I remember sitting in the old lady’s room in that rocking chair. Sitting there with my hands tightly clutched to the rocking chair arms. My legs crossed with my right foot resting on the left. I would rock in that chair as I watched the old lady rest on her bed. As she told me stories and as she let her head swing back and forth as it imprinted her pillow. Her hands would remain still by her sides, under the covers. And I would eventually see the outlines of her fingers twitch and her wrists rise and fall as she would talk. She would laugh and tell me stories about her childhood and about her marriage and about her son.
She would laugh as I would sit there in that rocking chair looking out that great big window in that great big house overlooking the large lawn and the hill and the reservoir. The old lady would talk and talk and talk as I would clutch the chair’s arms and the pace of my rocking would increase. I would stare out the window and my toes would push against the floor beneath me, pushing the chair back and forth. They would push me faster and faster as I would watch and listen. My ankles would stiffen and my heels would lift in an effort to push that chair forward and back. Rocking myself like a spinning wheel would spin.
It wasn’t my fault. How was I to blame? No one can tell me it was my fault for spending all that time with her. She was like an infection spreading through my body. An infection I couldn’t control because once the old lady invited me into her room and began telling me things, I was powerless to stop her. It wasn’t my fault. I swear it wasn’t. Sitting on that chair with the blue cushion, the ruffles and the print of small red roses.
I spent a good deal of time with the old man’s wife through the years, sitting in the rocking chair in her room. The same rocking chair the old man would sit in when he was visiting with her. We would talk and look out that large window facing all the things I described above. Look out that window as we would watch the old man stroll around the front of his property with his hands clasped behind his back.
While the old man was upset that earlier day I came to visit, he shouldn’t have been. Perhaps he was just sensitive to the inevitability of his wife’s diagnosis. He had a right to be sensitive about her. They had been through a lot in their lives.
As time passed, I grew fond of the old man. So fond in fact, that I began wondering why I was the only one to come over and visit with him. I understand that he had fellows from the area stop by to help out with the larger projects on his property, and even my father was still making his rounds, but as time went by, I wondered why I was the only one to actually sit with the old man and talk about life.
I’m sure he wondered the same thing, but as I came to realize through the years, the old man made very little effort to find company. I didn’t see him shaking hands with others and mingling with folks from town. I didn’t see the old man doing much of anything other than walking around that property, either looking for things for me to do or just browsing around at the land that held his place in time.
There were occasions when the old lady and I would spend entire afternoons talking up in her room. She would ask me to pour her a glass of wine and I would be left wondering if I should comply. She would ask at first and then insist that I pour her a nice glass of wine. She would later insist that I pour myself one too. She would laugh at my responses and my regurgitation of the rules that told us seventeen year old men weren’t allowed to drink. She would laugh and tell me that I was missing out because the rest of the world was doing it. She would tell me that the old man was drinking wine with dinner when he was ten years old. Ten years old back in Germany. She would tell me those things and I would feel a bit dismayed because of the way she was saying what she said. She had a certain way of leaving an impression.
Eventually, I would stand up and walk down to the kitchen to pour ourselves some wine. I would listen to her and she would try to yell in that sweet voice of hers,
“Make sure that you give yourself a bit less than you give me. I don’t need you getting drunk now.”
I would listen to her. I would listen because I knew she was just trying to wake me up to things I had never paid much attention to. Opportunities in this world. I knew what she was doing to me. She was trying to teach me lessons – almost as many as the old man tried to teach me.
There was a day when the old lady and I were sitting in her room looking out the window when she became very quiet. She continued gazing outside when she simply stopped saying what she was saying. She froze and I wondered what was wrong.
So I asked her. I asked her what was wrong and she told me. She told me all about the time she was standing in her warm living room, watching her son play in the front lawn outside. She described to me in the most vivid way, how her son had begged to go outside and how he explained to her how careful he would be on that stormy day. She told me about how she let him go, but not before he pleaded and begged. All he wanted to do was to run around the front yard with his arms wide open and his face held high. Run around like he was an airplane gliding in the wind.
She let him go. She let him go and continued to watch him run outside. Run around like he was the airplane he wanted to be. And as she was watching, she was joined by her husband who watched as well. Watched their only son play in the wind.
And as he was playing, the limb from a very large tree broke. It just cracked. It may have cracked because it was weak or it may have cracked because of all the wind, but nonetheless, it cracked. And it landed on their son. It landed on him and it covered his tiny body.
She stood there and watched as her husband rushed outside to get a clearer picture of what happened. One minute her husband was standing at her side, the next he was in the front lawn pulling a tree limb off of her son. And the limb came off too. The old man had pulled the limb off of his nine year old son and cradled him in his arms. His son was alive, but not for long. Moments after the old man pulled the limb off his son and held him in his arms, his son died. And the old lady watched with her hands covering her mouth – paralyzed.
She continued on telling me about that day. She told me in between breaths. I could see she was getting very upset, which was getting me just as upset. I was upset because I had already heard the story so many years earlier. I had gone through the emotions already, but I suppose those emotions never disappear because every time I think of this story, much less am forced to listen to it by someone who experienced it, it kills me. It absolutely kills me.
She told me how she – frozen in time – couldn’t do anything beyond stand there and watch her husband bury her son’s head close to his chest as he knelt on the lawn in the wind that day. Knelt like a broken man. Like nothing she had seen before. She told me about how she watched as her husband’s head fell the moment the child died and how he wailed that day in the front yard. The sound that penetrated the tall window she was standing before. The scream of her husband. She told me she didn’t know what upset her more, watching her son die before her very eyes or watching her husband become a corpse. On that front lawn with his head tilted back. Watching the old man’s silhouette scream towards the dark gray sky.
Things were never the same.