i should have known something was wrong when recycling day rolled around and Lou's blue box wasn't in its usual spot at the end of his walkway.Lou was always a day early. He'd keep an eye out, be the first one out there to razz the garbage collectors for not being careful enough with his bin. Or to give the snowplow operators hell for plowing over his walkway after he'd cleared it.
Not this Wednesday, though. Lou won't be coming back. He's gone to live in a nursing home.
He hadn't been the same since spring. That's when his wife, Ethel, fell on the way to the bathroom one day, banged her head and ended up in a long-term care facility. It all happened very quickly, as things often do for the elderly. Lou's not the kind of guy to get rattled -- he's beat the "big C" -- but still, his life got rearranged like the loose pieces in a kaleidoscope.
Never a religious man, he began going to synagogue, sometimes several times a week, and observing the sabbath. A bit of the trademark bluster had been sucked out of him.
We hadn't been close. But all of a sudden I became his new best friend, maybe the only constant left in a life turned upside down.
He began to confide in me on those occasions when he'd literally accost me on my way out, telling me things I didn't really want to know. About the only daughter who lives in Florida and never comes to visit, not even on holidays.
I never knew what to make of the stories. Truth be told, Lou can be a difficult guy to get along with.
But I began to worry about him after he told me about the visit he'd received from his doctor. Lou said the doctor showed him a cardboard cut-out of a clock and asked if he knew what time it was when the big hand is on the 12 and the little hand is on the nine. When his TV broke, I wondered how he'd cope now that he'd lost not only Ethel but his beloved Blue Jays and Maple Leafs.
I think it was the idleness that got to him more than anything else. And the loneliness.
It got to the point where he would make up things for me to do at his place -- replace a light bulb, anything just to have someone around to talk to.
When he'd invite me over for lunch, I'd be noncommittal. I couldn't stand to watch him slide further into his own private oblivion. Or maybe I just couldn't stare at mortality up close.
In those final days, Lou took to calling the ambulance pretty regularly. He was having problems going to the bathroom. I overheard him one morning (it was before sun-up) apologizing to the attendants for having to come and get him -- again.
The strange and hollow finality to way the ambulance door slammed in the darkness sent shivers through me. "Won't be much longer now," I thought. I didn't see the last voyage. My neighbour says they took him to North York General. This time he decided to stay.
A for-sale sign has gone up on the front lawn. Strange people have been showing up to haul away furniture and whatever else is left of Lou's life.
I didn't get a chance to say goodbye. I guess I thought he'd always be there -- or at least for a little while longer.