How people react and approach Marty in her wheel chair means something to me, in fact, it means a lot. I may place too much emphasis on how friends and strangers treat Marty but if they are afraid, if they are reluctant to greet her or touch her or speak to her I make value judgments.
I don’t know if that’s fair or not, it just is. It’s a big reason why I trusted son-in-law Lyle when we first met him. He was not afraid, he did not stand back, he greeted Marty, he kissed her cheek, and he treated Marty like his girlfriend’s mother. It went a long way with his girlfriend’s father.
I have a lifelong friend who has been my friend, roommate, teammate, counselor and friend for over 50 years. Like any long term friend ship after we graduated from college and got married we kind of drifted apart, talking from time to time but going years between conversations.
He is my best friend and he has known Marty since the beginning of Marty and Marty’sHusband. He knows Marty from when she was the old Marty and now he knows the new Marty. Post strokes and post his own heart attack Skip became a fairly regular visitor to our homes. It was a fantastic renewal; his was a very welcome face to both Marty and me.
Skip and I talk, about everything. You know the kind of friend, the kind of friend where you can tell your deepest darkest ugliest stuff and they still love you, for me, that’s Skip. Early on Skip confessed to me that it was hard for him to see Marty in her current state, he was unsure of himself with his old friend.
He just didn’t know how to “be” with the new Marty and he really missed the old Marty, the sharp as a tack Marty, the killer wit Marty, the totally unpredictable Marty. He didn’t know what to do with his sadness at the loss of the old Marty and he didn’t know how to act with the new Marty.
Things change with familiarity. Skip has been with Marty a lot over the last couple of years. He has sat down with her for meals, he has sat on the edge of her bed, he has celebrated birthdays with her, he has talked to Marty, he has hugged Marty, he has come to know Marty as she is today.
This last birthday I took Marty out for her favorite meal at a local haunt in Waco, chicken fried steak. Skip came up and went with Marty, Nykkie and me for dinner. Nykkie needed to drive her car home so Skip rode with Marty and me in our van.
After we parked I let Marty, in her wheelchair, down from the van and had to go park the van because all of the handicapped spots were filled. Without Nykkie I watched as my old best friend wheel my very best wife up to the door of the restaurant. He didn’t ask, he didn’t hesitate he just did.
It sounds small, it sounds insignificant and maybe it is for some, it’s not to me. The guy who once confessed his uneasiness with Marty’s new persona was pushing her out of the heat, no questions, no pause, just lending an appropriate hand.
When we got home ahead of Nykkie, our trusted care giver, I once again got up in the van, unhooked the wheelchair anchors and let Marty down. Once again, Skip took Marty in her wheelchair and rolled her out of the sun, out of the heat to the garage door. He struggled a bit getting the wheelchair over the threshold, the same threshold we all struggle with from time to time, but he put his foot on the back of the chair, kicked it back and rolled Marty into her room. My old friend had become a hand.
Skip loved Marty, he loved that she was smart, he loved that she was funny, he loved that she had spice. Like me with Skip, like me with Marty, there is a deep and abiding shared history which brings us close. That shared history, that inevitable closeness surrounds and suffocates the discomfort with the broken Marty. There is too much history to forget who she really is.
Skip loves Marty today. He sees past the brokenness to the person she was and is. Skip kisses her cheek, he sits on her bed beside her and laughs and talks with her and always wants me to tell her hello as we say goodbye from a phone conversation.
It makes me love my friend even more.