap, but it was always cold and refreshing and most important- wet.

I took some neat pictures of Dad and Helga as they worked. Dad was talking to her the whole time, and I knew she was only getting a third of what he was saying. Yet she was amiably smiling, which again, stripped years off of her age.

I gazed at her from across the way and suddenly remembered the first time I ever saw her face. The now infamous double date.

We had met at the McDonalds in Sinsheim, and when I walked in, I spotted my cowboy friend with this blonde haired woman at a table next to a window. He was munching away on chicken nuggets, and she was eating a quarter-pounder. I walked over to the table.

My friend quickly introduced us, and as a joke, I grabbed both of her hands and vigorously shook them, along with the dripping hamburger she had been munching on. Unfortunately the hamburger fell apart; the meat and soggy lettuce and tomato plopped grossly on her tray.

She looked at this mess, then her eyes slowly raised and glared at me in angered disbelief, and then her eyes instantly softened, and she actually smiled. I was stunned by the definite change in her rigid face once her eyes had begun beaming- they were positively dazzling, she became beautiful.

She later claimed it was love at first sight, and be damned if I hadn’t noticed. I didn’t believe in such a thing, a WHOOSH when you met someone, but there it was.

I snapped another picture with my Minolta as I viewed this mental Polaroid in my mind and I felt a tug of regret. What had I done to murder that innocent love? We had unexpectedly arrived at some sort of holy place, where a cease-fire had not been suggested, but had become reality anyway.

The truth was, that neither of us had gotten what we had expected from our relationship, or from this trip for that matter, but this fact shouldn’t have surprised anyone, least of all me.

A wary feeling of responsibility had brought us to this peaceful place, and I was thrilled that she had laid down her arms. I knew the axe was still lying under the bed, the blade razor-sharp and gleaming in the light, but I was finally beginning to find myself looking forward to her using it.

I wanted her to find happiness. I wanted her to fall in love with another man. There were worse things than being the other man, or living alone. There was living in a loveless relationship.

Dad led us back to Newburyport and into the next cemetery. This was where his brother and sister lie, and Mom’s parents and even Grampie Butch too. I felt queasy standing in front of Butch’s grave, as the memory of the spine-chilling dream with Nana floored me.

My intense dreaming had eased up somewhat, and I believe it had a lot to do with Nana’s poor health. You could literally feel Nana everywhere you went. She was on everyone’s minds, and tragic as it was, it was inspiring for me to see that this woman had touched so many lives so deeply.

I was very grateful to have had her as a grandmother. I quickly walked away again from the folks actually working and gathered more rusty water. I took my sweet time too.

They finished the flowering quickly, and I commented on how efficient they had worked together. It was true. They got along great.

Helga had cut Dad’s hair in the kitchen earlier that week at Milk Street. She had been a hairdresser in Germany, but not for long. She bored quickly. But with just scissors and a comb she had given Dad a great cut. At the time she had chatted with him in German, which he did not understand.

Dad still had a few German phrases stashed away that he had perfected from his time in the service when he was stationed in Germany. The most famous and known one was saying “Gesundheit” when someone sneezed.

Some people thought it was German for “Bless You” but actually it literally meant- “Good Health”. You were wishing them health and hoping the sneeze was not a sign of an incoming illness.

He was also quite fond of jokingly calling people, usually me, a “dummkopf”. A rough translation of this would be dumb-ass.

He got himself in trouble with one of his phrases though. He told Helga, “Du bist ein schones madchen”. It meant- “You are a pretty girl.” Helga giggled when he said it, and looked at me in obvious surprise.

This reaction got Mom suspicious and she demanded to know what it meant. I wanted to flee, but she insisted that I tell her. I asked Dad if it was alright if I did so.

He just laughed and told me to tell her. I did, and Mom’s eyes narrowed into thin slits and she says, “Oh? Really? Why would you need to know how to say that over there?”

Ted Hawkes laughed and shrugged his shoulders. Like I said, Dad’s unnerving charm.

Helga was in an exceptionally good mood. I knew she was very excited about the thought of finally going home. Ten days is nothing really, but being so far away from home for the first time and then being surrounded by people speaking in different tongues, well, that could make ten days feel like an eternity.

I was speaking from personal experience.

They rinsed off their hands with the cold, rusty water and we slowly walked back to the cars. We drove to Nana’s new home, hopefully just a temporary home. It was beginning to look as though she may recover enough to return to her cozy apartment in the south end. They were thinking this could happen soon.

We followed Dad in the rental; I wanted to see as much of America as I could. When we drove back later, I already knew that we would be taking the long way home.

