He remembers those vanished years. As though looking through a dusty window pane, the past is something he could see, but not touch. And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct.
― Wong kar-wei, In the Mood for Love
A Gentle Touch
The drugs didn’t work. The stents failed to keep the flow going. Time had wracked its fatal damage in its efficient and inexorable way.
Nobody really told him what was happening but he knew. Especially the way they were gathering around him, a circle of faces either somber and quiet or swallowed in a false cheer. When they told him his sister was flying in from Seattle he knew the end was very close. She had not been on a plane in fifty years.
He had so many tubes stuck in him that when he would move the slightest bit one or another would be jostled and he would be hit by a horrific beeping from the machine attached to that conduit. If he was alone, he would suffer, palming the call button again and again for what seemed like an eternity until a nurse would finally come and turn off the infernal sound. It was worse if others were in the room – they would cluck and scatter like chickens until the nurse came – their protestations bothered him more than the beeping.
The balance of his life between future and past, between memory and hope, had now shifted completely to memory and the past. There was no future left and no hope.
And finally his memory was beginning to collapse and implode, fewer and fewer recollections were left. The past would slowly go to black and white, like an old television, then begin to fade until only a handful of echoes were left.
His life had been full. His marriage had lasted over half a century. He had been blessed with children, grand children, great grandchildren. He had a few victories and many, many defeats.
He was shocked, however, at what remained after all these accomplishments and catastrophes had faded.
Many decades ago his company sent him to a multi-evening seminar to learn a new accounting software program. He had met a woman there. She was sitting in the back near where he was and he noticed her walking to the front table to get supplies.
After the classes some of the employees would grab a coffee and talk about the software and how much they didn’t want to use it. Each time the woman seemed to end up sitting next to him at the large round table.
The two of them enjoyed talking to each other and he felt strangely excited on the drive home. After the last day of the class a handful of folks decided to keep meeting in the evenings – both he and the woman were in that group.
It was the start of a decade long friendship. The meeting became the high point of his week. The two of them would almost always sit next to each other. He remembered that sometimes she would laugh at something or make a point and reach out and gently touch him – on the shoulder or leg.
Nothing more ever came of the two of them. They had never even met outside of that group. He decided that they simply enjoyed each other’s company. He couldn’t say why.
The friendship eventually faded and finally dissolved completely. He hadn’t spoken to her in twenty years. Now, in his weakened state, he could barely remember her name and wasn’t sure the hazy memory was right.
But as the last few days fell away, the times he spent with her loomed larger and larger in his mind. His family wondered about the otherworldly expression on his face and the fact he paid less and less attention to them.
“He’s losing his mind,” they all said. And shook their heads sadly.
They weren’t wrong. But he was aware enough to wonder why it was this particular set of memories that were filling his last few miserable, precious days. Pleasant, bittersweet memories. Something that, at the time, meant little in the flow of days.
As his heart struggled, weakened, and finally gave out his final thoughts were of a quiet laugh and the innocent gentle touch of a friend’s hand along his leg.