My Ideal Partner: Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Recovery

By May of 2006, it was evident that Bill wouldn’t be walking anytime soon. His physical and speech therapists had given up, saying he had reached a plateau, and there was nothing more they could do. Only Laura, his occupational therapist, stuck with us. She told us we needed to think about modifying our home for a wheelchair.
Our landlord had not been the most agreeable person. The previous summer when we moved in, he complained when one of the men we hired to help us move tossed a cigarette butt on the ground. He didn’t like Bill’s picnic table sitting on the grass in the front yard so we had to move it to the garage since there was no other place to keep it. I was reluctant to approach him about modifying our home. Bill said, “I know you’re scared of him, but you have to do this, honey. Just tell him we’ll pay for the modifications. There shouldn’t be a problem.”
Since Bill had been a landlord, I figured he was right, although I didn’t know how we would pay for such modifications. I still didn’t want to approach the landlord in person so I wrote him a letter, explaining the situation, and dropped it off at his office with the next rent check. One day as I was walking home after doing errands downtown, I passed his house, and he was standing inside his yard. “Hi Abbie, can you come here? I need to talk to you for a minute.”
He sounded friendly, but As I approached the gate, my heart was pounding, and I clutched the handle of my cane as if it were a lifeline. “I’m sorry to hear about your husband’ stroke,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said, breathing a little easier.
“I understand you need some modifications to the house for a wheelchair.”
“Yes, I don’t think Bill will be walking anytime soon.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Well, you could put in a ramp at the front door as long as it looks good.”
This was preposterous. Here I was with a husband confined to a wheelchair, and all he could think about was whether the ramp would look good. I thanked him and continued on my way.
The main problem in the house was the bathroom. It consisted of two rooms: one containing a sink and a tall claw-foot tub with shower, and a smaller room containing a toilet. Someone told me once that in the good old days, this was called a water closet. Before his stroke, Bill had trouble getting in and out of the tub, and I had to use a foot stool. Now, there was no way Bill would be able to get in and out of the tub, and the water closet was too small for a wheelchair. We would have to remove the wall between the tub and the toilet, making the two rooms into one big room, and take out the tub and put in a roll-in shower. Miraculously, another solution came to me out of the blue one night while talking on the phone with friends.
I had known John and Dianne for years. I first met Dianne when I was in high school, and we were in a puppet show of Winnie the Pooh stories my mother produced for a disability advocacy group. We performed for small children in nursery schools and other venues. Dianne was about my age, and as a result of cerebral palsy, she had difficulty walking and speaking.
She lived in Buffalo, about thirty miles away, but after the puppet show, we kept in touch. She often invited me to sing at her church, and I sang at her mother’s funeral.. When she married John who was about twenty years older, I performed at their wedding
John and Dianne bought a house that used to be a church and made it into a home. They often invited me to their house and other events. When Bill came on the scene, we both got together with them. Dianne worked with Easter Seals and other organizations for the disabled, and I was often asked to play my guitar and sing for their clients.
That night on the phone when I expressed my concerns about the house, John said, “You know, we own the house next to us. It used to be the parsonage. It has two bathrooms, one with a walk-in shower and one with a tub, and no water closet. It would be easier to modify for Bill. We’d like to sell it. Would you be interested?
Would I, but how in the world would I pay for it? Ass if reading my mind, John said, “You could get a loan through the Department of Agriculture’s rural development program.” As he explained how this would work, it felt like a weight was being lifted from my shoulders. “Why don’t you come and take a look at the house?” he finally said.
I did that the following Sunday after visiting Bill at the nursing home and immediately fell in love with it. Besides the two bathrooms, it had a large kitchen and living room and three bedrooms. The master bedroom was huge compared to the room Bill and I used to share, and the other bedrooms were a little smaller. There was also a small nook off the kitchen John said used to be the pastor’s study. Since Bill liked to be in the middle of things, I figured we could set up his computer and stereo there and my home office in one of the two smaller bedrooms. The other would be a spare room guests could use. The house also had a good-sized back yard with a cement patio, lawn, and tree house, a perfect place for Bill’s picnic table and easily accessible to a wheelchair through a gate opening off the concrete driveway. A family was currently living in the house, but John promised they would be out by the end of July, and we could move in then.
I asked Laura to come and take a look, and she, Bill, and I rode over one afternoon in Sheridan Manor’s wheelchair accessible van. Although the doorways were narrow, Laura agreed the house would do. The bathroom with the walk-in shower, next to the master bedroom, was too small for the wheelchair, it being a little bigger than the water closet. It was determined that this would be my bathroom. Laura said, “Since Bill can’t get in here, this is where you can go to be alone.”
Bill said, “I’ll park myself outside this bathroom door and wait for you.” We all laughed.
The other bathroom with the tub and shower, next to the kitchen, would be Bill’s. Laura pointed out that a shower bench could be placed in the tub, and Bill could be transferred to it from a commode on wheels used to take him from the bedroom to the bathroom. Since the doorway was next to the kitchen sink, some of the counter, cabinets, and shelves would have to be removed in order to widen it to accommodate the wheelchair. I wasn’t happy about the loss of space but knew it was necessary.
I told John I would buy the house if I could get a loan. To my shock however, when I filed an application with the Department of Rural Development, they discovered a multitude of debts on Bill’s credit cards, and I was told they couldn’t give me a loan. Devastated, I told my troubles to John, and like a true friend, he agreed to rent me the house until I could buy it, although he was anxious to sell it because it was becoming a financial burden. To make a long story short, years later, Bill filed for bankruptcy. After that was settled, I was able to get a loan from a local bank which not only paid for the purchase of the house but also for a new roof. After my grandmother in Denver passed away, I received a sizeable inheritance and used most of it to pay off the mortgage.
One of the residents at the nursing home Bill befriended was a woman who’s husband was a carpenter. When Bill told Jim, a jovial man, about our situation, he agreed to take a look. We again drove over in the facility’s van with Laura, and she showed Jim what needed to be done. Jim said he could widen Bill’s bathroom doorway and install vertical poles for Bill to hold onto in the bathroom and bedroom while I transferred him. Since Laura suggested we buy Bill a recliner, Jim agreed to install another pole in the living room next to it. The kitchen entrance, the best way for Bill to get into the house, had a big step so Jim said he could install a ramp. He quoted a reasonable price and said he could start in August after I moved in. He hoped to have the project completed by September so we planned for Bill to come home at that time.
In the meantime, Laura helped me file an application with a state agency we hoped could fund part if not all of the project. As the summer months progressed however, we never heard back from them. In August after I moved into the house, Jim finally told me if he couldn’t start the project right away, he couldn’t guarantee he could finish it by Bill’s homecoming date, and he had other projects waiting. I gave him the go ahead, and since the agency never responded, I paid him with funds from my savings account.
