He’s pretty much lying on his back on this unique contraption, part wheelchair, part gurney. He’s in the sun, because when it’s not too hot, it’s good to get out of the building, out of the darkness, out of the smells. A lot of people are out. Some are by themselves, smoking, some are just sitting. They all acknowledge visitors, maybe with a smile or a sideways glance, but they all notice. Even the guy on his back, strapped in so he won’t fall off, follows me with his eyes.
He’s wearing a Cowboys jersey. I offer a quick hello as I walk by. He returns the greeting.
Are you a Cowboys fan? I ask.
I can’t tell if he can move his head or his arms, but he pushes the joystick with his fingers and his chair moves to face me.
They looked pretty good at the end of the season, I say. They have a good quarterback.
I want to talk specifics, but I can’t remember the quarterback’s name.
Yeah, he says. Dak Prescott. He’s going to be good.
And the running back? What’s his name?
Elliott, he says.
Then he says the defense has to get better.
I say something about how the Cowboys are fun to watch, but my knowledge of the team is limited. Like all conversations with strangers, this one has run its course.
I’d better get inside, I say, not really wanting to. I turn to go and remember to ask.
What’s your name?
Hey, Del. I’m Joe. I’ll see you around.
After my visit inside, I leave, but Del’s no longer outside.
I see him again a few weeks later, in the same chair, the nurses taking him in for rehab. I wanted to say hello but before I reached him, they had pushed him on down the hall.
I go on and make my visit. The usual ten minutes.
Then I leave this world of offensive odors, vacant looks, cries of loneliness, incoherent conversations, and people who depend on others to help them eat pureed food or drink juice through a straw, and guys like Del who have no other options.
I walk to my car and drive away. A few minutes later, I stop for coffee, maybe drive around a bit because it’s such a nice day. It’s Sunday, and I have no other obligations. For me, it’s a day of rest.
I think about privilege, and how that term is used today. It’s become a pejorative. I have able-body privilege. I have sound mind privilege. I have the privilege of good health and mobility and the privilege of being able to make my own decisions and act on those decisions.
I have all of that. Del doesn’t. And there’s nothing I can do about it.