Yesterday was not a good day between Jack and me. We got up a little late, had a 10:00 appointment a half hour away at the Coast Guard Station to renew my dependent ID. The respite worker was late (first day of kindergarten for his daughter), I needed a shower, Jack didn’t understand that he was to get dressed while I was in the shower, well. . . you get the idea.
By the time I loaded the wheelchair onto the Jerry-rigged lift and strapped it down in what I hoped was a secure fashion, I was not exactly a picture of calm and confidence. This anxiety was heightened every time I glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw the wheelchair bouncing behind my little car as we sped along highway 101. At the coast guard station we followed the coastie inside once he’d opened the gate, and found a place to park a few dozen yards from the entrance to the building.
The lift lowered perfectly, I unfastened the straps, wheeled the chair off and Jack lowered himself into it like a pro. A person walking on two good legs would not have noticed the incline between the car and the front door. A person with a bad back pushing a wheelchair with a man who weighs about 320 pounds noticed this incline immediately. The ramp, of course, was on the far side of the steps, near an empty handicap accessible parking spot which I had been unable to see as there had been a large van blocking the entrance when we pulled in.
Jack pointed out that I should have parked in this wheelchair designated spot, a comment which, while correct, I did not find helpful. This might be a good time to reveal that getting my ID card renewed was entirely Jack’s idea. One of those things upon which he insisted and then hounded me until I arranged. Okay. In truth, he asked me to set the appointment up maybe four times, grumbled when I hadn’t done it, finally caught me at a moment when I just said, ‘to hell with it,’ and called to get my ID.
I mention this because it helps explain, (here read justify) at least some of my irritability.
It took forty-five minutes to get the ID card during which time, even though I asked him not to, Jack told everyone in the room that I was a writer, and had eight books on ‘the Amazon’ and passed out my card. He swore he did this because he was proud of me though it felt more to me like he did it solely for the purpose of irritating me.
When we left the building Jack asked one of the coast guard’s men to help us to the car. The guy did not understand what Jack was asking. Jack asked again. Same result. I could have translated the request and asked for help. However, I knew the trip back was going to be downhill, and I didn’t want some young kid watching me figure out how to strap the wheelchair on the lift and get Jack back into the car.
On the way home, the chair bouncing along behind us, Jack said, “You sure don’t like to ask for help, do you?”
At that point, my window of tolerance had closed. I would like to tell you that I said, “I can’t deal with this right now, please just let’s be quiet until we get home.”
But what I really did was to clench my teeth and mutter, “Shut up. Now.”
Back home, I got the wheelchair unloaded, Jack into the house, grabbed some paperwork, greeted the tardy respite worker, and left again. My first stop was to pick up my own blood pressure pills. This seemed a bad day to go without this medication so I waited twenty minutes for the order to be filled. During that time I returned four calls from the VA and various health care workers. Blood pressure pills in my purse, I drove to the post office because Jack swore his VA meds were in. They were not. However a year’s worth of batteries for his hearing aids were in the box. The dog, you might remember, chewed up these hearing aids earlier this week.
I decided to treat myself to lunch and enjoyed a quiet sandwich with only two phone calls to interrupt my meal. (Jack’s physical therapist changing his appointment time, and the occupational therapist asking me to come in a little early) Rested and ready for the rest of the day, I drove to the office of the Veterans Services representative to see about applying for an actual van with a lift to transport Jack now that he’s using the wheelchair.
When I walked into that office and gave my name, the clerk said, “Oh. You’re supposed to call home.”
“Your husband called and asked that you call him when you got here.”
I pictured Jack on the floor, limbs twisted under him, hopefully not too much blood.
I called him. His phone was shut off.
I called the respite worker. He didn’t know why Jack wanted me to call.
Jack called me on the other line. “Hi honey. My worker can bring me right down so I can talk to the service rep.”
“You don’t need to come down here, Jack.”
“Oh. Okay. Just trying to be helpful. When will you be home?”
“From here I go to the VA to test drive different attendant operated wheelchairs, remember?”
“Oh. Yeah. I didn’t know that was today. Can I have some of your cookies?”
The paperwork got started at the Vet Rep’s office. I test drove the wheelchairs and the occupational therapist and I choose the one we thought would be best. At 4:00 I came dragging home to find Jack with his kind and lovely young physical therapist. Jack was striding, I might even say prancing around the house pushing his walker.
“That’s enough now, Jack,” the therapist told him.
“I can go a lot longer.” His chest was thrust out, his belly sucked in. I swear to God I expected him to beat his chest and proclaim, “Me strong like bull.”
I put my purse down. “Jack. I thought one of the reasons you can no longer use the walker is because it hurts your shoulders.”
He glared at me and kept prancing from living room to kitchen.
You’ll forgive me if, after a full day of making arrangements for the wheelchair, I was confused to see him marching along behind the walker. However, mine is not to reason why where Jack is concerned. The physical therapist left after giving Jack the hug he insisted upon, and the evening might have gone along smoothly from there. Except an hour later he was in the kitchen moaning and trying to rub medication on his shoulders and back and neck which were killing him.
Yes, I should have kept my mouth shut, but when I finished rubbing the medication on him, I could not prevent myself from saying, “If you hadn’t strutted around like a peacock for the physical therapist, your shoulders would not be killing you now. You need to tell her honestly how you’re feeling, not overdue it just to impress her.”
Predictably this suggestion did not go over well.
“When a young, pretty woman pays attention to me, my pain goes away!” he shouted. “I can’t help it if you don’t understand that.”
What I heard was, “If I had a more attentive, prettier, younger wife I’d be completely cured and out dancing in the streets.”
No, he did not say that. Nonetheless, it’s what I heard.
We glared at each other a moment and then each of us retreated to our separate bedrooms. I was not feeling particularly loving at that moment and I’m willing to bet Jack wasn’t either. This morning I am still a bit shell shocked, though we got through the preparations for the day and even talked a bit about what had happened. At some point I read him an obituary for a friend from his day care who recently died.
When I finished, Jack said, “My obituary should say, ‘He was a deliberate asshole. Loved to shake people up by keeping them off balance and upset.’”
I did laugh but I did not tell him he was wrong. Honestly, the way I feel today I doubt it’ll be up to me to get that obituary published. I cannot imagine I’m going to outlive him.