Teddy* is ‘just another homeless bum’ we picked up more often than occasionally, but not enough to be classified as frequently. Just another drunk that lived in a camp behind the empty shell of a former K-Mart.
Nobody asked him about his past. He was seldom half-sober, and even more rare was a time when he was clean. There was a rumor that he came from money.
A rich aunt, or sister, or somebody in some place far away.
Teddy got taken into the hospital not too long ago, for being either drunk in public or in public drunk. It was always the same routine: someone would see Teddy stumbling along the main drag, usually near the Taco Bell that is nearby his camp, and the concerned citizen would call 911 and then go about their merry way.
For some unknown reason, this time the ER doctor actually did a work up on good ol’ Ted. Sure, he was drunk, but the tangerine-sized tumor was probably the cause of his stumbling gait and garbled speech. Sure, the point-two-six ETOH probably had something to do with it also.
The H&P only mentioned the recent discovery of his glioblastoma. There was no mention of his social history, except for a short description: “Pt. Homeless. Poor historian.”
Teddy just never talked much.
The relative was somehow contacted, and Teddy was going home. His sister, in a small suburb of a larger city up north. I don’t know if it was home or not, but it was somewhere to die. Hospice had been arranged, and now it was up to us to deliver him there.
600 miles away.
Slimm and I volunteered for the out-of-town trip without knowing who it was, or where we would be going. We enjoy taking trips, and we could both use the overtime. We are both still reeling from Christmas with a combined six children who want one of everything.
Teddy was clean and sober. His face looked defeated. He knew it was over for him, and as if he hadn’t been humiliated enough by taking rides in our ambulances over the years, covered in vomit and urine, we were now transporting him to his deathbed.
His expression gave away recognition of ours, but he didn’t say anything to us. He refused to allow us to move him to our cot, and insisted on standing under his own power and then sit down.
“I ain’t no gimp.” he gruffly mumbled.
Fifteen minutes later, we were on our way, Slimm accelerating the ambulance down the interstate on-ramp. The first set of necessary vitals had been obtained, and dutifully logged into the computer. Our patient was sufficiently comfortable on the narrow cot, and the temperature in the ambulance was acceptable.
“Teddy, I’m going to have a seat behind you if that’s alright with you. Let me know if you need anything, okay?”
His reply was unintelligible.
Several minutes later, his voice was more clear: “Whatcha reading back there?” he asked.
“John Grisham. The Broker.”
“I always enjoyed Grisham. A little dramatic at times, but he writes a good page-turner.”
I didn’t know Teddy could read, much less that he cared to read.
“I was a lawyer once.” he said.
My interest piqued, I moved to the bench seat. “Oh, yeah?” I asked.
“Yeah, once. A long time ago.”
His story went on for about sixty miles. He was married, and said he made a middle-class income working as a lawyer in his town. No exciting work, just the usual stuff. Divorces, real estate, wills, the occasional drunk driver defense. He always had a drinking problem. “Started in high school, after daddy gave me a drink” he said.
His wife left him for reasons he didn’t disclose, and I didn’t pry. She took the kids and moved away. Lonely, he turned to the bottle and quickly spiraled down. He lost everything. Not that there was much of anything left to lose after his wife and children. His dad succumbed to liver cancer, his mom wasted away in a “shitty nursing home.” He lost business, and eventually his home was foreclosed on, and he was forced to live in his car, which was also eventually repossessed. Somehow he wound up in our city, and he wasn’t really sure how.
That was more than 15 years ago.
And now he was going back home, sober and dying, with his tail between his legs, and his head down in shame.
“At least I get to die with what is left of my family.” he said, more than once.
He didn’t know if his former wife or his children knew of his current whereabouts. He was convinced he was forgotten about.
He stared off out the back windows, watching cars pass on the other side of the interstate. Our conversation was over. I hadn’t talked much, but there was nothing much to say.
I went back to the captain’s chair, and my novel, seeing the words, but not reading much.
Half an hour later, he spoke up. “Hey, C?”
“Yes, sir?” I asked, moving back to the bench seat.
“I know it sounds strange, but, would you read to me? Read me some of your book?”
“Sure, I guess.” It was certainly one of the stranger requests I have ever heard. “You want me to start at the beginning, or what?”
“No, just read from wherever you are in the book. If you don’t mind.”
I didn’t mind.
I cleared my throat and took a sip of my water.
“Chapter Twelve. Marco escaped his claustrophobic room, or apartment as it was called, and went for a long walk at daybreak. The sidewalks were almost as damp as the frigid air. With a pocket map Luigi had given him, all in Italian of course, he made his way into the old city, and once past the ruins of the ancient walls at Porta San Donato, he headed west on Via Irnerio along the north edge of the university section of Bologna. The sidewalks were centuries old and covered with what appeared to be miles of arching porticoes…”
Slimm drove a little slower, and we finished the book in the ambulance, sitting in front of his sister’s driveway. Nobody was in a hurry to go inside.
I never checked up on Teddy. I know he died, but he was forgotten in my corner of the world.
There is always another Teddy.
*That’s not even close to his real name. Duh.