Meanwhile, I was learning to be a caregiver. Laura started by having the nursing home’s maintenance department install a vertical pole in Bill’s room next to his bed. Since this was apparently a new concept, she first showed the nurses’ aides how to transfer him, using the pole, and then showed me. Bill was stoical through it all, enduring the multitude of transfers from the bed to the wheelchair and vise versa without complaint. Despite the exhausting work, he always had a hug and a smile for me at the end of the day.
Then came the task of learning how to dress him. This would probably have come easier to me if I had children, but Laura was patient and optimistic. She never said, “I don’t think you can do this because you can’t see.” When one technique didn’t work, we tried another and another until we finally found a way to get him dressed that was easy for both of us.
Laura advised me on toileting. She suggested using wet wipes to clean him up after a bowel movement. “You’ll probably have to use about ten,” she said.
One day after Laura left, Bill said he had to go to the bathroom. Exhausted, I flopped onto his bed next to where he was sitting in his wheelchair. Reaching for the call light, I said, “Okay, I’ll get an aide to help you.”
“”No, you need to practice.”
At home, I would be able to wheel him into the bathroom and transfer him from the wheelchair to the commode. At Sheridan Manor, the commode was taller than the one we would eventually purchase, making it difficult to transfer him to it from the wheelchair. I would have to wheel the commode out into the room, help Bill stand, and while he held onto the pole, pull his pants down, whisk the wheelchair out from under him and replace it with the commode as quickly as I could, and hope his legs didn’t give out while I was doing this. When I pointed this out to him though, he said in one of his rare moments of anger, “They take forever to come when I call, God damn it. I can’t wait.”
I wanted to tell him I couldn’t do it because I was too tired, God damn it, but I realized that once Bill came home, calling for help wouldn’t be an option unless he was on the floor. With a sigh, I got up and went to the bathroom to retrieve the commode.
I would probably regret this, I thought, as I wheeled the commode out and placed it near the wheelchair. To my relief, the transfer from the wheelchair to the commode went smoothly. I wheeled him into the bathroom, positioned the commode over the toilet, stepped out, closed the door, and flopped back onto the bed to wait.
I hoped he would only pee, but after he flushed the toilet, and the stench of fecal matter assailed my nostrils as I went into the bathroom again, that hope was dashed. With another sigh, I reached into the box of wet wipes on top of the toilet tank and set to work. To my annoyance, as I removed feces from his bung and tossed the soiled wipes into a nearby wastebasket, he started laughing. I wanted to strangle him but remembered something I’d learned years ago during my music therapy internship while doing research for a case study on a resident who suffered a stroke. Victims of strokes often can’t control their emotions and sometimes exhibit inappropriate ones. Bill was embarrassed because he couldn’t wipe himself. If the tables were turned, I would have been, too.
“I’m sorry, honey. I know this is embarrassing. It isn’t fun for me, either.”
“No, it’s funny,” he said, still laughing.
I couldn’t believe it. Was he really that sadistic? No, it was the stroke. I finished wiping him and got him back into his wheelchair without incident. He rewarded me with a smile and a hug.
In July, I reluctantly took a well-deserved vacation. Dad and I made another trip to New Mexico to visit Andy and his family. My aunt and uncle who lived in Sheridan took care of Grandma while we were gone. We stopped in Fowler again where we spent the night with Shirley and saw a couple of Bill’s friends and his mother in the nursing home. It was the last time I saw Bill’s mother. She passed away in August. Although I was worried about Bill and the myriad of details associated with moving, I tried to have a good time. Shirley reassured me I was doing the right thing by taking some time away and pointed out that once Bill came home, it would be harder to take a vacation. I knew she was right.
When I returned from New Mexico, I again had two weeks to pack before moving. This time, I not only had my stuff to pack but Bill’s as well. Fortunately, I was only spending two hours a day at the nursing home instead of eight, and that was a big help. I also had some help from Dad and other friends, especially on the day I moved.
As Bill did when we moved into the house, I hired a couple of guys from the homeless shelter to help us move. The new house was only a block away from the old, and with the help of Dad’s trusty pick-up, we were able to get everything moved in one day. It took weeks to unpack, though.
During the months Bill spent at the nursing home, I kept in touch by phone and e-mail with Bill’s family and friends scattered across the country. Since I still didn’t have a cell phone, I got a calling card, and Bill and I often used it to call his family and friends from the nursing home. His mother often called me at home to chat, and this was comforting for both of us.
In August, Bill’s mother was hospitalized due to complications from surgery to replace a pump that delivered pain medication to her back, and we didn’t think she would survive. Late one Sunday afternoon, I received a call from one of my former co-workers in the activities department at Sheridan Manor. Bill had started sobbing during a church service and said his mother died. I was afraid Shirley or someone else had called him at the nursing home and given him the bad news. Fortunately, friends were visiting me at the time, and I was able to get a ride to the nursing home right away. I found Bill in the activity office. My co-worker, who was getting ready to leave for the day, said we could stay there as long as we needed. Since it was close to suppertime, she promised to have trays brought in for us. After holding Bill and letting him cry on my shoulder, I finally deduced that he started crying in church because they were singing a hymn that was one of his mother’s favorites. No one had called him to tell him his mother passed away. This was a relief, but I knew eventually, it would come.
It did two days later. I received the phone call early Tuesday morning, but when I told Bill, to my relief, he seemed to be at peace with it. He didn’t cry, and life went on.
I would have liked to attend the service in Fowler but didn’t want to leave Bill. The service was recorded, and a couple of months later, Shirley sent us the CD. This provided the closure Bill needed.
Two weeks after I moved into the new house, Jim arrived with his partner to start the renovations. It only took them two weeks to complete the project. Meanwhile, Laura helped me order the equipment we needed, most of which was paid for by Medicare. Besides the commode, we got a wheelchair, shower bench, recliner, and a gait belt that I would fasten around his waist when I dressed him to make transferring him easier. We arranged for home health care aides to give Bill a shower three days a week since that was one thing Laura thought would be tricky for me because of my low vision. Although Bill and I would have loved taking showers together, I agreed with her.
After the renovations were complete, Laura brought Bill to the house regularly so we could work with the new equipment. She sometimes left us alone at the house for a couple of hours. Although I thought I could handle most of the transfers and toileting, I was still uncomfortable with dressing him. Laura assured me that after he was discharged from Sheridan Manor, she would continue to come to our home and work with us for at least another month. This made me feel better.
Having read horror stories about visually impaired parents who’s children were taken from them at birth because hospital staff and children’s services workers thought they couldn’t care for them, I couldn’t help wondering if this would happen to us. To my relief, when Bill and I met with Sheridan Manor’s social worker, our case worker from the senior center, Bunni, and a social worker from the Department of Family Services, nobody questioned my ability to care for him. The fact that Laura and other nursing home staff knew and admired me when I worked there may have born some weight. In any case, the transition from Sheridan Manor to home went smoothly, and all too soon, the big day came. Despite Laura’s reassurances that I would do fine, I wondered again if I was getting in over my head.

