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Bill and Bella

September 11, 2011

Yesterday evening, the girls and I were out walking Bella. A beautiful day it was, warm but not too hot. Not so humid as we’ve seen either, and a pleasant little breeze in the air. The change is coming and before long, we’ll find ourselves knee-deep again in the white stuff… and the beat goes on.

Well, as the story goes, my wife and daughter found themselves chatting with friends. After a short time, I calculated that I had satisfied any obligation for small-talk and started the trek home alone with Bella. On and about halfway, I noticed a young lady and an older man at the light, not standing but not going anywhere either. Fidgeting would be the right word, I think.

As I approached, I could see that she was dressed in one of those pastel coloured uniforms worn by health-care workers. The fellow with her was not a large man, somewhat stooped over, mostly balding on top with longer wavy white hair on the sides and back. His pants were baggy and collected some around the ankles. He wore one of those large, button-up sweaters that have become a uniform of their own for older folk. I had one of those, myself, when my youth-serum wife and I married, and she promptly escorted it to the dust bin.

The girl (and as we drew closer, I could see that she was no more than 20-22 years of age) was a bit frantic, unsure of what to do with her situation. I quickly realized that she was trying to corral the man, whom she called Bill, a man perhaps as young as 70 and perhaps as old as 85. While not very sure on his feet, Bill was intent on not being contained. He spun around repeatedly, determined to break free and proceed straight into traffic. Half swinging at her as he was, she was lucky he didn’t have a cane.

Bill and the girl were conducting this dance on the busy corner immediately adjacent to a seniors’ home, perhaps some 300 metres from the front door. I had seen enough by the time we reached the scene to understand what was going on. Somehow, Bill had made his escape and this young worker was doing her best to bring him back to safety. She was trying to call for help on a walkie-talkie, and at the same time to prevent Bill from marching into an intersection where the prevailing speed of vehicles is 70+ kph. Young and inexperienced, on her own, and not strong enough to physically restrain the man for his own good, she was understandably stressed.

I smiled at her calmly as Bella and I took one large step past, then another sweeping step around Bill, blocking his path into the street. In fact, I was now standing in the street, a full step off the curb. “Whoa, Bill. No hurry there,” I said. Traffic slowed somewhat, as people realized what was happening on the sideline.

I never did catch the girl’s name on her tag (or if I did, lost it along the way), but I did catch the expression on her face as she saw Bella and me assuming our position between Bill and certain disaster. She openly exhaled a sigh of partial relief, with new hope for a happy ending.

Bill was not pleased with my arrival. He wanted to go straight through me. That wasn’t going to happen. He tried to deke me out (for you non-Canadians, here’s the translation) but I kept my eyes on his sternum and arms outstretched on either side, with my ferocious Bella’s leash to the right. There’s no way he was going to get by her (she’s a Cavalier, lol). Standing as large and wide as I could so as to offer Bill a bit of a wall, I inched forward, stepping up on to the curb and slowly eased us all back to safer ground.

Our ensuing conversation with Bill reminded me, upon reflection last night, of others I’ve had recently. On that, you’ll have to wait for the punch line.

When asked where he was going, Bill answered, “I want to go home,” with some emphasis on the final word.

Bill was going home and nobody was going to stop him. “Yes, Bill,” answered the girl. “Don’t you want to see your wife?”

“Okay,” says he. Another head-fake was released, followed by a quick step toward the curb.

“Hey, Bill. Not so fast.”

“Get out of my way. I’m going home.”

Bump, bump, shift and bump again. Failure to launch.

“Bill, your wife’s back in the building.”

“Yes, I know, and that’s where I’m going, that way,” pointing across the intersection.

Note that we live close to the edge of the city, and aside from the old folks home, there are no other buildings on that corner, and none in the direction of Bill’s gesture. It was my conclusion at the time that Bill was not running TO anything in particular, but rather, running FROM something. Now, I’m not so sure. This could be no more than a highly motivated but directionless electron, bouncing around in space. Maybe he was just running.

Bill was increasingly unhappy with my presence and had no hesitation in saying so.

“What ARE you doing here?”

“Just walking the dog, Bill.”

“Well, why don’t you WALK THE DOG, then?”

Got to give him credit for that one. He’s both there and not there at the same time. This must be an infuriating state in which to find oneself. Looking over Bill’s shoulder to the retirement home, I make note of the sub-sign, “and Alzheimer’s Clinic.”

The girl finally makes connection by walkie-talkie, and help is promised to be on the way. “Better bring a chair.” Perhaps ten minutes had passed since Bella and I arrived, but I don’t know how long this episode had taken from the start.

While we waited for rescue, another young woman, stopped at the light, put her four-way flashers on and came out to attend. She also wore one of those nursing costumes, so I figured she was just leaving her shift. She kept us company while we waited.

