Out of a sea of patients, Richard will always be my favorite. He mattered the most. I feel a bit like I’m cheating on my second most favorite. And a touch on Dan and Jay from years ago. But Richard is it. He was mine. The last patient I needed to care for. The completion of a chapter.
He was a manipulator. Sometimes perhaps even a liar. He was a charmer and a love. Angry as fuck at times. Apologetic and desperate at others.
I could have fit him in my pocket as he wasted away. Without his teeth in place, his cheeks were sunken and he talked funny.
He drove the agency bonkers with his needs and irritating quirks. He perseverated. He complained. But he always said please and thank you. Always.
He trusted me enough to show me his baby girl clones growing under lamps in the back of his apartment. He hated Trump. He was a proud veteran. He was still in love with his itty bitty hippy of a dead wife whose ashes he thought were on top of the dresser (but was never quite sure). He distrusted red heads. And he was always honest about whether he approved of my recent dye job or hair cut.
He started off calling me ‘ma’am’. But we got tight. And he then called me ‘girl’. He knew I had his back. He knew I was a middle man between prescriptions and pain I couldn’t control. But he knew I wasn’t bullshitting him. He saw my efforts and my deep felt pain over his. He told me of his life sold as a ranch hand before he hit the double digits. The rodeos. The iron work. The dedication he had to his adopted “son” to teach him, before he died, how to be a grower in an evolving legal landscape. He once expressed fear that he hadn’t been good enough in life and that’s why he was taking so long to die. Why his pain was so severe. As though he was being punished. I promised him I’d see him through it all. I wasn’t going to resign from this work before he died.
In January the man in my life asked me to go away with him. I’d never even been on a date with him in the dark much less slept by his side though we’d spent more hours than I could count together in the daylight. We went away. I came back to my bed at the end of the weekend filled with emotion and cum and needed to sleep. But I was woken at 3am by a text from Richard’s son saying he had just died. I sobbed. I cried at least once each day, for days.
This is why those of us who see people in their homes, and help them die, love our work when we do. We sit on commodes when there are no chairs. We search through fridges looking behind cans of Orange Crush and left over lasagna for the syringes of phenobarbital we stash aside. We buy folks packs of Marboro Reds even though we would get our wrists slapped for doing so because it’s someone’s last pleasure and fuck it all. We make exceptions to the boundaries we need to enforce for our own mental health because we can’t bear to let anything slip through the cracks for that unique and beloved human of a patient.
Dan, a lonely gay architect who died in my arms on the floor of his apartment after trying to climb out the bathroom window afraid Russians were hiding in igloos in the back, was truly special. Jay, who left me steak knives gifted to him by Budweiser for being such a loyal customer, who died in bed with those big ass dogs of his, was beloved. Michael, who had a small platonic crush on me and wanted to take me South sometime if he could just make it one more year, was a delight. Countless other patients thought I was their angel and will never forget me…though I can barely remember some of their names.
But Richard was the essence of it all.
On my desk I keep two tiny little love doves…white skeletal pieces of the insides of a sand dollar that look just like their pet names. They are from Richard who, while sitting gingerly on the edge of his hospital bed, cracked them out of their fortress especially for me. It would appear that I have a soft spot for hard men with gentle souls who love deep, try to forgive fully, and doubt their worth.
Sometimes I believe in fate. Or better to call it the patterned connections that make up the mysteries of the universe. I believe Richard and I deserved to meet as patient and nurse. He deserved someone who would truly trust and commit to his side. I deserved a patient who would help me close the door with one last big gulp of heart breaking terminal beauty.
Thank you Ricardo. R.I.P. It’s been almost six months and I’m almost ready…