Joe is a customer of mine. He’s a short, bald anvil of a man in his seventies. I used to be able to depend on him to come every day with a tight smile on his face, and a creepy leer for the women on staff. He liked his triple tall Americano a certain way–extra hot–which is a difficult thing to do. We’d hand off the drink to the guy and he’d camp out for an hour or so, holding court: a minor king for the republicans who would listen, and sort of a knave to the more liberal customers. He was loud and friendly. He’d written a book and had a signing at a local library.
Then he stopped coming last May. I didn’t think much of it, because people stop coming to my store all the time. In late June I saw him. He’d had a heart attack, he told me, followed by a quintuple bypass. Ouch. He still had time to look the women up and down, and make a few inappropriate comments. I doubt he knew if the the females on staff who’d been around awhile would actually leave the room and find other work until he left.
Then he stopped coming again. I didn’t see him for about six months. One day, a frail old woman asked me if I knew Joey’s drink.
Joey? “Sorry, ma’am. I don’t know any Joey.”
“He used to come in all the time, she explained. “He’d order an American something.” Still no recollection.
“Can you tell me anything else?”
“Well, I want to get him his drink. He had a stroke about six months ago, and he can’t walk or talk anymore, and he can’t explain to me how I need to fix his drink?”
My Lord–it was Joe! The little wreck of a man who was seated on his walker. He was drooling.
“I’m his wife, you see. Can you help me?”
“Of course!” I explained Joe’s drink and she dutifully wrote it down so she could order it next time.
“I know you’re really busy, but you should come by and tell him hello. He’d really like that. He doesn’t get much company these days.”
“Okay! I will try to do that,” I told the Wife of Joey.
I didn’t. In fact a few minutes later I found myself in the back of the store trying to find things to do. There weren’t any things so I looked harder, just trying to kill time until my lunch break. Then I could slip out the back door without having to interact with the couple.
This happened a two months ago and I’m still ashamed. Was I scared? Annoyed? Righteous indignation on behalf of the women in my store? I still don’t know. Maybe a mix of all this.
Why did I react this way? I can only can say I can’t figure myself out sometimes. I mentioned, in a blog way back, that as a kid I used assist my mom working with people with various mental disabilities. It was always uncomfortable, maybe because losing my mind scared me. My mind was always the one thing I could rely on. Mind stuff, I was good at. Being weekly confronted with that was good for me as a kid, but if I’m being completely honest, terrifying. It still makes me uneasy.
I’m still having trouble forgiving myself for ducking out of the store when Joe was there. It might have been my gut-deep reaction, too far buried for me to even avoid. I mean, Joe’s an okay guy. I just couldn’t bear a one sided conversation. What would I talk about? weather? His health? He knows he had a brain episode and that it’s warm outside. Would the kindness just make him sob like it did Great Grandpa Carpenter? Would he swear and shout at me, like Ralph used to cuss at everyone who walked by the Pistol River Store? I couldn’t bear to be in the situation, and for that I’m deeply regretful. When Grandma Myrt started having her strokes, to be honest, I avoided most contact with her. What if she didn’t remember me? It makes me almost weep to think about it because I loved her about as much as I loved anyone in the world.
To be honest, my mind hasn’t been all that great in the last year. During my hospital stay, they ran a brain scan, and a brain MRI, and tested for stroke as well as Alzheimer’s. I miss stuff at work I should be noticing. It takes 12 hours to recharge myself with sleep, and even then I go to work in a haze. Hopefully it’s just an apnea thing but what if it’s not? What if I’m really slipping?
I guess I won’t know until I move forward. Until then, here’s to good mental health. Please God, I do not want to be that guy who,when the going gets rough, ducks out on his friends and loved ones. I’d rather be the one who fate gets rough upon before that happens.