The Port Rehab was moderately sized, with 100 beds. Like so many medical centers these days, it had for-profit, corporate ownership. It participated in Medicare and Medicaid, but preferred private patients.

They did have a great staff, including my sister Becky and Larry’s wife, Dana. They also had air conditioning, which was nice. Summers were hotter now than they were back when I lived here as a kid.

We parked near Dad and followed him inside. He led us through the building, greeting people as if he had been here a thousand times already. We followed him to Nana’s room. It was about the same size as her hospital room. There was a picture of a Clipper ship cruising through choppy water hanging on the wall, and the walls themselves were dressed in really nice wallpaper. There was not much else.

Except for people. The room was filled with people, the exact same people I had been running into in the hospital all week.

I greeted everyone, and of course, my grandmother. But turns out, Nana was not in a good mood. She was actually bitching, nonstop. Why doesn’t someone talk some sense into the doctors? She did not understand why she had to come here, why couldn’t she just go back to her apartment?

She was obviously not strong enough for that. On top of that, her blood count was still not good. There were problems with her white blood cells. Her Lymphocytes count was down, and since her intestines were inflamed, this was potentially dangerous. Nana had practically no natural defenses against infection.

At some point, Helga and I slipped out unnoticed and we went for a final drive south along side of the beautiful Atlantic Ocean down Route 1A. We had spontaneously decided to walk on sand again. We stopped at Crane Beach in Ipswich.

I was instantly reminded of our early morning walks upon arriving at Hampton Beach nine days ago. Now it seemed like it had been so long ago. This time I was not nearly as excited as we hit the beach.

But Helga was. She kicked off her shoes and walked through the surf. As we walked, she even began humming loudly. I looked at her, and she smiled, and winked at me. I began to think I might even get lucky on my last night.

A bit later, a total stranger saw us and then she made a beeline for us. The woman was wearing cut off blue jeans and a see through white blouse. She had a red bikini top underneath. She had long dirty blonde hair, which was braided and hung halfway down her back. She was wearing red-mirrored sunglasses, a similar shade of red lipstick and she was casually carrying a pair of pink flip-flops in her hand.

The woman stopped us, and apologized for intruding on our walk and then she explained that she was looking for something special in Ipswich. Absent-mindedly I thought she meant sand dollars. Instead, she asked us if we knew where “Wolf’s Hollow” was. I grew up just down the road from here, but I had never heard of it.

She insisted that it was somewhere here in Ipswich. She just had to see the place before she headed north again. Helga was all bubbly around this woman, and I instantly saw why. We quickly exchanged names, and I discovered just from hearing Tina’s description of the place that she was an animal lover. I knew from prior experience that Helga could spot one a mile away.

Helga got all excited hearing about the exotic place Tina was searching for. Now she wanted to see it too. So, we walked on together.

Tina was extremely friendly. She had a pleasant voice and she went on and on about her life in Maine, happily divorced living with her three dogs, two cats and her horse. Yes, she was into horses. So they excitedly talked about horses; and I was happily translating for both sides- simply because they were both so seemingly happy about the chance meeting and the whole scene intrigued me.

We walked along the beach with this woman, and she kept asking people we ran into about it, until we finally found someone who actually knew where the secretive wolves were located.

We did an about face and headed back to the main parking lot, where Tina had also parked. Tina finally removed her sunglasses and I gazed into pretty emerald green eyes as she asked Helga if she wanted to drive with her. Then she turned her gaze to me and added, “If that’s okay with Blaine, of course.” She smiled at me.

So Helga and the woman drove away together in her car and I followed them with my rental. Before they got into Tina’s car, Tina smiled at me again and said, “This is such a nice surprise, I didn’t expect a threesome today.”

At this point I was thinking the same exact thing, but I suspect our perspectives on precisely what that meant might have been slightly different. So I bit my tongue and just silently smiled at her.

We drove for fifteen minutes. We almost missed it, as the sign was so small. The parking lot was tiny too. I parked next to her and in we went. We stuck together the whole time. Tina was great, and Helga was in seventh heaven.

Wolf’s Hollow was great too. The place was amazing. I even got suckered into taking the lecture, and now I have to admit, I was very happy that I did. It took over an hour though, and by the end I was feeling guilty that we were not back in Nana’s room with the family.

There were six fully-grown wolves living there, and Helga and Tina seemed especially fascinated with the alpha male. He was magnificent. He was brooding. He was compelling. When he looked at you, you felt it.

It was also obvious that the staff really loved these wolves. We all felt a sense of regret as we reached the end.

