Note: Main character having passed away mentioned in story
He pulled up to the one-story brick home and parked his white pickup truck in the gravel driveway. Remaining in the driver’s seat a moment, he let out a sigh as he looked out the windshield.
How would this visit go? Would his friend be having a good day or would he leave feeling down again?
John Gage opened the driver’s side door and climbed out. Before he closed it, he reached inside for the bouquet of yellow daisies that he’d laid on the front passenger seat. Their stems were wrapped in a damp cloth and pink foil covered it to keep in the moisture.
The fifty-six year old fire captain closed the truck door and made his way up the sidewalk to the front cement porch. Once there he pressed the doorbell and patiently waited. It was a routine he went through here at least once a month.
After a couple of minutes, the door opened and a gray-haired slightly plump Kel Brackett smiled in greeting.
“Well, good morning, Johnny.”
Though the doctor was retired for over five years, Gage still addressed him with the title out of respect. Brackett had been the senior physician of the ER at Rampart General Hospital for many years and often had treated victims the paramedics brought in.
Kel peered out past him toward the driveway. “Nancy didn’t come this time?”
“No, our son and his wife and kids are staying with us; they flew in from Colorado yesterday. Nancy figured one of us should stay put today. I thought about bringing them all here since you haven’t seen Roderick and his family for quite awhile, but it seemed like it might be a just a little too much right now. The kids are all still pretty worked up about the thought of going to the beach and Disneyland. But we can all drop by again in a few days once they settle down.”
The doctor nodded in understanding. “That’ll be fine. Well, c’mon in,” he said as he stepped aside.
Johnny glanced into the livingroom from the small foyer as he entered.
“How’s she doin’?”
Kel sighed. “Okay. It’s been a pretty good day for her so far.”
“Great.” He headed on to visit with the doctor’s wife of many years, waiting till he was nearly in front of her before greeting, “Hi, Dix.”
Dixie McCall had been a dear friend of his from the start. It was she who’d thrown him a big bash for his birthday within the first few weeks of his training to be a paramedic back in 1972; even before he and others had been allowed to put their training to use or knew for certain a law would be passed that would eventually lead to a nation wide trend. Over the next few years that followed, he and his partner Roy DeSoto often would use the then head nurse as a sounding board when they needed advice or wanted to share some news.
Johnny grinned at the memory of Dixie at her desk, looking at them with a sparkle in her eyes and warm smile on her beautiful face. He missed that sparkle now. Instead he was met with a look of confusion and a lack of recognition in the nearly blind eyes. But that was now normal for Dixie; it was what he expected with each visit. She was still beautiful, having aged well at seventy-four, but an unexpected health issue had brought about a few challenges.
She’d been losing her sight over the past few years, her balance was sometimes off, and her thoughts were often scrambled, making it hard for others to follow her in conversation. After a couple of different specialists made assumptions that her condition was just a part of the natural aging process, Dixie had taken a fall in the house. She’d hit her head on the edge of the coffee table. Fortunately she wasn’t seriously injured, but a CT–scan was done as a precaution and a brain tumor was discovered. Dixie was diagnosed with Meningioma. The biggest shock was that the tumor had likely been there for over twenty years.
Johnny stepped closer. “It’s me, John Gage.”
There, a faint smile that widened when he reassured, “That’s right.” He gently grasped her hand and gave her a light kiss on her left cheek as he took a seat beside her, handing her the bouquet of flowers in the process. “These are for you.” He knew she probably could only see the colors and not details, but she still seemed to enjoy flowers.
“Oh, how wonderful. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. So, how’re you feelin’?”
“I’m fine, thank you.”
Johnny took a quick glance at Kel, who was now in a rocker/recliner chair nearby.
“Is Joanne with you?”
Dixie was confusing him with Roy. That was common these days as well even though she didn’t see the DeSotos near as often; only when they’d come down from their home in Seattle Washington, where Roy was once again involved with training paramedics. Johnny considered correcting her and reminding her that his wife’s name was Nancy. But being that she’d forget again within a brief period of time, it didn’t seem to matter. Then again, maybe it was better to speak out in this instance.
“No, that’s Roy’s wife. Roy DeSoto,” he explained when she didn’t seem to comprehend. “My wife’s name is Nancy.”
“Oh. Well, where’s Joanne?”
“Um. . .in Washington state.”
“She brought me a lovely bouquet of flowers yesterday.”
Johnny looked to Kel again, who just shook his head slightly.
“That was nice of her,” Johnny commented. Some things were better left uncorrected.
