“Oh my god,” Louie Jackson said. “I am so embarrassed, and so sorry, Mrs. Anderson!”
Jackson’s head dropped, his chin nearly touching his neck which now blossomed in fiery, red-hot shame. He seemed to fold into himself as his chest and abdomen deflated like a popped balloon.
“It’s Ms. Anderson. I am divorced. And no need to apologize, Mr. Jackson. It happens all the time.”
Louie lifted his eyes only high enough to see the look on the nurse’s face. Attractive in the mature, slightly wrinkled way of experienced, middle-aged women confident in their authority and knowledge, she smiled a toothy grin of reassurance.
“Ok, but…I mean…” Louie couldn’t control his stammer. “At his age? I mean…Jesus…he’s ninety-seven years old. I didn’t think those parts even work anymore.” He shifted in his chair, trying to relieve some of the ache now creeping up his lower back. “And with the dementia and all?”
Again, she smiled. Louie caught himself staring at her eyes which seemed to sparkle. They were violet, like…like Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes! Wow, he thought, if she weren’t taking care of my grandfather, I might just…Her honeyed voice, practiced in soothing confused patients and their anxious family members, snapped him out of his temporary fugue.
“Absolutely! Sexual urges and thoughts are usually one of the last things to go. But let’s be clear. Your grandpa didn’t actually try to have sex with anyone – although that has happened, too. ” She lowered her eyes and grinned, almost coy, and tittered. “Usually though, it’s the women who try to initiate sex. I know you wouldn’t think so, but it’s true. One time, I walked into a patient’s room only to find her on her knees between a male patient’s legs doing…well, let’s just say he may not have understood what was happening at that moment, but that’s a memory he won’t forget!”
Louie guffawed like a mule that’d been kicked in the hind quarters. “Really?”
“One hundred percent true,” she insisted. “But anyway, back to your grandfather. He wasn’t doing anything. Rather, he is telling stories about his sexual exploits to anyone who will listen. The nurses don’t mind so much. Like I said, we’ve all heard and seen it all before. But he’s upset some of the other staff – especially the dining room attendants who are mostly young girls,” Nurse Anderson said. “Funny thing is, these girls today, they think they know everything. But to see the looks in their eyes when your granddad gets going, it’s pretty clear that they don’t know what they don’t know.”
Now they both laughed, enjoying a joke as can only two AARP members who know that Youth is a flimsy house of cards in desperate need of a foundation that comes only with age.
“Well, I certainly appreciate your candor and understanding, Ms. Anderson. I will go talk to my grandpa right now.” He rose, extending his hand to the nurse, excited to feel the soft touch gloved in her firm grip. Louie offered a smile of his own. He strategically extended the handshake to hold her hand as long as possible. “I hope to see you again, but under less…risqué?…circumstances,” he said as he turned toward the hallway to the patients’ rooms.
Nurse Anderson gently pulled her hand back – subtly enough to not offend, yet slowly enough to still suggest she might like to hold hands again sometime. “Yes, that would be nice, Mr. Jackson,” she said.
Louie checked each door as he passed until he came to the one bearing his grandfather’s name on a postcard-sized label hanging at eye level: “Ronald Gates.” He knocked, turned the knob, and announced himself in one swift motion.
“Pop-Pop, it’s Louie,” he called into the room. “Are you up?”
Ronald Gates emerged from the bathroom trailed by a toilet flush. “Of course, I’m up! It’s almost lunchtime, isn’t it?” He moved surprisingly fast and smoothly for a man three years shy of a century, a testament to his youthful love for any kind of athletic competition. Louie had watched his maternal grandfather play – and win – many a game of baseball, basketball, tennis, even paintball when Louie had taken up the then-trendy activity in the 1980s. Mr. Gates closed the gap quickly and wrapped his still-strong arms around his oldest grandchild.
“To what do I owe the pleasure today, Louis?” He’d always called Louie by his full name.
“Oh, nothing special.” Louie looked out the window, hoping his grandfather wouldn’t see the lie on his face. “Just thought I’d stop by, check in on you, make sure you’ve got everything you need.”
“That’s very thoughtful of you,” Gates said. “Maybe that’s why you’re my favorite grandson!” He smiled and flicked a light jab into Louie’s ribs.
“I’m your only grandson, Pop-Pop!”
“Ok, but still, you should never refuse a compliment, young man. You never know if you’ll ever get any more.”
Or, if I might ever get a date with that hot nurse…the thought was incongruous, but Louie used it as a springboard to leap to the real purpose for his visit.
“Pop-Pop when I came in, I happened to see your nurse, Ms. Anderson –“
“Oh, she’s attractive, isn’t she? If I weren’t old enough to be her father…”
“Well, grandfather, actually, I think…” Louie said. “But in any case, yes, her. And she mentioned something that concerns me just a bit.” Louie shuffled over to the overstuffed, plush, Brady Bunch green couch along the wall facing the television. Ratty along the arms, the start of a tear in one cushion, it was nothing that he’d ever buy, but it came with the room. “Come sit down.”
The old man joined his fifty-two-year-old grandson on the couch. “What can I do you for, Louis?”