My Ideal Partner: Chapters 2 & 3

Chapter 2

My World Turned Upside Down

 

 

For the next three months, we lived, for the most part, in wedded bliss. Because we received a multitude of gifts, I was at first busy sending thank you notes. Bill gave me several gifts.

First, he hired a friend to develop and maintain my Website. Collecting material for the site kept me busy. This was before I learned that material posted on a Website is considered previously published, and most magazines don’t accept previously published work. Had I known that then, I wouldn’t have put so many of my poems and stories on my Website.

Next, Bill paid a local print shop to make business cards containing my contact information and Website address. These I included with my thank you notes, and I took them to writers’ group meetings and other events where I passed them out.

The biggest and best gift came in November when Bill bought me a new PC. For years, I used a Mac, and Bill urged me to make the switch, but I was reluctant. Because Bill’s PC was different from mine, I was overwhelmed at first when I tried to use it. Dad, also a Mac user, viewed Microsoft as an Irish Catholic would a Protestant. He didn’t realize Bill used  such a computer at first. When he found out, to my surprise, he didn’t seem to care too much. He must have been relieved that his little girl was finally being taken care of. Little did he, or any of us, know what lay ahead.

My old computer was outdated, and I needed a new one. That I knew for sure. When I found out that my screen reading software’s manufacturer was no longer in business, and this software didn’t support the new Mac operating system, I finally made the switch. I spent the next month learning to use Windows and transferring everything from the old to the new computer. When all the files I needed were safely on the new PC, my old Mac’s hard drive died. It was as if it knew it was no longer needed and had no reason to live.

Like any married couple, we had our bumps in the road. Late one night when he couldn’t sleep, he went to his computer which was in the dining room outside our bedroom. I closed the bedroom door so his computer wouldn’t bother me and went back to sleep. Several hours later, I was awakened by a thud and Bill cursing a blue streak. Apparently, not realizing the door was closed, he had run into it. The door burst open, and he said, “If you close this door one more time, I’ll take it off the hinges.”

On the rare occasions when he was angry, it never lasted more than about ten seconds. When he calmed down, I apologized and promised that I would tell him the next time I closed the door, but he said, “No, just leave it open.” It was clear this was not negotiable. Fortunately, when he couldn’t sleep after that, he used headphones with his computer or talking book so they wouldn’t bother me.

In January of 2006, three months after we were married, Bill and I traveled to Fowler, Colorado. We stayed with Bill’s sister Shirley for a couple of weeks, and during this time, Bill filed his company’s income tax return and took care of other matters. While he did this, I took the bus to New Mexico where I spent a few days with Andy and his family. We left Sheridan on the bus at three in the morning. In my haste to shower and finish packing, I forgot to put on my watch and didn’t realize it until we were about to board the bus. Needless to say, I spent the next two weeks relying on Bill or other sources for the time. Fortunately, I packed a small radio with headphones, and I could occasionally find a station that gave the time.

One morning soon after we arrived in Fowler, Bill shook me awake and told me it was seven o’clock. Shirley’s cleaning lady was due to come at eight, and I didn’t want her to catch us in bed. At seven forty-five, after having showered and dressed, I settled in a recliner in the living room with my radio and headphones. Shirley wasn’t up yet, and this seemed odd. I also noticed that it didn’t appear to be getting any lighter. I tuned in a public radio station out of Pueblo, and after fifteen minutes of national news, a local announcer said, “Good morning. It’s six a.m.”

