Stepping off the transport, the cool air of San Francisco in April, fog rolling in from the Pacific, Joe drops to his knees and kisses the tarmac, thanks whichever gods delivered him home, safely, from the steaming hellholes of la Drang, Khe Sanh, An Loc, and a dozen other fields of death. Knowing he should feel guilty, so many fallen friends left behind, but just too damned happy to think of that, just too damned distracted by the sight of his wife and little daughter running to him, arms open, tears flowing like the blood from gaping wounds.
Four years behind him, a future ahead, dreams of a home, white-picket fence, a good job at Dad’s factory, maybe a son in the near future, play catch with the boy, teach him to drive, take him camping, settle down in a normal life, church and barbecues and making love under the sweet sun of San Jose, pushing the nightmares away, not allowing them to ever again fill him with shame, cripple him with fear.
Holding her newborn, happiest moment of her life, her and her husband, Sam, just named the cherub Jackie, after the former First Lady, nothing but good times ahead. She smiles at her mother, sitting next to her, reaches out, mouths “I love you,” and Sam walks in, carrying a bouquet of roses, red of course, her favorite color, he hasn’t stopped grinning that Alfred Newman grin since the birth, telling her over and over again how happy he is, how proud he is of her, how damned lucky he is to be married to such a beauty, and by God he means it, means every single word of it, has since they first met in high school, she the shy bookworm, him the captain of the football team, and they were inseparable from that golden moment.
The roses smell of love, Jackie smells like newly-fallen rain, and Barbara can’t imagine being any happier, is it possible, will it always be like this, please Dear Lord keep her family safe, and Mom reaches out, takes her hand, always knowing what she’s thinking, and says “it will be all right, my darling girl,” and the tears flow once again, spill over the collected smiles, and land at their feet.
The school president hands him the diploma, a watershed moment, first one in his family to achieve it, his parents and Grandmama sitting in the fourth row, beaming, crying, waving, a long way from home, New Iberia, Louisiana to Seattle, Washington, Go Huskies his battle cry for the last four years, years of defying the odds, years of ignoring the comments, years of lower expectations, years of proving them all wrong, turned out a young black kid, born in a shotgun house under shady pecan trees, was capable if given a chance, take that, Huey Long, and shove it where the sun don’t shine.
Happiest moment of his life, hands down, beats the hell out of scoring the winning touchdown against Tech, beats kissing Yvonne behind the bleachers, beats it all, and now a world of possibilities awaits him, the sheepskin will open some doors, maybe move up north where the odds are better, give himself a fighting chance at success, hell, maybe Seattle, better landscape, more accepting, be successful and then move his parents out west, let them retire, carry them in their later years like they carried him for the first twenty-one of his life. Damn he was happy!
She was a Deadhead and proud of it, Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh her gods, Truckin’ her anthem till the day she dies, thinking life can’t possibly get any better than this, sitting towards the top of the amphitheater, the sun caressing her suppleness, the boys tuning their instruments before their next show, her slightly high, definitely mellow, with Steve by her side.
They came out west from Iowa, wondering with each mile if Agnes, their ’57 Ford station wagon, would make it all the way, struggling over mountain passes, overheating in the desert, sleeping by the side of the road most nights, making love under the stars, their entire lives predicated upon one mantra, “live now, play hard, no regrets.”
The show begins, the opening chord, and Janice can’t imagine life being any better. She turns to Steve, says “forever young,” kisses him, and the band is rockin’ now, playing the score of her young life.
There’s nothing quite like the sweet spot on a Louisville Slugger, when the bat meets a fastball, the distinct sound it makes, like a whip cracking through the air, and that five ounces of cork and rubber soars towards the fence.
Pete had just connected, his timing perfect, and his twentieth homer of the season soared over the left field fence, him trotting around the bases, Cheney Stadium, Tacoma, Washington, life in the high minor leagues, his boyhood dream coming to life, and damn if after the game the manager hadn’t called Pete into his office, told him he was called up to the Bigs, “go pack your bags, son,” and Pete calling his parents to tell them that all of the hard work and sacrifice had finally paid off, their baby boy was heading to the Major Leagues. Best damned day of his life, bar none.
Hard to believe that the only child of Pete Mahoney and Theresa Mahoney is standing in this spot, this time. A scrawny kid at birth, the doctors said she would always be small for her age, some problem with growth hormones, some genetic rarity, and most likely a sickly child she would be, they said, and the first few years certainly bore witness to those dire predictions, Kaden in and out of the children’s hospital, three surgical operations by the time she was five, on medications until her early teens, but then something happened, unexplainable to the medical community, and that sickly kid grew larger, grew stronger, and grew healthier.
Make no mistake about it, she was determined, telling her parents over and over again that God don’t make junk, that’s exactly how she said it, and by God she wasn’t going to be junk, not going to be a scrawny discard, so she lifted weights, ran miles, trained like her life depended upon it because, well it did.
She thought those things standing at the summit of Mount Everest, Kaden Mahoney, genetic rarity be damned, she thought.
Making the Rounds
Mrs.Dubois, Floor Supervisor on the night shift, greeted Sally Norlin when she arrived for work.
“Good evening, Sally! Punch the clock and then start making the rounds, won’t you?”
For the next hour, Sally did exactly that, opening doors, peeking in, listening to the breathing patterns, occasionally stepping in all the way to check a pulse or monitor a machine.
Her initial rounds over for the time being, she checked back at the front desk before her next task, taking inventory of supplies.
“Everything all right with our clients, Sally?”
“Everyone is sleeping soundly and dreaming of better days, Mrs. Dubois. Sunset Vista Assisted Living is running smoothly for the moment.”
Just the Facts
Approximately one-million Americans live in assisted living facilities in the United States in 2022. The number of people over 85 years of age will double by 2040. On average, an assisted living facility costs a resident $4,300 per month.
Just something to think about as you get older. I’m lucky! My wife is lucky. Many are not. The U.S. is so much different than many countries when it comes to the old, and I’m not really sure why that is. Over the last 100 years, we have moved away from the “extended family” concept that is found in so many other nations. We are moving towards this practice of shipping the aged off to other facilities instead of keeping them at home with their families. Why is that? What brought on this change?
I hope we find an answer to that question, and we resolve to change the trend. Old should not be a synonym for discarded.
2022 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)