Helga wanted a poster from the gift shop. It featured the famous Cherokee Wolf legend. There was a beautiful portrait of two wolves, one huge, one tiny and the following text was printed under the picture.

Parable -Tale of Two Wolves

A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside of us, which are always at war with each other.

One of them is a good wolf, which represents things like kindness, bravery and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred and fear.

The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?’

The grandfather quietly replies, “The one you feed.”

Helga bought the poster. I liked it. Good stuff. As her poster was being rolled, I asked, “So tell me, which wolf would you feed?”

Helga smiled and replied, “Silly boy, I would feed both of them for as long as I could.” Tina instantly agreed and the women high-fived each other as they laughed.

Then they went off to the bathroom. Do women ever go to the bathroom alone? I took advantage of the situation and quickly went back into the gift shop and bought Helga a present. It had caught my eye the second we had walked into the room. I’d wait until the right time came along to give it to her.

The women came out, still talking. I felt a little bad for Helga, finally meeting someone she evidently liked on her last day here, but I had to put an end to this wholesome threesome.

I softly suggested we really should get back. Helga was content; she had spent time with real live animals again, and happily agreed with me that we should head back to Newburyport.

Outside they hugged, and then Tina turned, grabbed me and gave me a good hug too. She whispered in my ear that I had found myself one hell of a woman over there. I told her she appeared to be one hell of a woman herself, which got me another hug and a wet kiss on the cheek.

Tina climbed into her car, wishing us a safe trip back to Germany as she did so. Then she was gone.

We were back in Nana’s room twenty minutes later.

The room was still full, although it was a different group of people now. My cousin Sherri saw us and she came rushing over to us, and said my parents had gone to grab a bite to eat.

Then she grinned at me and said, “Your mother was pretty mad that you guys were gone so long on your last day. Blaine, you selfish bastard, where were you so long?’

I told her about seeing the beach one last time, and about visiting the wolves. Sherri laughed at this. “You got yourself an alpha wolf already Helga.”

“Blaine too nice to bite.” We all laughed. I did not know what to make of it though.

“Anyway Helga, we all want to thank you for bringing him home.”

Helga nodded. At one point everyone had thanked her for bringing me home, again and again. Including me.

We mingled some more, and then Mom and Dad returned. Becky had been working, and now she was off duty and so she was hanging out with us too. Ted had come and left, as had Larry and Lara.

Yes, Nana was really drawing them in.

And so a few more hours slipped by, as the flowing purple sand neared its unavoidable conclusion. I was rapidly running out of time.

Time is eternal, the collection of events that determine our existence, as they occur in an irreversible succession. Perhaps time is the fourth dimension. But, why couldn’t we move about in Time as we are able to move about in the other dimensions of space?

Time is subjective, do we feel it as a sensation or is it judgment, merely an intellectual exercise.

I would never know, but during these intense trips back home I felt the swiftness of time passing. According to the late great German philosopher Martin Heidegger- we do not exist inside time, we ARE time. We are not stuck in sequential time. We are able to remember the past and project into the future; we can, in our thoughts, step out of sequential time.

I was now lost in both worlds, desperately trying to stay in the moment, happily recalling all what was and anxiously staring into tomorrow. This was hard.

I was not Mick Jagger, “Time was not on my side.”

I knew I would be stopping by here again tomorrow before we took off for Logan Airport in the morning. So I was not too emotional saying goodnight to Nana.

She was still cranky, and did not seem to register the fact that I was leaving. I kissed her never the less. I looked back as I left the room, but she was not watching us depart. She was not even looking in my direction. I watched her until I reached the door.

The secret behind those long last looks.

We left, and went to get some take out Chinese food. We ended up eating it in the car parked down at Plum Island for another glimpse of the ocean’s waves endlessly rolling into the sand. We ate in a comfortable silence.

We got back to Milk Street an hour later. I was happy to see Ted’s car, and Mom and Dad were also home. We went in and munched on white cheddar cheese popcorn as we all talked about the awesome surprise recovery of Nana.

No one mentioned the other elephant in the room.

After a while Ted and I went outside and sat together on the bulkhead on Milk Street.

We were just talking about The Beatles song, “Revolution Number Nine” when Becky pulled up across the street. She parked in front of the Brown School. We watched her rapid approach, and Ted said, “Oh oh, something is wrong.”

“Really? Why do you say that?” She looked fine to me.

“I know her, and I can see just by the way she is walking that she is upset.”

Becky reached us, waved us a quick greeting without making eye contact and rushed past us into the house. It appeared as if she had been crying.

Ted was right. Something was wrong. Suitably alarmed, we jumped up and followed her into the living room, where things were now heating up.