Barely able to contain my anger, I stomped into the bedroom where Bill was dressing. I didn’t want to yell for fear of waking Shirley. “You idiot! It’s only six o’clock.”

Bill laughed. “I thought my watch said it was seven.”

“Yeah right,” I said, as I sat on the bed and took off my shoes. “That’s why I don’t use a Braille watch anymore.”

“Well, let’s go out to breakfast.”

“You go out to breakfast,” I said, as I lay on the bed and covered myself with the blanket. “I’m going back to sleep.” I turned on my side and closed my eyes. I heard him leave and knew he was mad, but I didn’t care. As I drifted back to sleep, I vowed never to forget my watch again. Little did I know that this was the last trip Bill and I would take together.

Four days after our return from Fowler, I walked into the house on a Saturday night after a performance with my singing group. “Hi honey. I’m home,” I called. The house seemed unusually quiet. Bill told me earlier he was planning to make spaghetti, but I couldn’t smell it. I hurried into the dining room and stopped short. He was sprawled on the floor near his computer. His chair had overturned and lay on top of him. “Honey, what happened?” I asked, as I knelt by his side and tried to take his hand.

He moved his hand away and reached high above him, mumbling something I couldn’t hear. In a cold sweat, I picked up a nearby cordless phone and dialed 911. In my fifteen years of working in a nursing home, I knew what to do when I found someone on the floor. Now, there was no nurse’s station nearby, no one I could alert to the fact that someone was on the floor, and that someone happened to be my husband. I was consumed by panic, as I tried to give the 911 operator the information he needed. “He’s all sweaty, and he can barely talk. I’m visually impaired so I can’t tell whether he’s bleeding. I just came home and found him like this. I don’t know what happened.”

“Ma’am, take a deep breath,” said the operator. “You’re doing fine.”

I somehow managed to calm down, and a few minutes later, the ambulance arrived. I called Dad, and he drove me to the hospital. All the while, I kept telling myself  this was a bad dream. Any minute, I would wake up in Bill’s arms, and everything would be all right.

At the hospital, there was an endless wait before we were ushered into a curtained cubicle where Bill lay. “Hello sweetie,” he said. “I was planning to make spaghetti for dinner.”

“Don’t worry about that now,” I said, taking his hand. “How do you feel?”

“I can’t feel my left side.”

Minutes later, the doctor gave us the bad news. “Bill has suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage on the right side of his brain, causing paralysis on the left side of his body. He may need surgery to stop the bleeding. We don’t have a neurosurgeon here so we’re sending him to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Billings.”

Billings, Montana, was about 150 miles north of Sheridan. It was arranged for Bill to fly there, and I was told that I could fly with him. There was a hotel across the street from the hospital where I could stay.

Numb with shock, I hurried home with Dad. While he waited, I tossed a few things into a suitcase. I couldn’t help thinking that I’d just returned from a trip, and now, I was getting ready for another one. At least this time, I was wearing my watch. We returned to the hospital just in time to meet the flight team. I rode in the ambulance with Bill to the airport where we boarded the small plane that took us to Billings.

The flight was bumpy. The previous summer when Bill and I flew to California, he held my hand when the flight got rough. Now, I didn’t have the comfort of his touch, as the plane dipped and soared. All I could do was grip the arms of my seat and try to think about something else. I couldn’t hear anything over the roar of the engine. I didn’t know if Bill was awake. He was probably drifting in and out of consciousness.

After about half an hour, we landed in Billings. I was relieved when the plane touched down and came to a complete stop. Another ambulance was there to meet us, and we drove to the hospital. Bill and I waited for over an hour in a cubicle in the emergency room. He slept most of the time, and I yawned and twiddled my thumbs and wondered what was taking so long.

Finally, the neurologist arrived. He was dressed all in black and reminded me of the priest who visited the nursing home when I worked there. I was about to tell him that Bill wasn’t a Catholic when he introduced himself. “I’m afraid the doctor in Sheridan is right about the stroke, but in this case, surgery will do more harm than good. We’ll admit him to the intensive care unit where he can be monitored more closely.”

After he left, I called the motel across the street from the hospital and was relieved to be told there was a room available. When I told a nurse I needed assistance in getting there, she called a hospital security guard who drove me across the street. “Here’s our number,” he said when we reached the motel. “Call us in the morning, and someone will pick you up.”

Once inside my room, I checked my talking watch and was surprised when it announced it was three o’clock in the morning. Where had the time gone? As I crawled between the cool sheets alone, I wondered if Bill would ever hold me in the darkness of our bedroom and whisper, “I’ve got a woman.”

 

 

 

Chapter 3

New Hope

 

 

 

The motel provided a free continental breakfast. After several hours of fitful sleep, I found my way to the dining area and was surprised to meet one of the paramedics who’d flown with us from Sheridan. He offered to drive me to the hospital after I’d finished eating. I accepted his offer since it meant I could get to Bill more quickly and wouldn’t have to wait for a hospital security guard to pick me up. The paramedic also helped me find Bill’s room in the intensive care unit.

Dad arrived later and spent the rest of the day helping me figure out how to negotiate the hospital and plan a route between it and the motel. Besides the cafeteria, the hospital also had a sandwich shop so I had a choice of where to eat. Food was the farthest thing from my mind, but I knew I had to keep up my strength. Dad offered to spend the night, but I was concerned about Grandma since he’d been caring for her at home, and I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea to leave her alone overnight. Although Dad’s presence would have been reassuring, I told him I would manage.

