The old man

He had changed a lot over the years, the once brown hair now a dark grey, the beard thinned out, the eyes hollow where once there was a sparkle. He couldn´t speak anymore, he hadn´t left the bed in two years and others had to take care of him. The room smelled of disinfectant and sickness. But he was still dressed in his Sunday best and his shoes were polished. He reminded her so much of the man he used to be, yet at the same time he was a complete stranger to her.

When she entered the room, his head turned toward the door and even before she was two steps into the room, she realized he didn´t remember her at all. He turned away, facing the small window on the wall opposite the door and closed his eyes. There wasn´t much to see, the world behind the window pressed against the washed-out white of the curtain and made it look like the window was a door to another world, one completely out of reach for the bedridden sick man.

She sat down on the chair next to his bed and reached out to touch his hand, but pulled it away. She didn´t want to touch him. The old skin would feel leathery under her touch, it would be warm, but the warmth would be misleading, because the body of the sick man simply existed, it didn´t live anymore. He was not the man she once knew.

Deeply saddened, she turned away from him just as he had turned away from her when she had entered the room. There were no words, nothing she wanted to tell him, nothing she wanted for him to take part in. Her life had simply continued without him as if he hadn´t left at all, but ever since the day he had simply disappeared she had felt that cold inside of her. She missed him, every day, but life simply ignored her distress, ignored her wish to pause for a moment, to understand what has happened. It pushed her onward relentlessly. In the end, she told herself he had died, because it made it easier to live.

When she received the call, some fifteen years later, she was right in the middle of yet another crisis life wanted her to master and she had trouble coming to terms with the truth – that he hadn´t died when she was a teenager, that he was still alive, at least some part of him. She was asked to come and visit him and when she wrote down the address of his house he so adamantly refused to leave, she realized he had only been living on the other end of the city. One of her first coping strategies, the alternate reality, was to imagine he had to move far, far away so that it was impossible for him to come visit. The old cold crawled up to her and wrapped itself around her, now that she had come to terms with the fact that both her coping strategies would now shatter when made to face the hard truth: that he was still alive, that he had lived a life separate from hers only a few miles away from where she lived and – a realization that hit her hard while she was sitting next to him in the sick room –  that he had forgotten who she was.

She tried to conjure up memories of what he was like when she was younger, but all she could remember, memories that had not been altered while she was coping with the loss of him, was his face, his smiling face and the warmth of his hand as he held hers when they crossed a busy street on a rainy afternoon on a fall day eons ago. The rest had fallen victim to the censor of her young mind.

While her eyes scanned his face, trying hard to compare this old, broken man to the father she had once loved so dearly, she started crying silently. This man was a stranger to her, no more her father than any other man out on the streets. And she owed him nothing, not even this visit. She felt the anger creeping up inside of her and swallowed it down. There was no time to be angry at a dying man, not even at a man that had abandoned her.

Sad and angry, she reached for the cross on her necklace, while he reached for her hand and when he covered her hand with his and she felt the same reassuring warmth she had felt as a little girl, she looked him in the eyes and saw that he remembered who she was after all.


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