“How could you do that to me? Why did you just take off?” Becky said, as she stood in front of our father.

Dad smiled, but he seemed to know not to laugh. A good time to keep your mouth shut is when you realize you’re in deep water.

“What are you talking about?” he answered softly. I think he knew.

“I was the last one. I ended up the last person in Nana’s room. Everyone had snuck out. I was left alone with Nana.”

Ted said, “Did something happen? Is she alright?”

No, she is not alright. She was upset; she was hysterical. She wanted me to take her with me, she even begged me to take her with me.” Now Becky was crying. We all sat in silence. I was stunned.

“She told me she did not want to stay there with all those old people. She wanted to go home, home to her own apartment. She was clinging to me, begging me, don’t leave me alone with all these old people, please don’t leave me here alone, take me with you.” I could literally picture this, and my sympathy with Becky grew.

“She seemed ok when we left,” Mom said, and added, “And I don’t think anyone snuck out Becky.” I wondered though. I suspect Mom and Dad knew what was coming.

“Even Sherri just disappeared from one moment to the next. It was awful, Nana wouldn’t let me go, she was crying, she was holding onto me, and she kept begging me to take her with me. She did not want to be left alone with the old people.”

Much later Becky, Ted and I were outside back on the bulkhead. Becky had calmed down, but it was safe to say she would probably not forget this night too quickly, if ever.

I wondered what was really behind Nana’s extreme reaction. Surely she did not have anything against elderly people. Surely she must be aware of her own age. Why did she freak out? What was she really afraid of? Was it the brutal symbolism of the place? No one gets out of these places alive. But, that statement is true for all of us in life.

Just by living, we know that we shall die. We are the only creature on Earth aware of our own mortality. Some people use this incredible knowledge to motivate themselves to lead incredible lives. Others basically curl up in an emotional ball of depression and await the bitter end.

Why did not Nana want to live with the old people? Old people, I assume this simply means being old, which basically refers to reaching ages nearing or even surpassing normal life expectancy, thus this too is symbolic with the end of human life.

Was it the thought of living with the meanness we sometimes see in the elderly? Nana had always remained a nice old lady. But many old folks were down right cranky. I think most of this rage comes from fear, the fear that arrives when ones instinctive “fight or flight” machinery kicks in. I think nothing we have faced in our lives can be more fearful than seeing our bodily functions slowly shut down. There is no way to escape this enemy either, so fight is all that’s left.

I thought about The Beatle song, “Eleanor Rigby”. I could hear Paul McCartney singing at the beginning-

“Ah, look at all the lonely people. Ah, look at all the lonely people.” And at the end- “All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”

Even as a kid, I associated this song with old people. I still do.

Nana was a hip old lady. She knew things. People are living longer. Old age homes are on the rise, everywhere. Family bonds are weakening, and many senior citizens are feeling neglected and unworthy tucked away in these homes. I hoped that Nana must have known this would not happen to her, she would never be totally left alone with the old people. Family would always be coming to see her, as we did in her apartment.

So if she was aware of her position in the family, (Babushka) perhaps she did not see this stopover as Rehab. Maybe she saw this move as final. That would justify her sadness, since she would be leaving her home. (And her memories there.) There is a true loss of independence once you reach a nursing home. You could even lose your self-esteem once everything in your daily life becomes a planned activity for seniors.

Nana was smart. Was it her basically knowing that Nursing Homes were the final move before death? Nursing homes were in effect the somber place where the final chapters in people’s lives were written.

I realized at some point that I was leaving in the morning, and would never be able to ask Nana about her emotional breakdown this evening. It would remain a mystery.

Then Ted’s voice reached me, and ended my stream of thought.

Ted was talking about Nana’s eyes at Butches funeral. “You could just see the light had gone out.”

“It was worse than that tonight, she was in panic. She was clinging to me, and her voice, cracking as she begged me, God, it was awful.”

“I feel so bad for you,’ I said. “I remember how I used to feel terrible about leaving her alone back at her apartment every time I left. But this, this is way worse.” The comparison was weak, but I too had left Nana’s room before Becky tonight.

“See Blaine, all the good stuff you miss by living over there? You’re lucky man. You’ve never even been to a funeral over here, have you?”

I recalled the nightmare I had the first night back with Nana. The guilt feelings were busy building that fucking fence again. “No, and I feel bad about it too.”

Becky seemed surprised. “Why? You should be glad, funerals suck. Wakes are even worse. And no one blames you anyway. We know how much it costs to fly here.”

