Henry and SidneyI was heading to work one winter morning in 1988, my first real job -- a job where I wore heels and skirts instead of denim and paper hats, a job where I was not, unfortunately, displaying my best efforts due to recent traumatic events -- when I noticed an apparently confused elderly gentleman pacing back and forth along the sidewalk opposite my apartment building. Though I was already late, and had a half mile walk ahead of me, I felt compelled to ask the man if he needed assistance with anything. He replied that he had lost his way, didn’t know how to get back home. He didn’t know the address.
I wanted to avoid involving the authorities just yet, and rationalized that the poor soul probably lived in the vicinity, so we walked together, arm in arm, along the icy city streets, and searched for his home. We passed building after building, apartment complexes, double family homes, a nursing home, but none were familiar to him. When my watch revealed that I was twenty minutes late for work, I began to lose hope, as well as patience. I was at the point of stopping at a pay phone and calling the police, when the man asked me my name. I told him, and soon as I did, I saw his eyes light up. “I used to know a boy with that last name,” he said. “Back in Dansville. We used to fish together, play all kinds of pranks -- heck, we were a couple of pills, Sidney and I.”
Sidney? That was my late grandfather’s name. Grandpa Howe passed away when I was only eight, but he remained a strong influence in my often difficult life. He’d been one person of very few with whom I felt safe, cherished. When things got rough, when I felt alone, as if no one cared, I’d think of Grandpa, and the memory of his huge, reassuring arms wrapped around me in a bear hug would instantly make me feel better. How odd, I thought, that at this particular time, a bleak time in which I was dangerously depressed, lacking in self-confidence, terrified of life in general, that I would meet this man.
Thrilled that I was Sidney’s granddaughter, the man regaled me with sweet boyhood tales of frogs thrust down girls’ blouses, homemade slingshots, and raking leaves for penny candies; he painted a Finn-like image of a happy, innocent day where little boys were free to roam the hills and valleys till dark, a day when he and my grandfather were invincible, immortal, forever ten.
We eventually found his home, an ivy-covered seniors' residence nearly three blocks from where I’d met him. I was about to escort him into the lobby, as I thought I should probably speak to whomever was in charge, but the man put his hand on my arm and said, “Please don’t.” I realized then that although a terrible disease was destroying his mind, it would not destroy his dignity. Perhaps it was wrong of me, but I nodded, gave him a hug as well as my phone number, and watched him slowly walk toward the entrance. Before he opened the door, he turned and said, “I’ll tell Sidney you said ‘hello’,” and then he winked.
Something changed in me that morning, something deep within my spirit, as if a light, cliché as this may sound, suddenly flicked on, illuminated the terrifying shadows of my past, the looming, dark doorways to my future. I knew that if I just kept my eyes open, I'd successfully navigate through all that despair and uncertainty, and would one day find my way.
I attempted to pay him a visit some two weeks afterward, but the woman at the front desk told me that no one by that name resided there. So many years have gone by, and I’ve forgotten his last name, wouldn’t be able to show you to the place where we said our goodbyes, but I still feel a pinch of guilt over my youthful ignorance -- there is a strong possibility that that was not where he lived -- but I take comfort in knowing that he’s now finally, truly home, that he’s found peace.
Thank you, Henry, for inadvertently (?) leading me toward my own