Dixie set the flowers he’d given her on her lap and looked across toward her husband.
“Kel, did you tell him about Johnny?”
“You know, about Johnny bringing over a cake for my birthday.”
That was two months earlier when the doctor had asked him to pick one up on his way over that had been ordered from the bakery.
With a hand on his chest, Gage offered, “Dixie, I’m Johnny.”
“No,” she shook her head. “Johnny’s working. He’s with Roy at the fire station.”
He let out a sigh. Sometimes he and Kel could find the humor in certain situations, such as when she’d put on her husband’s pajamas by mistake and thus Kel joked they were ‘his and hers pajamas’, depending on who got to them first. And he was glad he had extras, though picturing him in Dixie’s instead brought a laugh to both men. Humor was a way of coping with what life had dealt them and Dixie. But other times, it was too much.
She couldn’t bathe by herself for fear she'd slip, nor could she fix her own hair very well or put on her own makeup like she used to. Kel had taken on all the chores around the house. And driving, of course, had ended for her a few years earlier.
She moved about their home with caution, the result of her near blindness and equilibrium being slightly off kilter. Her slowness was a good thing though. Dixie would get the idea out of the blue that she was going somewhere and her husband didn’t have to rush to stop her from going out the door.
Dixie had always been such an independent woman, very wise and thoughtful. Now when she was having a rough day she was barely capable of holding a solid thought for more than five minutes before her mind wandered onto something else or jumped to the past.
It was all results of the tumor. They’d lost the Dixie they knew and fact was, it was not easy to have her like this.
If only we could get her back, Gage thought to himself.
But the risk from brain surgery had been too great for Kel Brackett to go along with it. And Dixie didn’t want it anyway.
“I’m Johnny,” he corrected again. “Roy’s in Washington state with Joanne.”
“But Johnny was--”
“I’m Johnny,” he stated firmly again.
She paused a moment. “Oh. I’m sorry. I get a little confused.”
“I know.” He put his arm around her. “It’s all right.”
After helping Dixie to the kitchen and having lunch with the couple, it was time to head for home. Johnny stood on the front porch, Brackett in the doorway; Dixie was in the bathroom adjacent to the livingroom.
“You know, I can’t help but think if Joe Early had been around a few years ago when all this started, he’d’ve known right away what it was. She wouldn’t have had to fall before they did a cat-scan. At one time I told them I wanted one done on her, but I was just a crazy old retired doctor to them. Healthcare sure isn’t what it used to be.”
“You’re right about that.” Johnny narrowed his eyes in thought before asking, “Does Dix still talk about Joe like he’s been here recently?”
“Yes. And I don’t have the heart to remind her he’s gone.”
Johnny nodded solemnly. “It’s not important she knows.”
“Sometimes I envy her.”
Gage furrowed his brow. “How so?”
“Well, in her mind, Andy Williams is forty-years-old, Fred Astaire is still dancing, and Joe Early is still with us. Sometimes I think being able to kind of hold time still like that. . .well,” he gave a familiar twitch in the corner of his mouth. “there’re days I wish I was in that world with her.”
Brackett held up a hand. “Don’t worry. I know better. She needs me to stay healthy. I’m gonna be there for her every step of the way as long as time allows.”
“I’ve got no doubt you will, Doc.” A crooked grin spread across his face. “No doubt at all.”
After giving Dixie a hug goodbye once she’d joined them again, and reassuring them both he’d be back in a few days with the rest of his family, Johnny was on his way home. This time he didn’t find himself feeling sad despite the fact Dixie struggled a little with his visit; it was more like thankful. Thankful that he still could visit her. That Dixie could live with the tumor. It wasn’t cancerous, thus it left her the option of not having it removed. And thankful his friendship with the Bracketts had continued to be strong through all the years. He’d be there for them when ever they needed him and for as long as time would allow.
And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I'd of had to miss the dance
- Garth Brooks - 'The Dance' -
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This story was inspired by my mother's situation and is dedicated to her. For five years doctors assumed some problems were from aging and it wasn't till she fell a couple of months ago that a brain tumor was discovered. And come to find out, she's had it about 40 years and never knew it. Brain tumors don't necessarily cause headaches and seizures like many of us assume.
Now mom's 85 and the surgery required to remove the tumor is too severe. When E! was on TV in the 70s, some people would call our mom 'Julie' because she resembled Julie London to a point. Thus why this story came about. If it helps anyone else to find the cause of any problems that otherwise can't be explained, great. I wasn't sure about adding this note, but decided it's okay to because maybe it'll help one of you or your loved ones someday. ~ Audrey