My room at Carla’s house sat at the end of a long, dark hallway. I hated it because it seemed so ominous. Light barely made it into the tiny windows of the bedroom thanks to the giant oak trees that surrounded her house. The trees were so close that when storms moved through the tree limbs would whip the back side and roof of the house. Long ago, I had warned her and my son-in-law to cut back the trees or run the risk of damage during a storm, but neither of them seemed too concerned. The many years since then without any incidents had proven me to be over-cautious. They loved those big, old oaks.
I tried to spend as much time as possible outside my room to escape the darkness. I hadn’t been afraid of the dark since I was a tiny boy, but I found myself ever more fearful as I had gotten older as if my light was slowly being snuffed out. I couldn’t help but feel that way given my weakened condition. I never explained it to Carla for fear that she’d find me foolish. I simply told her that I wanted the bedside lamp on at all times, and after some initial resistance, she acquiesced.
I hadn’t wanted to move into Carla’s home. I wanted to stay in mine and Barbara’s house, but Carla insisted that I move in with her. She had that same forceful nature that made me love her mother so much. Had I not seen so much of Barbara in her, I would have put up more of a fight. I never liked to say no to Barbara.
My home nurse changed once I moved in with Carla. The surly, tattooed nurse didn’t want to drive to the next town over every day to watch over me, so the insurer assigned me a new nurse, Marty. The move to Carla’s bothered me, but this change pleased me. I had never liked that nurse, so I welcomed the change.
On the first day with the new nurse, Carla popped her head in my room as I sat up in the bed watching the small TV across the room.
“Daddy, Marty’s here,” she announced.
I simply smiled and nodded my head slightly. I could feel the tug of the cannulas, so I began fussing with the oxygen tube that snaked across my chest.
Marty stepped into the room behind Carla and smiled at me.
“Good morning, Mr. Dunn. I’m Marty.” He took three steps with his long legs and closed the gap between us. He extended his hand to greet me, and I slowly reached up to shake it. He clasped his other hand on top of mine and smiled more broadly. “It’s nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
I raised my eyes in question and exhaled a “Huh?”
I didn’t have to say more before he explained, “I reviewed your file and spoke to Loni.”
“Your previous nurse.”
I shook my head to confirm or acknowledge my ignorance. I didn’t know which. I had never learned the other nurse’s name. I just knew I didn’t like her.
Marty stood at least six feet tall and had a berth about him that suggested he had played football at some point. He looked nothing like a nurse or even someone who could care for anything other than a tiny ball clutched in his big hands. I thought the insurer had made a mistake, that they had accidentally picked the wrong person to care for me, but those doubts took a back seat to an undercurrent of recognition that troubled me from the moment he stepped into my room.
I felt like I knew Marty already, that I had seen him before a lifetime ago. I knew this wasn’t possible given our vast age difference. He couldn’t have been a day over 35. That first day he stayed with me, I stared at him hard every time he was in my room.
He noticed the way I stared at him and asked, “Are you okay, Mr. Dunn?”
I shook my head to say that I was. I finally gathered the strength to ask him where he was from.
“Buford,” he replied. “Do you know anyone there?”
I had moved to Buford decades ago to live with my cousin and work at the mill. That’s where I had met Barbara and where we had lived at first before I moved onto another job and we moved to Lyndon. Suddenly, recognition flooded my mind.
He’d been dead for over 20 years, but I finally determined why I felt I had seen Marty before. He looked just like my cousin. Just the mention of Buford brought back memories of him and our brief time together. It had been like a blip in my life, my time with my cousin, because everything during that time took a backseat to Barbara. Once she entered my life, everything else became a footnote.
The recognition startled me, and Marty paused as he watched me react. “Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked.
I didn’t respond immediately, so he checked my vitals, gave me some water, and tried to discern if there was something wrong. I whispered that I was fine, but he stayed focused on me for a few moments longer before he took a seat next to my bed.
He looked at me and smiled. “So what do you do all day?” He chuckled at his own question, and I let out a wispy laugh that was barely audible. He enjoyed my reaction, and we talked as much as I could for most of that first day.
His resemblance to my cousin entranced me. I didn’t want him to leave when Carla came home from work. He waved goodbye as he stepped out of my room, and for a moment, I thought my cousin was leaving for his shift at the mill and that I was back in that run-down old apartment down the street from the mill and the diner. If only I could get back to that time, then maybe I could find Barbara and tell her to come home.