The hospital’s doorways, tunnels, and corridors all looked the same. Several times, I let myself get distracted and took a wrong turn and had to ask for directions. On a couple of nights while I was there, I went out the wrong door and couldn’t get back in because it was locked from the outside. Since I didn’t carry a cell phone, these were frightening situations, but after wandering through the deserted parking lot and down the quiet street adjacent to the hospital, I was finally able to find someone to point me in the right direction.

For the next few days, Bill remained in the hospital in Billings. He stayed in the intensive care unit for a day and a half and then was transferred to a stroke unit. He drifted in and out of consciousness. When we were finally told he could eat, he was too weak to do so on his own. I told the staff I didn’t feel comfortable feeding him because of my visual impairment. Nevertheless, meals were delivered, and it was up to me to get him to eat.

I placed a fork in his hand and said, “Here honey, eat some mashed potatoes.” After taking a bite, he hung his head and went to sleep. I woke him several times and encouraged him to eat which he did.

When he grew tired of the potatoes, I gave him a spoon and said, “Try some peas.” He ate a few bites of these in similar fashion before he said he’d had enough to eat. I buried my face in his hair, the only part of  his body that didn’t have that antiseptic hospital smell. I was comforted by the scent of his shampoo.

We were given the impression that he could participate in the hospital’s rehabilitation program and be home in a month at the most. But after a day in the stroke unit, it was determined that he was too weak and recommended that he be sent to a nursing home for therapy. When the social worker asked me if I had a preference as to which nursing home in Sheridan, I didn’t hesitate. I gave her the name of the facility where I worked for fifteen years. I even gave her the phone number since I still remembered it.

One morning a few days after our arrival in Billings, I was surprised to receive a phone call from Bill while I was still at the motel. “I’m going to Sheridan Manor today,” he said. It was the first clear sentence he’d spoken since he was admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital. This meant he was getting stronger. Maybe in a month or so, he could return and participate in the rehabilitation program after all. I tossed everything back into my suitcase, ate a hasty breakfast, checked out of the motel, and hurried across the street to the hospital.

When I arrived at Bill’s room, he was sitting up in bed, eating pancakes and sausages on his own. I hugged him, kissed him, and told him I loved him.

“You better,” he said. He always told me that when I said I loved him. It was the first time he’d said this in days, and I was encouraged.

At about eleven thirty that morning, we boarded another ambulance for the return trip to Sheridan. By then, Bill was tired, and he slept during most of the trip. When we arrived at Sheridan Manor a couple of hours later, my former supervisor greeted me and introduced me to the new admissions coordinator who wasn’t an employee when I worked there. Because I worked in the activities department, I wasn’t familiar with the admissions process, but Lisa was helpful. After I answered a multitude of questions and signed a myriad of forms, I went and saw Bill in his room. By then, he was in bed and resting comfortably. He was still groggy after the long trip so I kissed him and told him I loved him, and after promising to return that evening, I called Dad who came and drove me home.

When I walked in the front door, I was greeted by Bill’s bird clock in the living room that chirped to announce it was three o’clock. Where had the time gone? I felt the house’s emptiness. Bill wasn’t here, and who knew when he would be?

The following day, the nursing home hosted a potluck dinner for residents and their families. Although Bill was still pretty weak, I decided to eat with him in one of the dining areas. It was nice to re-acquaint myself with residents, staff, and family members I knew during the years I worked there.

Residents were not left to fend for themselves at mealtime. The aide who brought Bill’s plate sat down and encouraged him to eat. When he grew too weak to lift the fork or spoon, she fed him. It was a relief to know that Bill was in a place where people would take good care of him.

As the weeks progressed, Bill slowly improved. At first, he spent most of the day in bed, only having enough energy to get up for meals and therapy. But as his appetite improved, he gained more strength.

In the meantime, I carried on a lone existence. Although I missed Bill, it was nice living alone again. I could sleep when I wanted and eat what I wanted.. On my own, as I’d done before I married Bill, I subsisted on mostly canned and frozen foods plus salads and lost ten pounds. Bill had been nagging me for months to lose weight, and although I’d tried, it wasn’t easy. At last, he finally got his wish.

During the many months Bill spent at the nursing home, except for the rare days when I was sick and the few times I went out of town for writing workshops, I visited him daily. It was hard seeing the man who was once so strong having been reduced to someone who could do little for himself. Before his stroke, I often sat on his lap while he sang to me and plied me with kisses and caresses. Now, I couldn’t sit on his lap. Although he could still kiss me, he could only hold my left hand with his right and put his right arm around me, and it pained me to hear him intone his favorite songs without carrying the tune.

There were times when after returning home, I cried my eyes out. Here I was, alone in the house that was also his with his talking clock that cheerfully played a little tune and announced the time every hour as if nothing were out of the ordinary, his bird clock that chirped each hour as if everything were normal, his computer I used occasionally to check his e-mail and keep his many friends up to date on his condition. Would he ever return, bringing things back to the way they were before?

In March, we saw a local neurologist who gave us more disappointing news. “You’ll always have some numbness on your left side, and this will put you at risk for falls. I don’t know how much you will improve or how long it will take.”

As each day went by, Bill was able to accomplish more with his left arm and leg. His speech improved somewhat, and he smiled and laughed more often.

Bill had been through so much. As a small child, he began losing his vision and the use of his limbs due to arthritis. As a boy, he had surgery to correct the physical disability, but he walked with a limp. As an adult, his vision was surgically corrected, but he eventually became totally blind. Some of his joints were either fused or replaced. Several years ago, he contracted the West Nile virus, and it took him months to recover. I was told by people who knew and loved him that he would pull through this as well. I could only hope they were right.

 

My Ideal Partner: Chapter 1

MY IDEAL PARTNER

 

Chapter 1

 

Before the Strokes

 

 

 

“Dear Abbie, I’m writing to ask for your hand in marriage,” the letter stated.

