January 2014

THE STREET: The Husband’s Perspective


Beverly Butler Faragasso
First Place Nonfiction


A car on our left stops for us and my wife waves to the driver, a young man, his features distorted in the windshield. Beverly steps off the curb and I lift my walker into the street. Its rolling wheels bump the asphalt, but my legs have become elephantine and I can barely move. My Parkinson’s meds, taken right before we began our walk an hour ago, are wearing off. Cross this street, go down a sidewalk, turn the corner and we will be home. I hope I can make it. I am nervous. My fingers slide on the metal handles of my walker. It is a chilly autumn day and I am sweating. I wipe my hands on my jacket, grip the handles and concentrate on my legs and feet: “Move!” I tell them. At first, nothing happens, then, without full intention, I am on my toes, tap-dancing. The car, despite spewing hot engine breath, waits. The young driver doesn’t honk. He doesn’t make unfriendly gestures. He just waits. Perhaps he has a grandfather or an aunt who uses a walker. Or, maybe, he is simply not in a hurry. Whatever his reasons, I am grateful for his kindness. Beverly puts her hand on my jacket and massages my crooked spine, surgically altered six times in the last eight years. Her touch calms me and I push the walker a little farther, but, as before, my legs and feet do not allow me to go far. “Frank,” she whispers in my ear, “Don’t worry about the car. Think about getting to the other side. You can make it.” Her hand lingers on my spine. Once again I tell my feet to “walk” and I pound the ground with a frenetic tip-tap, tip-tap, tip-tap until my muscles loosen and I can place one uncertain foot in front of the other. Beverly and I slowly walk clear of the car. The driver pops his head out of the window and gives us a “thumbs up.” He is in his mid-twenties perhaps, stubble on his chin, curly hair, an expansive smile, no longer a windshield distortion. He has a face that I want to remember. We wave to him and he drives away.

Almost as soon as his car is out of sight, we see three cars in line on the opposite side of the road. Three-quarters of the two-lane road stretch before me like some oil contaminated river, wide and dangerous and unfriendly. I am breathing hard as I look across it and I become an elephant again, heavy, immobile, my feet stuck, sweat dripping in my eyes, my throat dry. I lean on my walker, pushing, pushing, pushing, trying to force my feet to follow the direction of the wheels, berating myself silently – all to no purpose, for this time, my feet aren’t even dancing. The oily river must have swallowed them up in gunk, for they will not move. “You are almost there,” Beverly tries to reassure me when the lead car unexpectedly moves out of queue, swerving, squeaking rubber, practically nipping our toes and wheels, certainly scaring us breathless. We step back. I hear someone shout, “Idiots!” and I think at first that a champion in one of the remaining cars has spoken up for us, but I quickly realize my mistake: the “someone” was in the lead car and I have no doubt that she was talking about Beverly and me.

I begin to shake so badly that the walker also vibrates. I cannot keep it level or still. I wish I was someone else. My body keeps betraying me and I am tired of being humiliated. I shake in place. Beverly steadies the walker and me by gently pulling it from the front. We walk a foot or two in this way when we become aware that the new lead car is slowly, almost imperceptibly, inching towards us. This movement feels like a dare and Beverly puts up her hand to call a truce, but the car ignores her and continues creeping. I cannot stop shaking and Beverly immediately indicates with an angry wave of her hand that the car should go. It does, roaring out of sight. Beverly also tries to wave on the third car, but the driver signals to us that
she will wait. I inhale and Beverly pulls. I keep breathing, the shaking subsides and we cross the road to the other side. We turn to thank the driver, who honks and departs. Beverly embraces me for a short rest on the sidewalk. We have one sidewalk and one corner to go, but I think we will make it.

THE STREET: The Wife’s Perspective

I wave to a car on our left. I then step down from the curb and my husband follows me with his walker. Seconds pass. I do not hear movement behind me. I cannot even feel Frank’s presence. I turn around and stand beside him. Sweat drips from his forehead, but his feet are not moving. Everything has slowed down for me as well: my breath, my body, my brain. I am barely breathing. Inertia has stiffened my limbs. Thoughts are elusive. I am in suspension, until my husband’s body makes the first move.

I am not certain, but minutes must have already passed, for time seems slow here and consulting my watch will not bring comfort, but the car’s driver, a young man, waits with us. Suddenly, without explanation and without warning, as it often happens, Frank’s feet tap in place to a strange staccato rhythm. He continues to sweat and strain and I place my left hand on his back, slowly working my fingers up and down his spine. It is an unnatural mass of bones, re-created and distorted by illness as well as the surgeon’s knife. Touch triggers thought, for, every ridge, like an unwelcome battle scar, brings memories back of our long days and nights in hospitals and nursing homes. I want to return those memories to my unconscious, the place where, most of the time, I keep them so I can live my life as normally as possible, but today they will not retreat. I feel the hospital cots under my back and my muscles begin to ache. I see Frank’s swollen face after the last operation and I want to riddle the street with my angry and anguished screams. Instead, I tell him he can make it to the other side and I massage his spine a bit more forcefully. In response, his feet begin to tap frenetically. The force of this dance feels like an electric charge to my hands. The tap dancing quickly becomes actual steps and I am almost thrown off balance, but, before I am, my feet instinctively start taking baby steps in unison with his. The driver leans out of the window and gives us the “thumbs up” before driving away. What a nice young man, I think.

I do not know how long it is after he leaves that we see three cars in line on the right side of the street. They seem to be idling loudly and angrily. Frank has stopped walking and is leaning into his walker, pushing. His feet do not move and I tell him “You are almost there” when the lead car abruptly breaks out of line, its driver shouting “Idiots!” at us. I want to make an angry gesture, but we step back to avoid getting crushed. Frank and the walker begin to shake and I am a little nauseous. The second car has begun to inch towards us, a movement I do not understand. Why would anyone do that? I understand the impatience of the lead car more than I comprehend this. Nausea churns into anger rising and now I raise my hands high in the air to wave this driver on: “Go!” He goes. I will not put up with any more of this silly taunting and I continue waving my hands to tell the third driver to “Go!” as well. She shakes her head, no, I’ll
wait, take your time. I see Frank take a deep breath and he has stopped shaking. We take small steps together and I pull on the front bar of the walker, guiding it and him across the street. When we make it to the other side, we wave our “Thanks” to the driver and she disappears down the street. Frank and I hug each other, and I realize that we have both been sweating. I also have to go to the bathroom.