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The Man Who Had No One
"I am on my deathbed now. My deathbed is where I belong. I have lived a life of regret and wonder. I know I have done things I shouldn't have and I know that I have not made up for such things. Now, I never will. If I close my eyes tonight, I will be home." The old man hacks out a cough.
He has an offensively grating smoker's voice. I had gotten used to it by now. Volunteering at the local nursing home had, at first, been a challenge from my class president, and friend Brian. Now, it is something I do for the dying man in front of me. His family had stopped contacting him decades ago, so all he had now were the people who would stop long enough to talk to him. I was one such person. I pulled out my notepad and waited for him to gather his frayed thoughts. He closes his eyes as he begins.
"In 1941, I was eight. My mother told me bedtime stories about how my father was away to war and glory. Eventually, she told me he had died on a beach there. I cried, but decided I would try to be the man of the house for him. I didn't know he was a traveling preacher. I learned that much later. But I thought he had abandon me and my mother. So I didn't know how a father should act.
"In '47 I was 14. That was the year I started smoking. The first time, I smoked until I threw up." He chuckles at the memory. "I also became addicted to chewing tobacco. I was a real grown-up boy as we saw it. I smoked and chewed, and that was what we saw all the men around us doing, so we did it too. The smoking caused this lung cancer that is killing me now.
"Girls were objects to us. They had no real meaning in our minds, and we treated them horribly. We weren't nice like you kids today. No, actually, I first lost my virginity at 15. Because we learned my first year of high school that real men weren't virgins, only women could be virgins, not men." He opens his eyes and stares for a moment at the wall in front of him.
"I can smell my own death on these here sheets. They have that 'way too clean' smell, as you would say. There are so many things I would do again, if only I could. So don't do anything now that you will someday regret!" He turns to me and waggs his finger. "You write that down now, Sharon, 'Don't do anything now that you will someday regret.'" He watches my writing so that I have every word "exactly right." I just smile, I am going to miss this old man. "Such sad memories, they still haunt my dreams. I'll lie here alone again tonight, but his time I'll go home.
"Just after my twenty-first birthday. Eight months later, my wife gave birth. I can guarantee, it is a wagon-load easier to claim to love someone when there is a gun waving around in your face. The ceremony was disastrous. She was gaining weight, and the dress got dirty, so she was a mess. I thought she looked fine, for a woman I was marrying. We vowed we loved each other, and the celebration was very short afterwards.
"Years later, I found out she was seeing another man. I was oddly calm about it at the time, but we fought for the next few months. I spent my evenings bowling with some of my buddies. I always drank at least one bottle every night. The drunkenness kept the memories of my seven-ten split marriage. Finally, she left with our two kids and my pride.
"There's your typical spiel. The loose ends of my life fell apart more and more as the years passed by." With that, the old man falls asleep, exhausted. I sigh, I was hoping for some kind of redeeming ending to his story. I listen to his heart rate machine and his respirator for a moment longer before putting my notepad back in my book bag and leaving. My mind is lost in thought as I walk the five blocks back to my house. I know my group will wonder at my silence tomorrow, but his story is so...so...intriguing.
I visit the nursing home again the next morning, before school. I walk to his room, trying to combat the gloomy despair I pass by with a kind smile. I walk through his door and fall to my knees. He is gone. My tears fall silently, as I sit in the chair I had sat in so many times before. I fall asleep in the side of the empty bed. No one notices me until Brian walks through on his way to his own grandmother. At first he doesn't notice either, until he realizes he can't hear my old man's boisterous voice. Brian walks in to the room, and immediately knows what happened. He gently shakes me awake. Then he calls in a nurse to tell us what happened.
"Are you Sharon, his granddaughter?" the nurse asks me.
"I'm not his granddaughter, but I am Sharon."
"He wanted you to know that his story wasn't finished yet. He had us write this for you." she hands me an envelope that hadn't been closed yet.
"Thank you." I grab the envelope with shaking hands, and slowly pull the paper out. On the paper inside, I can see a woman's handwriting. Slowly I unfold the paper and read it.
"I was scared of God, but he searched for me. He asked me to reminisce one last time, for you. I wept, and my heart was contrite as I kneeled at an altar in the front of an open chapel. I cried out to Jesus. I said, 'Please forgive me of my life. The things I've done that I shouldn't have. Please never leave me, please stay with me until my time here is up. And please, when I am done here, take me home with you.' Then I heard him promise me that I would never be lonely again. When this is finished, He will carry me home."
I carefully keep my tears from getting on the paper. I put the paper back in the envelope, and slowly closed it. I place it in my bag and walk out again. When I reach home, there is an expensive car in my driveway. I walk in and find a lawyer sitting with my parents.
"I assume you are Sharon. I have come on account of Mr. ah Mr. Wolffe. Last week, he asked for a lawyer and rewrote his will. Mr. Wolffe has left everything he had to you." I sit down hard and stare at my floor, I don't know how to react. "From what I understand, Mr. Wolffe has two children, and six grandchildren. Are you his family?"
"No," I say softly, and then louder. "No, I'm just the girl who visited him in the nursing home, because no on else would. He was just an old man who had no one."