French King Bridge: A personal experience

  • BOS

Published: 6/14/2019 8:40:10 AM
Modified: 6/14/2019 8:39:59 AM

“How far,” he asked me, “is it from here to the French King Bridge?” Wallace (that was not his real name) was sitting, as I usually found him on Wednesdays, in the faded blue lounger in the beige living room in the beige apartment. On this unseasonably warm March day, I found Wallace in his also faded, apron-sized bib which he usually took off when I arrived. He was trying to ingest something that was intended to be his lunch. Two plastic bottles, one with juice, the other with water, were positioned at the opposite corners of his food tray. Whatever Wallace ate had to be the consistency of baby food because there was something screwed up in his throat that made it nearly impossible to swallow. His once 160-pound frame then only weighed in at 97 pounds.

On the right side of Wallace’s lounge chair was a small blue, plastic wastebasket lined with a plastic bag. Attempting conversation always resulted in his needing to spit up the slim nutritional essence he so desperately needed. But he was always so glad to see me that he initiated the conversation even though he knew it would cause him distress.

That day in March was no different. He picked up the wastebasket, made the loud, grating throat noise that was necessary to bring the obstruction back up into his mouth, and then spat it into the basket. It was an exhausting effort for his frail frame. It used to be difficult for me to bear witness to this indignity but over time I learned acceptance. That could have been me.

Wallace spat, clenched his thin fists, arched his head back mouthing silent curses and asked, “How far is it from here to the French King Bridge?” He looked at me intently and I replied “I don’t know for sure Wallace …maybe a 15- minute drive or so.”

He clenched his fists again, looked over to the dining room where his wife of 60 years sat in an Alzheimer’s fog. She was cutting out pretty pictures from a magazine with a blunt-nosed, child’s scissors under the watchful eyes of Laura, a terrific certified nurse assistant. Maria (not her real name) required ‘round the clock care.

The realization of the scenario playing out in Wallace’s mind slammed home to me in that moment. Many months earlier, when I first started visiting Wallace, he told me that he needed to stay around to take care of Maria, his beloved wife. Each time Wallace walked behind Maria, who often sits at the dining room table in her wheelchair, he leaned over from his walker to kiss her on her head or the back of her neck. I could kiss Maria on the back of her neck and the source of this affection would not be distinguishable to her.

I got it in that moment that if Maria died Wallace could have willingly have laid down his burden of staying alive. And I had read somewhere that more jumpers find their way to French King Bridge in March than in any other month of the year.

I also flashed on the fact that, like Wallace, I could one day very well be in a situation where I have almost no control over my daily life.

We got through that moment and began to reminisce, the one thing that brought a smile to Wallace’s face. That, and singing ‘40s songs together, but that’s another story.

That Wednesday in March was one those soul-teasing days when the scent of reawakening was in the air. When the cycle of life, released from the grasp of yet another hard winter, promised bountiful possibilities of a warm and embracing Spring.

“Wallace,” I asked, “how about we take a ride next Wednesday if the weather is nice?” He smiled and nodded.

I had walked down the long beige hallway of the apartment complex with Walter to the exercise room where he would move from his walker to a small Exercycle or to the more comfortable Ab Lounger. That had been the extent of our travels together.

So, the following week, weather permitting, we would travel further together. Maybe a drive up to Poet’s Seat Tower, and then to Unity Park in Turner’s Falls if he was up to it.

Wallace smiled deeply at my invitation to escape the beige confines of his daily existence into the Technicolor world beyond.

But, I thought to myself, we won’t be driving over the French King Bridge.

John Bos lives in Shelburne Falls for which he is grateful. He has been a hospice volunteer since 2007 and invites questions or comments at john01370@gmail.com.

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