Louie chuckled. His grandfather’s witticisms anchored and defined an irrefutable charm that endeared him to nearly everyone.
“Well, to be honest, the nurse, Ms. Anderson, told me that you’ve been talking a lot recently about your sex life to the patients and staff, and it’s upsetting some of them.”
“Really?” Gates said. “I can honestly say I don’t remember doing that, but if you say so…what exactly have I been telling them?”
“Lots of things, but the one that came up the most, I guess, is about your first time making love – I assume with Grandma.”
Ronald’s right hand cupped his chin, rubbing the stubble of unshaven beard. “No, that can’t be right, because your grandmother wasn’t my first.”
Louie inhaled sharply at this revelation.
“Oh, Louis, don’t act so surprised,” Ronald tut-tutted. “Your generation didn’t invent pre-marital sex. I had two partners before your grandmother. The first, like most ‘Firsts’ of just about anything, wasn’t very good. I was no expert either if I’m honest. But the experience itself changed my world.”
Louie flopped back into the giant couch cushion. He felt like he would never stop sinking, so he grabbed the arm of the couch with his left hand to stabilize himself.
“You know what the best part was?” Ronald smiled at the memory forming where memories were now so very scarce.
“I don’t really want to…”
“It wasn’t the act itself. No, that went very quickly and didn’t do much for either of us, truth be told,” Ronald said. “No sir, it was when she raised her hips from her parent’s bed – they were out for the night and never thought twice about leaving her alone with me – she raised her hips and let me pull down her underwear. I mean to tell you, there is absolutely nothing more meaningful or sacred to a man as when the woman he loves, or at least, lusts for, willingly gives herself over. The intimacy of that act, the faith, the commitment, the trust, the confidence, the air of control, that’s what makes it so sexy and powerful.” Ronald paused, drew a deep breath. “And magical. I’ll remember that forever, dementia or not.”
Louie’s heart raced like a stallion out of the gate. The air crashed out of his lungs as if he’d just been hit with a medicine ball. “Pop-Pop!”
“What?” Ronald said, voicing a mixture of sincere exasperation and surprise. “You mean to tell me that’s never happened to you? I mean, I know you’ve been single your whole life, but I assume you’ve been with a woman or two?”
Of course, his grandfather was right. Louie’d never been especially lucky in the love department, but he’d been around the sexual block a few times. Enough to know the exact thrill of which his ninety-seven-year-old Pop-Pop spoke.
“Well, the first time for me was actually kind of similar,” he confessed. “I was a freshman in high school, on a band trip to Canada for a competition and sitting on the seat next to one of the flag girls. We’d been kinda-sorta flirting for a while, nothing too serious. But it was a long, long, loooonnngg drive. It was night. There was a blanket covering our laps. We were holding hands under the blanket when she suddenly guided my hand down the inside of the front of her pants which, somehow, she’d unbuttoned and unzipped. My fingers touched her, you know, down there. I didn’t know much, but I knew enough, and I did what I knew. She didn’t stop me from touching her, but she refused to touch me for some reason.”
Louie laughed at a sudden “Aha!” moment. “I guess I was just her love slave for that night!” He paused, eyes closed, savoring the movie running through his brain, then snapped back to attention. “But Pop-Pop, that’s not the point.”
“Oh? Pleasuring someone is not the point?”
“Well, I mean, it was the point at that time, but not right now. The point now, is, you can’t be sharing your memories and stories with people here. It’s shocking to hear that kind of stuff from a man of your…”
“My what? My age?”
Ronald stood again and paced toward the television then back to the couch. He extended his right hand to his grandson. “Louis Jackson, I love you, but I am terribly disappointed in you.”
“What?” Louie was both confused and surprised. “Disappointed in me? What did I do?”
“It’s not what you did, but what you didn’t do. You didn’t defend me.”
“Pop-Pop, I don’t understand.”
“No, apparently not. So let me help.” Ronald said. He pulled his grandson close, rubbed his left cheek, then put both hands on either side of Louie’s head.
“I am here because I have dementia. I know this as well as anyone. I know that every day I have one less joke to tell, one less bit of wisdom to teach, one less story to share. I lose one more part of me.”
Louie raised his right hand to his face and wiped away the start of a tear. “I know that Pop-Pop, I know, but…”
“No but’s!” Ronald barked loudly. He released Louie’s face and waved his right hand in the air. “God forbid you should ever know this pain, but in the meantime, I need you to know about it, so you can at least explain. I don’t mean to offend or hurt anyone’s feelings. I am just trying to be Me as long as I can.”
Ronald grabbed his grandson again and kissed him on the cheek and forehead as if Louie was a baby. “Who I am, is who I was. And I am losing who I was. So, I am sharing whatever is left of me while I still can. If that happens to be a dirty story, well, I am truly sorry if I accidentally offend someone, but if I do, you just tell them: it could be worse.”
“How could it be worse, Pop-Pop?” Louie knew the second the question cleared his lips – and from the wide grin on Ronald’s face – that his grandfather, ever the jokester, ever the performer, had set him up, dementia be damned.
“I could have crapped in the potted plants, like Old Man Carbondale!”