Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Call I Never Made

Have you ever had someone on your mind and think, I’ll call tomorrow, or next week? Then, you don’t get around to making that call—you just put it off one more day, and then another.

A few weeks ago, my caller ID was so full that I decided to delete some of the calls. As I was clicking delete, I saw a call from my friend Ted from more than a year ago. That reminded me that I should give him a call and see how things were going—see how his beloved wife Norma was doing. Ted was a devoted caregiver for Norma, who had been in a nursing home for many years.

“You ever see that movie The Notebook?” Ted asked me a few years back. He had invited me to Cracker Barrel, and he was digging in to chicken and dumplings.

“Yes, I saw it,” I said. “It was a beautiful story, but it made me cry.” Most stories about Alzheimer’s do make me cry, even if they are fiction.

“Me too,” he admitted. “What did you think of the ending?”

“It was a sad ending, but it brought the story full circle.” I wasn’t sure where Ted was going with this. I thought the ending was a bit of a stretch as far as believability. The odds are against an old couple dying at the same time.

“That’s how I want it to be for Norma and me. I know it won’t happen, but I wish we could just go at the same time.” Ted took a drink and I could see the wistful look on his face.

“You have to go on living, Ted. You can’t just die to make the ending come out to suit yourself.”

“I know that,” he said. He smiled and his eyes glistened with mischief, and he launched into a funny story.

Ted and I met at a Memory Walk awards luncheon about twelve years ago. I don’t think the Alzheimer’s Association really knew what to think about us. We tormented each other about how much money we could raise and whether Ted in Jefferson City or me in Sedalia could have the most successful walk. Outwardly, we were rivals, but it wasn’t long before we discovered that our friendship was much more important than the competition. That was saying something for two people as competitive as we were.

We ran into each other from time to time—I attended his chicken dinners and Ted drove to Sedalia to come to our Night to Remember dances. We not only spent money at the other’s auction, we would bring items to be auctioned off.

Occasionally, we would “meet in the middle” for breakfast. It was at one of our breakfasts that Ted told me his story for Alzheimer’s Anthology of Unconditional Love. I took notes, typed the story, and dropped it into the mail to him. He called me as soon as he received the story. “Linda Fisher,” he said, “I can’t stop crying long enough to read this story.”

We talked often on the phone, but days turned into weeks, weeks into months, until a year passed. I really felt a strong urge to talk to Ted. I had his home number and cell number programmed into my phone. But it seemed that I was always going to finish a report, answer an email, or edit just one more story first. Another week passed without making the call.

Then, on Tuesday as I finished a few things at work before my trip to Maine, I picked up the phone in response to hearing my name paged.

It was Joetta from the Alzheimer’s Association. “Linda, I wanted to let you know that Ted Distler passed away.” I was just stunned. “He was a recluse for about the last year. He never left his home and never let anyone in to see him.” She went on to tell me about the changes in Ted, a friend who somehow sank into depression, and I never did anything to help. I felt like I had let him down at the time he needed me the most.

Then, I was filled with regret that I had never made that phone call—hadn’t reached out to my friend. Now he was gone, and I could never make it right. There would be no more moments to laugh and joke with Ted.

“Is Norma still living?” I asked Joetta.

“Yes, but she is fading fast and they don’t expect her to last long.”

I thought about chicken and dumplings at Cracker Barrel, a football game, breakfast, auctions, dances, chicken dinners, sitting on a park bench while I interviewed him for a research paper, a hug and kiss on the cheek—my friend, Ted. So many images and good memories of a dear friend. Lastly, I thought of The Notebook and wondered if maybe Ted didn’t get his happy ending after all.

Copyright © L. S. Fisher, June 2011
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