Sometimes she was there. Sometimes she wasn't. I usually arrive at the
gym early - before 7:00am. On occasion she would be sitting at a high
table on a bar stool in the reception area - well dressed, elegant.
Other times she wasn't. When she was there, she had no gear or books
with her - not even a bag. She just sat there alone at the table, as if
lost in her own
If I smiled at her as I walked by, she smiled back. But in her eyes I
saw something else: a vacancy, a no one at home look, a
blank stare. The ravages of Alzheimer's I guessed.
Then one day I noticed my
Andrew (not his real name) talking with her. When I met him in the
later, I asked him "I noticed you talking with a pretty lady in the
reception area. Is she your girlfriend?". It was a light-hearted enough
remark, one I instantly regretted when he answered "No, she's my
Andrew's got to be in his seventies. He's retired. He's in the gym
diligently every morning, sometimes to work out, other times just to
soak in the hot tub. He's devoted to his wife. They've been married
over fifty years. Now that she has Alzheimer's (he confirmed it - I
guessed right) he takes care of her full time. When he comes to the gym
in the morning, she comes too. She sits at the high table on a bar
stool in the reception area, patiently waiting for him, the love of her
life, to finish. I was touched deeply by this, a regular Darby and
Joan love story for the ages.
One day when I arrived at the gym, she wasn't there. But he was. He was
standing at the concierge desk with blood dripping from gashes in his
face. His lip was split, and a black eye was beginning to form. His
knees were bruised almost to the point of bleeding. There were deep
scratches on his lower legs, and he nursed what looked like a broken
finger, gingerly bending an elbow which didn't look too happy either.
"Andrew" I asked "did you get into a fight again?" (ever
the joker ...). "I hope the other
looks worse than you ...".
He'd been walking to the gym from his home which is nearby, tripped and
fell down a flight of stairs, and obviously hurt himself. Yet he
continued on to the gym, not realizing the extent of his injuries. Upon
seeing the condition he was in, the concierge immediately called
911. A team responded quickly, taking him to the emergency room
where he was treated for his (fortunately minor) injuries. He didn't
show up again at the gym for a few weeks after that. I called him and
left a message on his voicemail asking how he was and telling him I
looked forward to seeing him back in the gym again soon. But he didn't
return my call.
Then one day he was back in the gym
His face was still marked but mostly healed. Still the joker, I asked
him "How's your girlfriend?". He stopped, looked away, then looked back
at me, then looked away again. "She's very angry with me" he finally
said - I could tell he'd determined he could trust me.
I asked, "What did you do?". "When I fell and hurt myself and had to go
to the ER, I realized I couldn't take care of her properly
anymore, so I had to put her into a home where she can have the care
she needs. She's very angry about it. She yells at the staff and is
very un‑cooperative. And when I visit her, she yells at me too.
But what can I do?".
He was the picture of absolute dejection, of total
I totally got it. The two of them had probably been high school
sweethearts, had been married for fifty years and more, had never been
apart, and now in quick succession she gets Alzheimer's, he has an
accident, he can't take care of her anymore, and she's rudely thrust
(against her will) into the company of strangers and away from the only
man she's ever loved. Ouch!
I nodded my head, just getting it, not wanting to dishonor the piety
and the sanctity of the moment with some smart alecky
comment. When I saw him again at the gym on subsequent occasions, we
didn't talk about her. But I knew. And he knew that I knew. And I could
tell there was some comfort for him in knowing I knew.
Another month slipped by during which time I didn't see him at all - or
else he'd changed his gym time and was now coming in later when I'd
already completed my workout. Then one day I was in the
just before taking a shower following my workout, and there he was.
"Hey, Andrew!" I called out to him "Where've you been? How's your
girlfriend?" (calling her his girlfriend was by now a marginal joke at
best, but he didn't seem to mind - he may have even liked it, so I
continued to use it).
He had a strange look on
he said simply.
The silence between us was suddenly too thick in the air. I was about
to say "But I only saw her what seems like yesterday ..." and quickly
erased that thought as being too superficial, too
"I'm so sorry, Andrew" I said, now totally focused. He told me that
although her age and the Alzheimer's were deemed to have played a
significant role in her demise, he thought her heart had simply given
out when she found herself (what she considered to be) abandoned by
him. He was having a hard time of it - both in having lost her, as well
as in blaming himself for her
"Andrew" I said, "don't do that. Don't blame yourself. What you did for
her was out of total love and respect. Give yourself permission to say
goodbye. Give yourself permission to grieve. Give yourself permission
- none of this big boys don't
macho bullshit, OK?".
"That's all I'm doing these days:
And then he began to
- right then and there in the
gym locker room,
surrounded by twenty or thirty men in various stages of dress and
undress - some completely naked, some all but naked with towels around
their waists (Andrew and I were both in the latter category). That
suddenly became very, very
It was in that very moment I was called to hug him. "How odd! How
awkward" I heard my
comment. I'm naked except for a towel around my waist, and I'm about to
hug another man who's naked except for a towel around his waist, and
the entire spectacle is being watched by twenty or thirty naked and
semi-naked men. Awkward ... to say the least. Every eye
gym locker room
was on me in that moment. You could hear a pin drop.
I hugged him. He offered no
Somehow my arms
so that the hug itself
without it being inappropriate - which it certainly could have become.
When I stepped back, he was looking at me.
"Real men cry
Andrew" I said. He was unembarrassed - just very, very
"Call me if you want to talk.". "Thank You Laurence" he said, then
walked over to a sink to shave, his unguarded tears making tracks in
the shaving cream on his cheeks for all
Then - slowly, at first - people began saying things: from the
empathetic "Sorry to hear about your wife Andrew" to the generous "Let
me know if there's anything I can do for you Andrew" to the friendly
"When you feel up to it, let's you and me go get a few cold, tall
brewskis sometime Andrew" to (in the absence of anything
more substantial) the token "Hey! You're a good man Andrew.". People
who hadn't said anything to him before now, were coming up to him,
patting him on the back, shaking his hand. And if you looked closely,
you'd have seen many an eye of those big strong tough