No one blames me except for Nana, pointing that long accusing finger at me, floating in that wooden chair on the other side. I shuddered; will she be waiting there for me tonight?

Why didn’t you save me from the nursing home?

Why would you leave me here with strangers to die?

Why did you leave me all alone with the old people?

Ted then said, “Life just isn’t what we expected as kids. You don’t think about this type of shit when you are young. But this is just the beginning, we are just starting to get to that age.”

I knew Ted was right, but I also knew why we never talked about it. It was just too fucking depressing. Most of us Hawkes’ were continuously optimistic.

That age, I thought. The age where everyone older than us dies? Where we ourselves become the last generation? This is the oldest I have been so far.

I said, “I intend to live forever, or die trying.” They laughed at my joke, a little anyway.

And I wondered- is it better not knowing how much time is left for us? It seems to me that by the time you learn the rules of life, you’re much too old to play the game.

Ted continued, “Well I know I’m certainly getting old. The other day I was doing my walk, and when I walked past the cemetery- two guys rushed out and attacked me with shovels.”

We laughed, and I said, “Knowing you, they were probably the gravediggers from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. Did they tell you any jokes?’

Hey Nana, I remembered something else from Shakespeare!

Ted shook his head. Then he continued. “I do hate getting old. Now doing it three times a night is how many times you get up to pee.”

We laughed harder, even Becky. I thought it was just a guy thing.

“It’s fucked up isn’t it? How did this even happen? Life is like a roll of toilet paper, the closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.”

Becky really laughed at this one too. Then she said, “Isn’t it the truth though? Every year seems to get shorter. Our new dog Midnight is already a year old.” I had met that dog. Crazy Midnight, running turbo laps in the Milk Street backyard like a maniac.

Yes, and crazy Ted had us laughing again. He was the toughest kid on the block growing up, and yet, by far the funniest. Maybe those traits went hand in hand. He kept going.

“You know, you can still have a lot of time left, these days you can even live to be ninety, that is if you give up everything that even makes you want to live to be ninety. Well, on second thought, I guess I’m not really interested after all.”

“Didn’t Neil Young say that the thing you love the most will kill you in the end?” I didn’t know any good jokes. All I could do is quote rock lyrics.

Ted replied, “Neil is still great. Who knows what will kill us? Now when I go to a doctor with anything, they tell me that this is normal for my age. I think that at some point dying will also be normal for my age, right?”

“I guess you just gotta appreciate still being around. You know, in Germany they say an optimist believes that we live in the best world, and a pessimist is afraid that it might be true.”

“In other words, we’re fucked.” Ted said and we laughed. “But you know, you do get smarter when you’re old. I know now that life isn’t just about winning and losing. It’s about wishing you would have won and wondering why you lost.”

We laughed some more. The fact remains; life is an ongoing tragedy. What else can you do? Make the most of it. And laugh. You have to laugh.

This had been the most emotional “last night” I have ever had in the USA. The night before the Army sent me away to Germany was very emotional too, but at least I got laid that night, and just like Ted had mentioned, I did it three times.

We talked and joked around for a while longer, then Becky finally went home, she had been on her feet for eighteen hours now. After our goodbye hugs, we watched her drive away in silence.

Ted then told me he had to work the next day. “That’s the reward for a job well done bro, more work.” Aint it the truth.

Because Ted was working, that meant this was our final goodbye this time around. Fortunately, it was like Johnson’s Baby Shampoo- “Tearless”.

Ted was like Dad; his goodbyes were quick and physically painless. He, like Dad, understood by the time the final goodbye came around; everything important had already been said.

We hugged, that peculiar one arm guy hug, and he told me to write more often this time around. And then he was gone.

I watched him drive away too, tears welling up in my eyes. I stood there on Milk Street, and then sat down again on the bulkhead a few moments more after he was gone.

Then I smiled thinking about one of Ted’s jokes. Do you want to hear three words from a woman that will destroy a man’s ego? “Is it in?”

I went back inside. Mom and Dad had gone to bed, and Helga was conked out on the couch. I woke her up and we stumbled up the back stairs together. She undressed in record time and plopped on the bed wearing nothing but her socks. I stared at her for a minute or two, still liking what I saw.

I brushed my teeth, and then gazed out the window at Lime Street for a long time. The Stickney’s sign was still lit up. But they were closed. That day was done. I dragged myself away from the window and went to bed.

Sleep evaded me. When it finally came, I did not get delivered to the other side. Nana did not torture me for leaving her alone with the old people. I could not recall dreaming anything at all. The dream was over.

NEXT WEEK

THE FINAL CHAPTER

THE WOLF’S TOOTH

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