            ‘Oh no,” I said, as the index finger of my right hand scanned the Braille words on the page.

            It was a Saturday evening in January, 2005. This was all a bad dream, I thought, as I sat in the living room of my apartment. Any minute, my alarm clock would ring. I would wake up, and everything would be as it was before. Instead, the talking clock in the bedroom announced it was eight thirty.

I read the rest of the letter detailing how we could live together. In shock, I tossed it into the wastebasket. I finished reading my mail and perused the evening paper with the help of my closed-circuit television magnification system, all the while thinking about the letter.

How could I marry Bill? I only met him twice after corresponding with him for two years by e-mail and phone. We met through Newsreel, a cassette magazine that encouraged its blind and visually impaired subscribers to share ideas and contact information. I was forty-four, and he was nineteen years older.

Born and raised in Fowler, Colorado, Bill lost some of his vision at an early age due to rheumatoid arthritis which also affected his legs. Through surgery as a child, he was able to walk, but he lost the rest of his vision twenty years later. After graduating from the Colorado State School for the Deaf & Blind, he was educated at Adams State College and Colorado State University where he received a degree in business administration. He lived in California for twenty years where he worked for Swimquip and JBL before returning to his hometown. I was inspired by the fact that despite being totally blind, he could own his own house as well as several others he rented out and that he could maintain these properties and make repairs.

I knew he was an expert at computers since he owned a computer store in Fowler for another twenty years after returning from California. He and I shared some of the same music preferences. He downloaded more than two thousand songs on his computer from various sources on the Internet and sent me tapes of these songs. His mother lived in a nursing home, and he was drawn to me because I was working as an activities assistant at a nursing home in Sheridan, Wyoming, which I’d been doing for fifteen years.

I received degrees in music from Sheridan College and Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana, before going into music therapy. After two more years of study at Montana State University which included nine hours of practicum, I completed a six month internship at a nursing home in Fargo, North Dakota, before returning to my home town of Sheridan.

I wrote my first novel, We Shall Overcome, with Bill’s support, and it was published in July of 2007 by iUniverse. I e-mailed him each chapter, and he sent me feedback and suggestions. He also encouraged my other writing endeavors and listened when I told him about problems I had at work.

He was a good friend, but how could I leave my home town of Sheridan, Wyoming, and live with him in Fowler, Colorado, more than 500 miles away? According to Bill, the little farming community had none of the amenities I enjoyed here in Sheridan. There was no Para transit service or public transportation and no YMCA or Walmart. There was no theater where I could attend a play or concert. In Sheridan, I sang in a women’s barber-shop group and attended monthly writers’ group meetings, but there was none of that in Fowler. Pueblo, a town situated thirty-six miles from Fowler, had all this, but how was I to get there? The thought of leaving my home and starting a new life in a strange town with a man I barely knew was frightening.

I thought back to the time we first met in person. Dad and I were driving to visit my brother Andy and his family in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Since Fowler wasn’t too far out of our way, we arranged to visit Bill at his home. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in April of 2004. I didn’t know what to expect as Dad and I climbed the two narrow steps that led to the front porch of Bill’s white house. I wasn’t sure we had the right address since there appeared to be no signs of life, but when the door opened and a tall figure sporting a cane and sunglasses appeared and extended his hand, I was put at ease.

After a tour of his house, we sat at the dining room table. Dad left to get gas and look
around the town. Bill asked, “Do you like Dr. Pepper?”

“I love Dr. Pepper!” I said, not believing my luck in discovering he had my favorite beverage in the house.

“So do I,” he said. I also discovered we both liked country music and oldies. He’d never heard of National Public Radio and  didn’t care for classical music, jazz,  or opera. He liked to read western novels and mysteries which I could have done without, but that didn’t matter. I thought we could still continue to have a great long distance friendship. During the drive to New Mexico, Dad pointed out that he thought Bill wanted to marry me, but I brushed that idea aside.

The following December, Dad and I again visited Bill on our way to New Mexico. His home was decorated for the holidays, and while Dad was in the bathroom, he said, “Let’s kiss under the mistletow.” I thought he was joking so I laughed. Little did I know until now.

I decided to try not to think anymore about Bill or the marriage proposal and go to bed. Needless to say, although I was tired after a long day of work, I didn’t sleep well that night. As I lay awake at four o’clock in the morning while my apartment building’s maintenance man cleared newly fallen snow from the sidewalk outside, I composed a Braille letter in my head. “Dear Bill, Although I like you and have valued our friendship over the past couple of years, I don’t see myself marrying you at this time. I hope we can still be friends.”

I was tempted to get up, write the letter, and mail it, but I decided to try and sleep some more since I had another long day of work ahead of me. I would write the letter in the evening and mail it the next day.

            After work, Dad picked me up and drove me to Grandma’s house for Sunday dinner. It wasn’t much of a family dinner, just me, Dad, and Grandma, but it was something we tried to do every Sunday. Dad and I picked up sandwiches and chips at a Subway shop and took them to Grandma’s house.

As we sat down to the meal, I could hold back no longer. I was frazzled after working all day, thinking about Bill’s proposal, and hoping I was doing the right thing by putting him off. Surely Dad would agree that I shouldn’t marry a man I didn’t know well. “Dad, Grandma, Bill Taylor wants to marry me.”

To my astonishment, Dad said, “Well, I’ll be damned. You should think about this, honey. He’s a fine fellow.”

“I’ve only met him twice,” I said.

“Grandma and I aren’t going to be around much longer,” said Dad. “Who’s going to take care of you?”

“I can take care of myself,” I answered. “I’ve been living on my own and holding down a job for years.”

“Ed, she shouldn’t marry him if she’s not sure,” said Grandma.

            “Yeah, he wants me to move to Fowler, Colorado. It’s just a little town. There’s nothing there.”

