Andes Mint #19: Kingsley

Get up at 4:00 a.m., make and drink a cup of strong coffee, get dressed, wheel your roller bag out the dark path to the dark car, head to the airport, get on the first of two small planes that land you in the White Plains airport at noon.

Rent a car. Tap in the address where your friend Kingsley now lives into your tiny phone and then tap Start.

Avoid dwelling on your dread of driving in New York City traffic. Do what the robotic phone voice tells you to do. Err. Correct your errors by again doing what the robotic phone voice tells you to.

Glance to your right and see the New York City skyline gleaming along the river. Think it never gets old.

Find the place where Kingsley lives now. Walk in and fill out all the blanks in the Visitor registry. Take the elevator to the fourth floor. Wander blankly until you see his room and his name and the name of his doctor and his nurse.

Walk in and stand silently until he looks up from the mystery he’s reading. See that big smile spread across his face and feel its twin on your own.

Unhook a folding chair from the wall and set it up next to his bed. Sit there for six hours. Show him photos of your family on your iPad; admire his deft touch on the screen when he tells you he wants to “turn the page” while you narrate.

Google his favorite radio show host from long ago –Jean Shepherd– and download a podcast of one of his shows. Sit and listen together, his smile as he listens making you smile too.

Watch his face turn grim with pain. Call the nurse and ask for painkillers. Rub his legs to see if that might help; it does.

Meander through the last 18 years of friendship together. Remember when this? Remember when that?

Admire his new haircut. Tell him your mother sends her greetings, your children send their love. Tell him about your brand-new nephew Arthur and how much you love that they named him Arthur. Agree together that Arthur is a name.

As you sit and talk, don’t let yourself think about what is over now. Don’t think about the years and years in which packages arrived regularly, put together as he zipped around Chinatown collecting things for you that he thought you would like.

Don’t think, that is never going to happen again, walking out onto the porch and seeing a taped-together cardboard box sitting on it with his return address in neatly-printed Sharpie in the upper lefthand corner and your name in the middle, with the Alison in red and the rest in black.

Scold yourself for feeling sad about that, for feeling so sad at how hard it is for him to move his legs even a tiny bit now, because right now you are together, and he is happy, and you are reminiscing together, and what you need to do is focus on this moment and this moment alone. Can you do that? Yes. Kind of.

Maneuver the rolling table close to him when his dinner tray arrives. Accept his offer of the salad he doesn’t want to eat, along with the fork he’s not going to use for his soup and his hot dog. Answer his question about the ranch dressing in the tiny plastic packet.

As you eat, discuss some of the dozens of meals you have shared over these many years. Ask him about his mother’s cooking. Ask if they ate together as a family. Describe the meal you cooked last night using only vegetables from your backyard garden.

Tell him you have to go soon, because it’s a five-hour drive to Vermont. Tell him you’ll keep searching for that new kind of Pringles he’s so interested in. Tell him you’ll send him another mystery next week.

Hug him. Hold his hand when he reaches for yours.

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