I saw his hand grab hold of the corner of the window. His camel coat covered his body but I could see he was slightly hunched over. His hair was more white than gray. His skin was the same color as my dad’s. But it was his hand that made me stop looking because the memories rushed back to me.
And I wanted it to be my dad walking into Can Can to sit down and discuss our novels with us. It would have been his favorite spot in Richmond and he would have critiqued my work in the most helpful and loving way. He would have loved Jenni, just like he did all of my friends. He adored my friends and included them in everything he could when I was in college and a young adult in Chicago. He didn’t spend as much quality time with my Richmond friends because of his declining health. But he knew them from short visits and my stories and he loved them.
I looked over at the man reading the newspaper at the bar at Can Can and he looked like he was in his usual perch. It hurt to look at him because my dad was a regular at several places in Arlington and I’m sure he shuffled into many of those places and prying eyes watched him wondering and judging.
During our deep conversations about our books and the direction they will take, the man passed out. I didn’t see it happen but I saw him on the floor. I could only see his hands. Still at first and then finally moving showing me he was still alive. Several people gathered around to help him. 911 was called. Waiters passed by his head and continued on with their work. People cared for him and the paramedics took what felt like an eternity to arrive. But something was missing and that something was compassion. Life and work continued while this man, with hands like my dad’s, was lying on the floor.
And I recognized that lack of compassion. I saw it in some of the faces of the nurses when my dad was in the hospital. And in the faces of the transplant doctors who were skeptical about my dad’s ability to stop drinking. A sick alcoholic does not garner much compassion. I apologize for my redundancy, sick alcoholic, but so many people forget that alcoholism is a disease – a sickness.
I won’t jump to conclusions and say the man I saw this morning was an alcoholic. But as he left on the stretcher, slightly embarrassed but smiling and holding out a credit card to pay, I hoped with all of my heart that he was going to be met at the hospital by a daughter who would love him and show him some compassion.