“You don’t know that,” said Dad. “We’ve only been there twice and for a couple of hours at the most. Why don’t you at least go down there and spend some time with him before you make a decision?”

Maybe he was right. Maybe I shouldn’t be too hasty. I didn’t have to give an answer right away, did I? I composed another Braille letter in my head. “Dear Bill, I’d like to visit Fowler this summer to see if I would be happy living there with you.”

After I returned home, before I had a chance to write the letter, Bill called me. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Oh, just working on the computer and thinking about a marriage proposal I received in the mail yesterday.”

He laughed. I laughed. He said, “What do you think?”

“I was planning to write you a letter. I’d like to come down to Fowler this summer to see if I’d like living with you there.”

            After a long pause, he said, “Actually, I’m thinking of moving to Sheridan. I’m tired of living in a little town where there isn’t much to do.”

Had I misunderstood his letter? I thought he stated clearly that he wanted us to live in Fowler since his family and business were there. Living with him wouldn’t be so bad if I could stay in my home town. Of course we’d have to find a house or a bigger apartment.

“Maybe I could come to Sheridan for a week or so in a couple of months,” he said.

I panicked. I’d put off my trip to Fowler until the summer to give me more time to get used to the idea. “Wouldn’t you rather wait until June? You wouldn’t have to worry about bad roads.”

“I think the roads should be okay by the middle of March.”

It was obvious he didn’t want to wait. Maybe in two months, I could get myself in a better frame of mind about this.

My thoughts were in a whirlwind. One minute, I liked the idea of being married to Bill. The next, I wondered if I was getting in over my head. As a result of the shock and stress of Bill’s proposal, I came down with a bad cold which lasted for three weeks. When I told Bill, he said he wished he were there to take care of me, but this didn’t make me feel any better. I wanted my mother to take care of me and advise me on what I should do, But she died several years earlier. I never felt so alone or confused.

In the meantime, Bill researched realtors on line and found houses we could look at while he was there, much to my consternation. He e-mailed me at least once a day and called me every night. He even called Dad once or twice. “He’s got it bad for you, doesn’t he?” said Grandma.

On a warm spring morning in March, Dad and I drove to the bus station to meet Bill. He’d been traveling all night from Fowler but appeared well rested as he emerged from the bus, kissed my cheek, and said, “Hello sweetie.” He’d never kissed me or spoken to me like that before.

We drove to a nearby restaurant for breakfast. I sat in the back seat of Grandma’s two-door Cadillac while Bill sat in front with Dad. This is a bad dream, I thought. Any minute, my alarm clock would ring. I’d wake up, and everything would be as it was before I received Bill’s Braille letter. Instead, my talking watch announced it was ten o’clock.

            At the restaurant, Bill sat next to me in a booth while Dad sad across from us. During the meal, he held my hand from time to time which I found reassuring. No man, other than Dad, held my hand before. My stomach was so tied up in knots that I didn’t think I could get anything down, but when we were ready to leave, my plate was empty except for one sausage which I offered to Bill and he accepted.

Bill spent the next week with me in my apartment. At first, he slept on the couch, but after a couple of days, I found myself asking him to sleep in my double bed with me, thinking it would be more comfortable for him. I didn’t know if I loved him. I alternated between wanting to spend the rest of my life with him and wondering what in the world I was thinking. When I expressed my doubts, he reassured me with kisses and caresses, and for the first time, I knew what it was like to be loved by a man. “You don’t have to marry me. We could just live together,” he told me. This seemed preposterous, but I didn’t say anything. I knew he meant well.

I’m not sure when I made up my mind. All I know is that on the day he officially proposed to me during dinner with family and friends at a local restaurant, I said yes. Since the ring was too small, he used a necklace. As he placed it around my neck, he said, “If you say no, I’ll choke you with this.”

I caught another cold as a result of the stress of his visit and the big decision I’d made. This turned into a mild stomach flu which confined me to bed for a day. Bill held my head when I threw up, applied a cool washcloth, massaged my forehead, back, and shoulders, and fed me. I was relieved I’d said yes to his proposal. It was nice having someone to take care of me.

I was over my cold by the time Bill left town. At the bus station, we kissed in the rain, as the bus thrummed nearby, waiting to take him away. I wouldn’t see him for another three months, and that time seemed endless. I willed the bus to leave without him, but all too soon, he was gone. I sat with Dad in his pick-up and watched the bus drive slowly away from the station.

After Dad dropped me off at my apartment, I walked into the living room and collapsed on the couch. The apartment was quiet except for the hum of the refrigerator in the little kitchen. For years, I’d been content to be alone here, but now, it felt empty. The next morning when I prepared to wash the bedding, I held the sheets and pillowcases to my nose and drank in his scent. It was the last reminder of him I would have for three months.

During those three months, I imagined what life would be like living with him. We hoped to buy a three-bedroom house so we each could have our own rooms in which to set up our computers and other equipment. I pictured myself writing in a spacious office while Bill read e-mail, surfed the Internet, and downloaded and listened to music on his computer in an adjacent room.

Bill offered to do the cooking so I didn’t have to worry about that. I didn’t have much in the way of cookware since I ate canned and frozen foods I prepared in the microwave. Bing single, it seemed silly to do anything else. Because of the lack of pots and pans, Bill didn’t offer to cook anything so I didn’t know if his cooking was any good, but I figured it had to be better than Swanson’s dinners or Campbell soup.

One of his favorite meals was steak, a baked potato, and peas so I pictured myself eating that with him at the end of a long day, talking about what we accomplished and planning what we would do that evening. Later, we would snuggle on the couch and watch a movie or sit in our easy chairs with headphones and listen to our talking books.

