Two Turtles and a Dead Man

What is with that ridiculous title? Is that where your mind went? Possibly, you’re are picturing Ninja Turtles right now, parachuting in to a prison exercise yard, to save some guy from knife wielding thugs. Not a bad sentence to start a story, right? Sadly, this story won’t be anywhere nearly that exciting. No, this is a rather tame tale of an old man in a hospital bed. His place in life at that moment, is recuperating in a local nursing home.

A big man, over weight and over six feet tall, stuffed into a smallish bed. The neighbor in the next bed, was named John and they share this little cracker-box of a patient room. John is close to leaving this world by way of one type of cancer or another. Never would he tell the big man, what it was exactly. Just that it was eating him up and he would most likely be dead soon.

The big man loved to watch John eat. He could stuff five hot dogs, a large bag of Cheetos and a large strawberry shake into that skinny little frame of his, without a twitch, flinch or burp. Five minutes tops, the food would all be gone, and John, his little pot belly distended and pushing the fabric of his shirt to new territory. The big man, quite an eater in his own right, had been confined to bed after knee surgery gone bad. Eating was a favorite pastime for him, unfortunately life had changed drastically.

Diabetes was a problem, but as he saw it, not the main one. No sir, his main problem was lack of entertainment. He could lie in bed and watch his neighbor shovel fast food into his, thin lipped face. Swell up that skinny little belly, until it looked like a pumpkin, stretching out the button holes of that little cotton shirt. A couple of episodes of that just made the big man jealous. His diet is quite spartan. Ever so dearly, he wanted one of those large bags of Cheetos. Nope, big man needed something more to keep his attention. There were no cute nursing assistants to flirt with, so that was out. There were a few females working there, they just weren’t high caliber flirting material. Besides most of the techs were guys. That didn’t sit well with the big man, at all. No Cheetos, no cuties, no fun. Sleep was sounding, like the best answer.

Sleep, needed or not, was a tough sell. Techs, running everywhere, laughing, talking, playing pranks on each other, made normal sleep quite a struggle. Most of the clients, were there for the long haul. No one made a quick exit from the “Home”. After all, nearly everyone here believed this to be their final residence. Besides, isn’t that what nursing homes and the state of Florida are called, “God’s waiting room?” Most people came in and expected to only get out of there with toes pointing to the ceiling and either a sheet over the face or confined to a black zippered bag. Most of the residents would really prefer the zippered bag accessory. It seems, so much more in style than the Ku Klux Klan look. So, what to do? That is a big question for the clients. Everything on the agenda for the day, came after sleep. Food, showers and changes of soiled bedding, everything was in line behind clients’ sleep. The more they slept, made fewer problems for the staff.
For the big man, the hard part of being in a nursing home, was the helpless feeling. There is no denying though, that all the parts of being in a nursing home, are difficult. There is nothing easy about letting someone else wipe your butt. Life is tough there but, big man learned by watching his neighbor John, it’s not nearly as tough as death. The big man made lite, of John’s situation. After all, nobody likes to hear, smell, talk about or see real death. The big man had been around death, quite a bit, through the years. Many friends and relatives had “passed” while he was close. Some even as he held their hand and touched their cheek. They let out their last breath, and the final rise and fall of their blanket signaled, the end. Sometimes a tear escaped from the edge of their eyelid. The big man had always wondered if that tear, was a last message to loved ones. No, he thought, he would never know, until he released his last tear. Was it a last gesture of love? Perhaps, most likely not, but it makes for a comforting thought.

Nearly one day before John died, the big man asked him, if he could shake his hand. John looked confused. I want to shake your hand because, you are the bravest person I have ever met. The big man offered. “Why is that?” John asked with a weird quirky grin. He wasn’t understanding that reasoning and perhaps thought, the big man was making fun of his situation. “No.” Big man, assured him that was not the case. He earnestly was in awe of John’s ability to hold his emotions and from becoming too excited and grizzly. He knew that death was within an arms-length of grabbing and pulling him into the dark abyss. John gave the big man another strange grin, as they shook hands. For some odd reason, Big Man felt compelled to tell him he was “a hell of a man. and when his last moment on earth arrives, remember that many people love him, including myself.” Why did he say that? Big Man had no idea. Maybe it was just for comforting John or even himself. This much he did know, death is not a pleasant experience, for anyone. The next morning Big Man watched him fight for his last moments of life, on this earth. It was breakfast time the big man had already eaten in the cafeteria. John did not feel good and asked for breakfast on a tray. He was handed a spoon by a tech. “Eat John”, she said. He could not. “Well,” she said, “I’m not going to feed you”, and walked out. He looked at the big man and to him John looked like a lost child.

He had been given a phone number by John’s brother-in-law and sister, a few days earlier. The big man called, and they came quickly. He could tell however by the body signs, that John passed maybe four minutes, before they got there. Other relatives were coming, they needed to clean him up. The big man was a captive to these proceedings and turned to the large bay window beside the bed. It was early spring. Tulips and Iris flowers were showing signs of life. Grass was coming to life, beginning its spring growth and getting a small amount of color. Two adult, box turtles, could be seen out in the courtyard garden with three tiny turtles, that followed them. It was part of the “entertainment Package.” John had said jokingly, and he was sure they had paid for it, in one way or another. They had watched the Turtle family together and both had gotten a chuckle. It seemed the male was chasing the other. The Big

Man commented, “I guess she is the boss, since he follows her around. John had laughed, “He is trying to get laid.” A rowdy spell of laughter had cracked them both up. That was the last moment of laughter they would enjoy together. Resting, his head on his hands, with elbows on the marble window ledge. The big man softly whispered “John, I hope you are seeing this, he caught her.” The big man was moved to tears and cried silently behind his privacy curtain. More relatives came into the room. The big man waited behind the privacy curtain most of the day. Finally, late in the day the funeral home came to pick up his body. Several times the turtles came by the window. He watched them intently and thought of life. How it is a continuous repetitive cycle of birth and death. Every living thing dies. He contemplated his own life. It really was on the low end of enjoyable, at that moment. Maybe, he reasoned, he himself was the cause of all the problems in his life, and not the fault of others. Sure, situations should have been better, in his life. Big man’s thoughts were that we can enjoy our lives, by concentrating on the smaller happenings that might come our way, because life seems to give us plenty of daily misery. So, he chose to keep his personal demons locked in their own corner and enjoy of all the small daily pleasures. They will add up to life’s special memories. Like remembering a quick friendship, a large bay window and two turtles in a springtime courtyard. Enjoy your life, while it is good, because that “someday,” may never come. Even if it does, it won’t be the perfection you envisioned.

A short story

Two Turtles and a Dead Man


Randy Cobleigh

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