We vacillated and vacillated and finally cancelled our flight to spend spring break with our daughter’s family in Oklahoma. Tim had only been with us a few days and he wasn’t getting the hang of the LifeAlert. I was worried he’d have a seizure. I was worried he’d fall. I was worried he’d take off for a meeting or class and get lost. I was worried he’d try to use the stove, in spite of my signs on it telling him not to. I was worried he’d be lonely.
We asked God for clarity. Could we leave him for five days, with the person who was going to feed our cat coming by to check on him, too, once a day? What if she found him lying on the floor and she had to deal with contacting LifeAlert? And if LifeAlert contacted us, 2,000 miles away–what could we do about it? Or what if, when the cat- and Tim-sitter checked on them, he wasn’t even home and she didn’t know where to start looking for him–or didn’t want to try?
We could set up a daily phone rendezvous with her–but there wasn’t any way to contact him. We’d told him not to answer the phone because we knew he’d get muddled about messages. Now if we told him he could pick up calls from us or from other people if he heard his name on the answering machine, would he? Could he?
It felt like leaving a five-year old alone for five days.
Jerry is always positive. He was “pretty sure” it would be okay. It was the “pretty” that bothered me. I wouldn’t really be able to relax so far away. I just wouldn’t.
So he agreed to cancel. Even though I had told him to, I cried. I called to tell our daughter we weren’t coming after all and she cried. She told our 9-year old granddaughter–and she cried.
We didn’t mention it to Tim. He had known something about our going on a trip but when he asked about it we just said we’d postponed it.
That day, Tim’s oldest son, whom we have never met and until then had never even talked to, called and talked with Tim for half an hour, asking him questions about his books. I was astonished to hear Tim tell him, “Dawn Chorus is the best. And Halflife. It’s an early one but I like it very much. I was making the transition from rhymed verse to syllabic, counting the syllables. So I was more interested in the texture than anything else.
“The title? Actually, it’s a triple pun. There’s the Hoelderlin–Halfte des Leben. [I asked Tim how to spell it later.] And in physics, it takes half of the time [“for the element to decompose,” put in Jerry, listening]. I’m not a good explainer of nuclear physics. And I figured I was half through my life when I wrote it. So it’s a triple pun.
“. . . I liked Hesse. I wrote a poem influenced by his poem and his wife wrote me–‘Lied, lied, herr Reynolds, you mistranslated it.’ She sent me the correct translation. I guess she’s forgiven me by now. She’d be much older.
“‘Dirty Photographs’? Oh, yes, yes, yes. It was a Fourth of July celebration in a batch of boats over the water. I’ll have to think. It was so long ago. I’ll have to ask Jessica. She has the second most collect–, the second largest collection of family publications next to you. . . largest collection in Denmark anyway, although I don’t think there’s much competition. . . There’s one I’m doing now. I will send you the top copy. . .
“Haiku? They’re really quite simple Japanese–all about bushes and trees and birds and things and you can just look them up in the dictionary. . . It doesn’t take much Japanese to read haiku, much simpler than a newspaper. . .”
I was stunned by his confidence and competence. He was so articulate! No sooner had I shown Tim what button to push to end that call, another came through for him. One of the friends I’d notified of Tim’s moving in with us called to say he had an art show coming up in New York and they talked for half an hour. Again Tim sailed through the conversation with aplomb (and some happy expletives); you wouldn’t have known he had any issues with memory or anything else. He was totally engaged in discussing art and New York and mutual friends and even current events.
I only heard Tim’s end of the conversation but his friend must have asked him why he’d moved in with us, because Tim laughed and said, “When I have a dizzy spell, Jessica has hysterics.”
After that call, I thought, His friend would see the other side of the picture if he knew that when they were through talking, Tim didn’t know what button to push to hang up the phone.
But it shook me. Maybe I was over-reacting. Maybe Tim could be alone for five days. Maybe we’d come back and find he was fine and I’d feel silly for having worried. I talked Jerry into considering flying to Oklahoma for just the last two days of the five. We could reschedule our flights and the shuttle, lose only half what we’d paid for the inn.
Jerry went to work changing the flights but we couldn’t get plane tickets at that late date that wouldn’t cost $1800 in addition to what we had already paid.
My renewed hope crumbled. Where was the wisdom we had asked God for, the clarity?
It came after circumstances made the decision for us. It came about eight hours after the shuttle would have picked us up, when Tim woke up, emerged from behind his curtain and, forgetting what we’d said about not using the stove, announced, “I think I’ll make myself bacon and eggs.” We were there to show him how to turn the dial on the stove all the way to the left until it started clicking and then back off a little so it would stop clicking. We were there to keep on eye on it when he left the fire burning for half an hour while he puttered about looking for bread, sticking slices in the toaster and pushing the bar down (popping it up every few seconds to see if they were toast yet), finding eggs, orange juice and bacon in the fridge and then, side-tracked, taking out, examining and rearranging everything else in there. Getting out a glass and pouring himself juice. Plate. Silverware. Napkin. And then, “What was I–Oh, yes–” noticing the burner was on.
Clarity came again the first full day we would have been 2,000 miles away when we had to punch the LifeAlert button to tell them he was choking and might need the paramedics.
The next time someone commented to Tim in our presence, “I hear you’ve moved in with family,” he said cheerfully, “I was kidnapped.” As I startled to prickle, he added, “It’s working out surprisingly well.”