I was sitting quietly at the kitchen table clipping food vouchers out of the newspaper when the absurdity of it all hit me. Why am I doing this? I don’t need the money, so why am I pinching pennies?
Where is the handsome young lad who’d hold court at Mother Martin’s bar and greet his drinking buddies with a hearty, “You’re just in time to buy?” Where’s the guy who, because of world poverty, hated to see good food go to waste. The times he’d lean forward, survey his dining companion’s plate, and say, “If you’re not eating that ... do you mind?” Where’d he go?
That man, a stranger now, who grabbed life by the shoulders and shook it so hard people thought he was having a seizure? The Mini-golf champ of old; the daredevil skier who tamed Mount Bruno. The man who did karaoke in mime. Where’s the good Christian who introduced bingo to St. Augustine parish?
How did I become so irrelevant? And worse, did my family notice?
Oh, what fun we’d have celebrating Christmas at my niece Marnie’s home. All 12 of us laughing in the kitchen while Marnie slaved over the stove until she fainted from heat exhaustion. How we’d revive her just in time to make the gravy. And, boy, once that bird was done: the rush into the dining room to eat.
I’d always say grace.
But Grace never answered. I kept forgetting she was deaf.
Not to boast, but this was where I shone: around the big oak table with the one leg shorter than the rest. My God, the stories — about art, music, theatre, politics, movies and my parole officer.
The highlight of the evening followed when Marnie’s two daughters would open gifts in the living room. I always turned this into a learning experience. Instead of letting them open my gift, I’d do the honours.
It was usually a box of eight coloured crayons. I’d gather the two children around me, their excited little faces inches from the box, and watch the tension build. When they could take it no longer, I’d open the box, again slowly, and go, “Four for you and four for you.”
God, the look in their little eyes. That’s what I mean about being a mentor: I taught the girls mathematical division — not to mention the expression, “It’s really the thought that counts.” Is that person gone forever?
But back to my nieces — Kim, Marnie and Donna. We shared so much — especially our love for fashion, an interest that never wavered. If only I had a dime for every time one of the girls asked me, “Why on earth are you wearing that?”
Those were the days. My nieces looked up to me as a father figure — one who led by example.
Because of me, they know it’s possible to fall down a flight of stairs, drunk, and live to drink another day. Maybe, even later that evening. (My landing technique still works today.) Because of me, they won’t take weapons to a parents-teachers meeting and they’ll never venture into the woods without a compass.
Where has that man gone?
Once I was loved by all. I think back to the wonderful rapport I had with the neighbours in my condo. How well we communicated. How interested they were in my future. I can’t count the number of times, they’d ask, “When are you leaving?” Or when they’d bump into me in the laundry room: “Should you really be doing that in here?”
One neighbour even volunteered to help me find a new place.
“I’ve found just the thing for you,” she said. Can you imagine? This woman going to all that trouble just for me. And without even asking my permission! “But we have to act fast; it won’t be around for long.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Here’s a woman whose husband is dying in the hospital, and whose daughter has just moved back in with her after suffering debilitating injuries in a car accident. And what’s she doing? Helping me move.
“Look,” she said. “I’ll even take you there now. It’s vacant. You know what they say: you snooze, you lose.”
“But it’s getting dark,” I said. “And there’ll be no one there to let us in.”
Her answer? “We’ll break in, if we have to.” I felt like saying, “You’d actually do that for me?”
But there was another problem.
“Who’ll help me move all my furniture?” I asked.
“I will — and so will everyone else in the condo.”
Their kindness was overwhelming. Would they still embrace the new me?
Another person who’s been kind to me is my doctor, Pervis Pugh. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him, and it has nothing to do with his affair with my mother. He was my saviour. As a teen, he treated me for piles. Later, he “helped” my girlfriend through an unwanted pregnancy — and even advised me on how to find the person responsible.
In short, Dr. Pugh was a joy — and certainly much more approachable since his malpractice suits were settled and his licence to practice reinstated. The last two times I saw him it was for blood work and a follow-up appointment for the results. How I remember that day! Dr. Pugh immediately put me at ease: Instead of spewing the usual medical mumbo-jumbo, he took time to inquire about more personal matters.
“Is your will up to date?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
“And what about work? Any sick days left? Any overtime due? What about your vacation? Any days owing?”
“Everything’s good,” I said.
Then came the hammer.
“Not really,” he said, tenting his fingers and looking concerned. “The blood work results came back and it’s not good. You’ve got about two good months left. Three, if you pay my bill on time.”
Obviously, Pugh was wrong. But the old me was willing to forgive. Would the new me? And how could I change? What’s my next move? The answer was staring me in the face. On the kitchen table.
I was off to Costco: Toilet paper, two packages of 24 rolls for $16.99. $12.99 — with the coupon.