Those three months flew by, and it was soon time to visit Bill. He was in the process of packing his belongings for the move to Sheridan. I was welcomed by his sister who also lived in Fowler. Bill told me his mother was depressed at the idea of him leaving, and although she seemed civil when I talked to her and his sister on the phone a few times, I was apprehensive about meeting her. I needn’t have worried because when we visited her at the nursing home, she took my hand and said, “It’s so nice to finally meet you, Abbie. You can call me Mom.”

The town wouldn’t have been such a bad place to live. Although Bill’s house was on the main street, there wasn’t much traffic, and it felt like the quiet residential neighborhood where I lived in Sheridan. The small grocery store down the street would have been sufficient, but since Bill hired a lady to clean his house and buy his groceries and received regular deliveries from Schwan, I wouldn’t have had to worry about shopping for food. Bill had a treadmill which I could have used instead of going to a water exercise class at a YMCA. He also had a lot of helpful friends and neighbors, and I could have found transportation to Pueblo to attend  writers’ group meetings or for any other reason. Since I hadn’t yet found a house in Sheridan, I almost wished Bill would change his mind about moving, but he had already agreed to rent his house. There was no turning back.

Bill hosted a barbecue to celebrate our engagement. Many of his friends in Fowler and a few from out of town were there. Dad, Grandma, and my relatives in Colorado were also invited. Grandma was unable to travel by then, but Dad came, and so did Andy and his family from New Mexico. There must have been at least sixty people. The event was catered, and the food was delicious. At Bill’s insistence, I entertained everyone by playing a guitar and singing.

This was in the beginning of June. At the end of the month, Bill planned to make the move to Sheridan. Since he couldn’t sell his house in Fowler, we couldn’t afford to buy a house of our own. After I returned home, I found one for us to rent. I only had two weeks in which to pack. Since one of my co-workers quit during my absence, I had to work extra hours which didn’t make things any easier. This happened many times before, and it always irked me, but this time, it didn’t matter. I’d given my notice. My dream of writing full time was about to become a reality. The two weeks flew by, and before I knew it, Bill stood in the hall outside my apartment with his sister and a friend who’d come to help us move. We embraced with the knowledge that we were together for good.

The house we rented had only two bedrooms so Bill set up his computer and stereo in the large dining room while my home office was located in one of the bedrooms. During the first month, one of the few things I wrote was a long list of recipients for our wedding invitations which consisted mostly of Bill’s friends and former employees and co-workers who he wanted to invite. I was amazed that a man could know so many people. There were at least fifty and another fifty that Dad wanted to invite. This was turning out to be a big affair.

Bill’s cooking was pretty good, and despite the fact that he prepared mostly fatty foods and less green, leafy vegetables, I was relieved to be able to concentrate my efforts on writing and not worry about what we would eat. He called a local market that delivered, and I used the local paratransit service to make occasional trips to Wal-Mart when we needed items the market didn’t carry.

At the end of July, we took an early honeymoon trip to California. A friend of Bill’s in Solvang invited us to his wedding. After that, we visited Bill’s friends in Huntington Beach and La Crescentia, his sister in South Pasadena, and my uncle, aunt, and cousins  in Valley Village. I wondered how Bill’s friends and family would accept me and if my uncle’s family would like Bill, but I needn’t have worried. Everyone seemed happy about our upcoming wedding, and some planned to come. Although we weren’t married, it was assumed that we would sleep in the same bed in the homes of our family and friends while we were there.

Among other things, we enjoyed a performance at a comedy club, a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, and a visit to my uncle’s studio where he demonstrated how he does sound effects for movies. We were there for two weeks, and although I had a wonderful time, I was glad to get home.

            On the afternoon of Saturday, September 10th, 2005, Bill and I were married in Grandma’s back yard. There must have been a hundred people in attendance. Many of my relatives from across the country were there, as well as some of Bill’s friends from out of town. Bill’s mother, despite failing health, drove up to Sheridan with his sister for the event.

            A violin and cello duo played the processional and recessional music. Dad escorted me down the aisle to the strains of Pachelbel’s Canon. My cousins decorated the yard with many colorful balloons that hung from tree branches. Earlier that day, Bill planned to go to a bar with friends, and I couldn’t help wondering if he would even be at the altar, but when I saw him in his green suit and sunglasses, it was such a relief. He took my hand and said, “Hello sweetie. Are you nervous?”

            “Not anymore,” I answered. “now that you’re here.” It was true.

            We stood under an arch framed with flowers. A judge who was a family friend performed the ceremony. My brother Andy’s wife Kathleen served as matron of honor, and Bill’s friend from Solvang was best man. Andy’s sons Dylan and Tristan, eight and six, served as ushers. His daughter Isabella, who was only two, was the flower girl. Everyone laughed, as she preceded me down the aisle, dropping rose petals and picking them up again.

The service was short, sweet, and to the point. Bill and I recited our own vows that we had written. At the end, we had a good laugh when the judge said, “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Johnson, uh, I mean Taylor.” As we walked back up the aisle to “Ode to  Joy,” I wondered if this would jinx our marriage but didn’t give it much thought.

The ceremony was followed by a reception at a nearby hotel where Bill and I spent our wedding night. During and after a buffet dinner, We were entertained by a pianist who played old songs, and there was some dancing. A poet and singer/songwriter played his guitar and sang a song I’d asked him to write for us months earlier, using a couple of poems Bill and I wrote. My singing group performed “Every Day of My Life.” I wanted to play my guitar and sing “Annie’s Song” either during the ceremony or reception. In February, Bill had sent me a care package for Valentine’s Day which included, among other things, a doll that sang this song when I squeezed her hand. I didn’t think I could sing it, though,  without crying. As we snuggled between the cool, clean sheets afterward, we had no idea of what was to come.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkGS263lGsQ