The Old Man

They talk about me like I’m deaf. Stare at me like I’m blind. They assume that behind my tall stature and solemn eyes, that I’m tough. How can I tell them I’m just a baby inside? That their words keep my eyes open at night, and their actions make my insides cold?
At my age, everyone assumes I’ve heard it all. Maybe they’re correct in that assumption. Hearing something more than once, however, doesn’t lessen the sting that the echoed words create, nor does it heal the heart it breaks. Doctors have told me I’m what they call ‘depressed’. Back in the day, you were told to have a stiff drink and move on. Now they’re jumping at any chance to medicate me, educe me into some faux-happy stupor. Oh, sometimes I think it’d make for a nice change. Sometimes, late at night as I stare up at my well-studied ceiling, I can’t even fathom my own reasons for denying the drugs. Sitting in the warm spring sunshine, watching my youngest grandchild learning to walk in my favourite little park, however, I realize this is what all the grief and unhappiness has led me to. Rebekah is constantly wishing for me to take the pills. It’s the accepted norm for the world now, a world that has shunned me into it’s darkest corners and rooms they politely call ‘retirement villages’. Those places that cater for our ‘heightened needs’, but in actuality are lonely rooms filled with lonelier souls, forced together by families who now see us as burdens instead of caregivers. Oh, the place has a games room and the nurses are polite and at times even seem to care slightly, but this is always outweighed by the crisp air that follows a death and the cereal that lands in our lap extra-soggy for the ‘retirees’ who refuse – or forget – to put their dentures in of a morning.

Like any place that forces strangers together for extended periods of time, I have a few people I am more fond of than most. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to name them as ‘friends’. I can’t remember the last time I’ve called anyone that. One of the more lively of my acquaintances is a Ms Sally Wheeler. She’s always ready to entertain us with a funny anecdote from her past, or give a hug – surprisingly strong and warm, given her age – to clear our heads from the clouds of doubt. Possibly I would call her a friend did I not think she lied through her teeth on a near-constant basis. In this place, this isn’t unusual, however it’s not usually with consciousness that they are uttered, but rather because of mental illness or lack of memory. Sally, though, suffered none of that, and lied nonetheless. For peace’s sake, I kept my observations to myself. After all, who was Ms Wheeler really harming when most of her audience wouldn’t remember the next day, or the next hour?

Those people who suffer from memory problems, I envy them. It seems strange to others, possibly, but should I suffer like the man simply known as Billy, I’d never have to dwell on my past, on my mistakes or on the words of others. I’d simply live in the moment, completely. Of course Billy never knows what day it is, nor recognizes me or anyone else, and for that he does suffer. Yet, he always seems perpetually happy compared to the few of us completely conscious of where we are and what we’ve done.

It’s funny, I suppose, that Billy doesn’t get hounded by doctors wanting to medicate him. They’ve pretty much written him off as a lost cause, spouting ‘the damage is done’ to his family each time they enquire with the false hope that maybe one day a miracle pill will form and he’ll remember their names once more. I say ‘it’s funny’ because the damage has been done to me too, in the past, and is what almost solely has formed my depression and yet, I never hear the the end of doctors telling me how wonderful their medication is. If they are so willing to help cure a patient who isn’t interested, why can’t they help Billy’s family, who desperately are? The world is cruel like that, I suppose.

*

This is one of my old attempts at writing fiction.  I say ‘attempt’ not because I think I’m no good or I can’t do it…I just never have the patience to follow through to the end.  I’m sure if I could, I’d enjoy writing professionally.  Alas, it remains a hobby instead.  This was written back in 2010, but has always been one of the short stories I’m most proud of.

This was inspired by the prompt ‘Post a previously unreleased chapter from one of your books’, which can be found here

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