Sometimes you just don’t know what’s going to come out of that old man’s mouth…In a hospital room he probably wasn’t walking out of…late on a February Sunday afternoon. We waited, though. And then he just started, with no preamble.
“I just like them. I just like women. Well, some. I have preferences. Who doesn’t?
“And I just let them see the admiration and respect. And some, a few of them, like me back, like they’re surprised, you know. Grateful in a way… for the honesty, I guess, although that’s not in my mind, like a tactic. It wouldn’t be honest that way, would it? So, no games. They’re tired of the games and bullshit, too. I had to practice that, though.
But, if there’s not that mutual ‘liking’, no spontaneous shudder, you just back up a step, be polite and move on. Have a little dignity.
“And sometimes they show me some appreciation in tangible ways, too. They look after me for a while, making sure I’m appreciated, and that doesn’t mean sex at all. Just liking and wanting to do for. Boys, there’s no one who can take care of you like a grateful, honest woman. And it’s nice to be treated well.
“There’s some of the other kind of appreciation, of course, and if it happens it happens.
“It’s my favorite thing, but you have to let nature take its course or it’s not as good. That’s what you young guys don’t understand. Too big a hurry so that you miss the main show.
“The best thing is when you have the sudden shudders but also respect. And that means nobody’s a superior person, like a boss to the other. When you are equal in some ways and content to let the other’s talents shine when they need to. No false pride.
“That doesn’t mean everything’s smooth, either. You can be terribly lonely or angry sometimes, when things aren’t working and you know it. That’s when someone else can look good. But with luck, you don’t break the bond between you two who click.It’s so easy to.
“But two people like that? That’s sweet.”
He laughed and coughed a little.
“And however you express that between you–and even if it doesn’t go on forever–nobody gets hurt. Not at all. Just the opposite. It’s a permanent special thing. And some people only have the memory of it to live on, but at least they have that.”
Our father had a coughing fit and lay back in the hospital bed exhausted, but with a slight smile and a distant look at the hazy hill a couple of miles away. We looked at each other.
An electronic chime sounded in the hall. A recorded voice announced the end of visiting hours. We hated to leave, as tomorrow wasn’t a guarantee.
“You know what, though?” he said, turning back to us. “I just realized something. About that second kind of appreciation…
Here it came. We caught each other’s eyes. Raised an eyebrow like Spock.
“It just dawned on me that despite a number of opportunities, I only really found that exact thing with one person. I’m pretty sure I could have found more, but I didn’t see the point. I’m a lazy man, and that sounded like too much work. But in any case… I stopped at the first one. The one that clicked like that…
He suddenly realized the night was closing in. He wanted to see one more dawn with Mom. It showed.
“She’ll be back in a minute. No need to tell your mother what I said about her. OK? She’s stressed enough. And if I say something too nice now, the shock might kill her.
“We like to watch sunrises together.”
There was that thin smile again. A little sad around the corners. Tired from the chemo and the pain. He looked at us, waiting.
We nodded our old conspirator smiles.
We’d heard this routine before, making us promise not to tell mom something.
We would ignore this one, too.
He knows we will.
He’s counting on it.