BUS STORY # 498 (Jeffrey, Part Four)
|Photo by Busboy|
You can read Parts One, Two and Three here, here and here.
Friday morning, I sent Jeffrey* an email: “Testing...”
Sunday, having heard nothing back, I resent the email.
I saw him the following Wednesday. Our greeting was unusually subdued. I told him I had emailed. He said he had not gotten it. I verified the address. He said he would look again and send me an email if he found nothing.
And then he apologized and said he was distracted. His prostate cancer had taken a new direction: he was now being worked up for bladder cancer.
He was frustrated by his experience with the UNMH health care system. Whether it was an appointment or a referral or a diagnostic test, nothing could be scheduled for less than a month out.
He was seeing clinicians who were burnt out by an unending procession of patients who never seemed to understand their diseases and their processes, or who were non-compliant, or who simply failed to keep their appointments with any regularity, but did expect to be cured when they did show up, or who were drug-seekers.
Surely they recognized you are not in any of those discouraging categories, I replied.
Yes, he acknowledged, but whatever good intentions they may have had during his visit were quickly buried under the deadening routine of the futile practice of medicine.
He spoke of not being ready to give up this life, of not having a family of his own, just his mother and a few close friends. Very few. “I am a solitary.” I wondered if his “neglected girlfriend” was still in the picture. I remembered how, when we had briefly discussed getting together and had exchanged emails, he had said he preferred the “epistolary form” himself.
I told him I understood his distraction, and that I was sorry for all he was going through.
He rallied himself, grasped my hand with both of his, and said, “It’s a good life. It’s a beautiful life. Take care.” And so we went on our ways.
I missed my regular bus that evening.
Between that autumn afternoon and Christmas, we exchanged a few emails. His were somewhat cryptic, and I sensed his attention was elsewhere. I repeated my desire to meet for coffee whenever he wished, and left the invitation at that.
I did not hear from him again.
It is possible he’s died by now. I think about that, and I think about whether I should have been more persistent. I tell myself it was better not to intrude, that he had made it clear he was, in his words, “a solitary,” that this was serious business he was dealing with, that I was an email away. I tell myself I had no business putting my curiosity or a good story into this mix. And all of that is as true as how good it sounds.
But I also know the relief I felt... feel... at not having to be involved any deeper in the dying of this stranger.
Somehow, that relief is no relief at all.
*Real name changed.
All this happened over four years ago. Last summer, I was riding the Montgomery bus when I saw Jeffrey board. He looked just the way I remembered him, clothes and all. He sat down in a seat across the aisle and one row behind me. I turned and looked. He sensed someone staring, looked at me, broke into a big grin, then got up and sat down beside me.
I think he was genuinely happy to see me. I asked him how he was doing, and he said he was doing very well, “one day at a time.” He didn’t offer any particulars, and I didn’t ask. He was now involved in a men’s cancer support group, and happy to be so. I asked him how he came to be on the Montgomery bus (I didn’t know he was a rider until now), and he explained he was returning home from a dental appointment.
He asked how I was doing, and I told him I was now retired and thoroughly enjoying myself. That pleased him.
My stop came before his. I wished him well, and asked if he still had my email address. He did, he did. I told him retirement made me much more available these days. I don’t remember exactly how he handled this, just that he was gracefully noncommittal. And that was that.
Whenever I think of him now, I think of him as alive. It feels much better.
|This remarkable photo was taken by former ABQ RIDE driver Peter Reynolds. It is downloaded from the photos section of the Facebook page for ABQ RIDE.|