Dwight and I sat in his small apartment and talked about our memories from Pine Street, the neighborhood we had first become friends and neighbors. He was grinning in a mischievous way and I knew something good was coming. “When I first met you, you were juggling outside, and I thought,” he paused to actually chuckle, “Wow, this guy must know kung fu or something if he’s crazy enough to juggle outside in this neighborhood.” That had been nearly five years ago; we laughed hard which felt really good. He adjusted his nasal cannula, paused to breathe, and ate another spoonful of the butternut squash soup my wife had made. He sighed and set it aside. “Dave, this is really good, but I just can’t eat any more. I can’t eat that much these days.” He could barely stand from the easy chair, limited both by weakness and the extreme shortness of breath he experienced as his new normal. I stared at the stains on the carpet and his pants where he had spilled some of the soup earlier. I remembered wiping it from between his toes and off his swollen legs with the same sense of affection and gentleness I did with my two year old son. It felt strange because I knew it shamed him to feel so helpless, this man the age of my father who prided himself in his ability to work with his hands, but there wouldn’t be anyone else to come by that night to help. It was the only thing left I could think of doing to preserve his dignity, something I thought about a lot those days.
There was a pause in the conversation and I asked him a question that I had been meaning to for some time. “Dwight, I’d like to ask a favor from you.”
“Sure, Dave. Anything for you.”
“I’ve been thinking of writing a book or something about my experiences from Pine Street, and I was thinking about how much I learned from you and still do about the city and your life and everything. I was hoping we could write it together, the story of our friendship, or maybe I could interview you. Would you be interested in something like that?”
He answered quickly. Yes, he would like that. Yes, I could make some recordings if I wanted to; he didn’t think he wrote very well but loved to talk and loved to tell stories and we agreed that that might feel more natural. He had been thinking about writing some things down anyways.
We talked a bit more and then I washed a dish or two and went to leave. “Love you, Dave,” he said. I told him I loved him too. It was an exchange he had taken to ending our conversations with over the past two years; it had taken some time for me to get used to, being naturally hesitant to use the L-word, but it felt both expected and natural by now.
I took the elevator down the high rise and drove home. I walked up the steps to my house and thought again about how we could build a ramp so Dwight could visit more easily and see the new home and remark on how different it was from the row houses of Pine Street we had first met in. I thought about what we might cook for him and how much salt to put in it. I did some looking for a nice voice recorder and ordered it on Amazon exactly two weeks later.
I never got to use it with him. He died a week after that, but I didn’t find out until this weekend and only did so because I found that his number had been discontinued. Two months have already passed and I missed the announcement, the interment, the memorial service. I missed everything. Continue reading “In Memoriam”