She scooped the squash and swiftly spooned it into the toddler’s mouth.
He laughed. “Look at her hair!”
She took her palm and swirled the strays into a curl. She resumed spooning the food.
He stood up from the table and walked to the sink. “Do they still have those little toddler dinners? Oh my God, what were they called? Baby’s little bites?” He turned the tap and filled a glass.
She smiled at him while he sat back down. “Yeah, they do.”
“I just remember my boys picking up those little handfuls and trying to find their mouths! It was the best!”
“You have more energy today.”
“Nap. I can’t do the day without a nap.”
“I thought you watched the Vikings’ game.” She set the bowl on the table and grabbed another one.
“I watched one quarter and then went home. I was too sick. I can’t do social activities anymore. Well, not for a while.”
“Your body will adjust. Give it time.”
“I don’t know. We’ll see.”
“So, bring me up to date. What’s going on?” She took a soft cloth and wiped the spills off her granddaughter’s mouth.
He leaned into his elbows and created a pyramid for his chin. “Oh hell, I don’t know. You know the heart shit. Oh. Baby. I’ve got to clean up my mouth. I don’t think anything else really.” He sat straight. “Oh. I started spiritual direction again.”
“How’s that going?” She became insistent with the spoon. “Emma. Grandma wants you to open your mouth.”
“Oh we’re at an impasse. My spiritual director says I’m too black and white.”
She interrupted, “You are.”
“Could I finish?”
“Okay.” She smiled.
“Well let me tell you the story. I told him I’m not going to date anymore.”
“Why won’t you?”
“Okay,” he exhaled a sigh, “I think it’s incredibly self-absorbed to expect another human being to sign on to this death train.”
“Stop it.” She put down the spoon and rested it along the rim of the bowl.
“Okay fine. Sick train.” He stood up and leaned against the center island. “It’s too much to ask someone to participate in. It’s too much to even explain to someone who’s not emotionally in.” He stood straight and feigned a conversation. “Hi! Nice to meet you! You want to schedule a life around my doctor appointments and watch me walk from chair to chair? Oh we just met? I just assumed you’d think I was worth it.” He resumed his lean. “See?”
“I see.” She spooned a bite and offered it to her granddaughter.
“I’m not doing it. And don’t think I’m all altruistic. I’m not. I don’t think I could take that kind of rejection right now.” He stood straight and walked to the window. “Not right now I can’t.”
“I think you’re giving fear too much power. People are better than that.”
He turned to face her. “It’s not about being better. I wouldn’t sign up for it and I think I’m a pretty decent guy. But right now if I was offered a part in this whole shitshow? I’d pass. At our age, we’re dealing with parents who are ill or freedom for the first time since college. No way in hell I’d do this if a woman I was just dating asked me. And it’s not wrong. It’s not. It’s too much to give to someone I’m not invested in. For better or worse is one thing. For worse or this is as good as it gets is another.”
“What was your spiritual director’s response?”
“Well my version of his words? What’s wrong with companionship? Why not take each day as it comes?”
“I agree with him.”
“Let me tell you about the world. The real world. Last year when I got sick? The first time? People visited me in the hospital. The next 4 times I was hospitalized? The only visitors I had were friends on staff at the hospital. Not one other person. And those are the people who I thought were emotionally invested in my life. You know what it’s like to stand with an IV pole and watch the door? I’m not doing it anymore. I can do alone. I’ve done alone. I’m doing alone.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
He walked back to the table and sat down. “I don’t need you to say anything. There are no good words here. It’s okay. Jesus look at you! She’s darling! You’ve got it all. This is the house you built. I’m just too late. That’s all. Want to know something funny?”
“My spiritual director asked me why I chose to be a writer. I thought about it. Why do I write? Want to know the truth? The goddamned real fuc ..,” he stopped the word in deference to the child, “truth? I look like such a loser on paper. You know? I quit the seminary to help raise someone else’s kids. And my career never became what it should have. And I let two great women get away from me. And now I’m too sick to run to home plate.” He streamed his speech to control it. “I write because I wanted something to counteract that big empty page. That’s all. See? Completely self-absorbed. ”
She stood up and took the emptied bowls to the sick. “None of that is true and even if it was that’s not self-absorbed.”
“The whole conversation is.” He stood up and looked out the kitchen window above the sink. “Is that a heated birdbath? I need to get one of those. I can’t believe how many birds my feeder attracts.”
“I bought it at the Highland Nursery. Wait until spring. They’ll be cheaper then.” She took a damp cloth and wiped the dinner from the child’s hands and face.
(Photo courtesy of nutritionnews.abbott)