Another few minutes and, in the distance, a human form emerged from the building, pushing a wheelchair in front. She didn’t seem in any particular hurry, and I guess, as things stood, there was no hurry. Bill was going nowhere fast.

As she approached, I could see that the woman was about forty. She walked with confidence. As Bill continued to scan the horizon for a path of escape, she whispered, “What’s his name?”

“Hey, Bill! Great to see you again. How are you, Bill. Bill, it’s me. Time to go home, Bill.” Something tells me it’s part of training to frequently use first names with people in situations like this one.

She had a name tag, too, and I did make note of this one. For some reason, though, it escapes me now. Better remember how to find that clinic. They say the memory goes first… or is it the knees? Not sure. Can’t remember.

It was readily apparent that this woman had been presented with such opportunities as this before. She had her game face on for Bill. Her first move was what I call the ‘blue pyjamas? or pink pyjamas?’ strategy. Anyone with small children knows this one. Anyway you look at it, you’re going to bed.

“Hey, Bill. We’re going to take a walk back up there to the building. Do you want to walk or take a ride in the chair?” Classic blue pyjamas/pink pyjamas routine. Well done.

Bill was gently escorted by the ladies into the chair. Bella and I stood guard just in case he had other ideas. He did. Made a leap for it, but the more experienced nurse saw him coming. By the way she hooked his elbow, and spun him around, I was sure she had a background in square dancing.

“Okay, Bill. So, you want to walk?”

“Yes, walk,” says Bill. Some hesitation on his part, and a look around. Experienced nurse on the left of him, arm in arm. Bella and I on the right, not touching, but close, perhaps a quarter step back, my left elbow behind him, blocking any quick movements to this side. The girl was bringing up the rear, leaving only one direction (we thought) for Bill to travel.

We didn’t anticipate his next move, though. Bill dropped down, crouching and darting as if preparing to duck under our arms. Problem was that he wasn’t strong enough to generate any lift, and needed help just to come again to his feet.

“Why are you holding my arm,” says Bill demandingly.

“Well, Bill… I’ve got a bad knee, and I sometimes need help to walk,” says the nurse.

I guess the knees do go first. We walk on.

“You don’t mind helping me, do you, Bill? I could really use the help, Bill.”

“Yes, I suppose.” Chivalrous Bill can’t refuse a damsel in distress.

“Bill, what did you do today?”

“I don’t know.”

“Did you read the newspaper today, Bill?”

“Yes, I did. I read the paper.”

“What did you read about in the paper today, Bill?”

After some labouring hesitation, Bill answered, “I don’t know.” He was frustrated and upset by this failure to remember. We needed a new line of conversation.

We made some slow but steady progress after that, up the sidewalk along the street, and approaching the walkway to the building. From there I make it another 100 metres to the front door.

Arriving at the turn in the sidewalks, I prepared to make an about-face and resume my walk home when the older nurse looked over Bill’s shoulder at me with a pleading look to stay.

“Isn’t that a nice dog, Bill?” she asked.

“Yes,” and he slowly bent over to pat her on the head. “Beautiful dog.”

“Yes, Bill. She is beautiful, isn’t she? Do you know what kind of dog she is, Bill?”

“Yes, I do,” answers Bill.

“What kind?” she asks.


“What kind is she?”

“What kind of what?” says he, having already forgotten the line of conversation.

“What kind of dog is she?”

“Dog? Oh, she’s a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, of course.”

She looks over at me questioningly, and I nod, smiling. Bill knows his dogs, I guess. Or maybe he had a Cavalier at some point in his long life.

“What’s her name?” he asks of me.


He bends over again to stroke her on the head. Bella wants to jump up for a lick, but I’m afraid her 15 pound frame will knock Bill over so I hold her back. She’s happy to have the attention, just the same.

“Well, Bill. It’s sure a good thing Bella came along, eh?”

“Yes. Bella… a beautiful dog.”

Next thing Bill knows, he’s inside the door of the building. He turns around, looking at Bella, then up at me. He’s arrived safely, though I’m not sure he knows where or how. Bella and I are waved off with a couple of smiles from the ladies, and we turn around to head back out to the street. What I didn’t realize is that my wife and daughter had fully caught up with us by then, and were standing not ten metres from us, watching the happy ending to this small story.

This whole exchange lasted perhaps 20-25 minutes. No big deal, but it got me thinking. Only half joking, I tell my wife and friends to pull the plug if they ever find me in such a state. As part of the sandwich generation, my five siblings and I are not all on the same page as we consider which state our mother is in on certain issues. Safe to say that none of my sibs will be granting me power of attorney over them anytime soon.

I’m rather fond of the expression, “when you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll surely get there.” From one minute to the next, and through no fault of his own, Bill didn’t know where he was, where he’d been, or where he was going.

Do you?

If not, what’s your excuse?

Best regards,

Kevin Graham

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