Terry Dobson gave him an aikido book, is the way Dennis told it. "If you want to understand," Terry told him, "read this." The book was The Velveteen Rabbit
And it was near the end of his life when Dennis, on the mat and teetering — well mussed in body, mind, and spirit — on his knees sometimes, reaching up for help so he could stand again — "loose in the joints and very shabby" — it was in those moments Dennis seemed most real.
Of course, in the book, the bunny gets burned with the bedding in the back yard. But never mind that. I guess.
I don't know how, but you snuck up behind me. Both arms around, you squeeze. I wait. We stand like that for a while. I say, "You give the best hugs."
You say, "Yes I do."
I try to turn around to hold you, to hug you back. But you squeeze harder. Then you let go.
When I do turn around, you're not there. Not near enough, anyway, to touch.
There are things he wants to show me.
Bear skin lap blanket for a horse buggy. A coffee can full of fishing lures. The revolver he kept in the truck glove box. A century old pitchfork. Ammunition. Binoculars. Two hunting knives.
A box full of blue and white porcelain cups. A steel pot helmet. A bayonet stuck in its sheath by the damage done from a rifle round.
My dad is 96.
He doesn't like that he has to use both hands to pour milk from a gallon jug. He doesn't like that his balance is going. He doesn't like not understanding what people say.
He says he can't imagine not being any more.
He says it is nice to just sit, to just be together.
"I think it's charming."
"You think it's charming," I say, "that I'm a doofus?"
"You forget things," you say. "You're not a doofus."
What I can hear of your voice is breaking up, and there's a lot of background noise on your side.
"Aggravating," I say.
"I don't mind."
I turned off the TV when you called, but I keep looking at the black screen, soft images reflecting from the room around me.
"I wish I was there with you."
"I know," you say, "but even if you were, what could you do?"
"Annoy you greatly."
"We just have to wait."
Two lamps and a hall light. Dark outside. Been dark for a while already.
"I can't do it any more."
"Physically?" I said.
"On the mat," Dennis said. "My body just can't do it any more."
He'd had a little coffee, but not much else. I'd cleaned my plate while he mostly sat and said nothing. "So do the emeritus thing," I said. "Sit on the side. Tell people what they need to hear."
He didn't look at me. "I don't know how to do that."
"Practice," I said. "Show up and sit a little. Show up again, sit again. Eventually, you'll get it."
His eggs were cold, pretty much untouched. He'd nibbled at his wheat toast like he sensed he was hungry. Like he knew he should probably eat.
But he said he was done.
You say you're an awful person. I ask if you want to go to bed.
You say you have night sweats. I say it was a selfish thing of me to do.
You grab a hand full of my flank and laugh into my shoulder.
You say I have man boobs. I object.
You bury yourself in the bedding, pull the blanket half over your head, and mew.
Three days later, and my right temple is still sore. If I bite down hard or open wide. Or if I press my hand to my head thoughtfully.
It was not what I'd call an accident. His body was whipping a bit because of the throw, and my head was in the way — I kicked myself in the head with his foot.
After he hit the mat, after I'd done a pin and he'd stood up again, I asked if he was okay. He looked puzzled. I asked about his foot. He didn't know what to say.
"You kicked me in the head."
He said, "I did?"
You're there but not moving. The room
is dark, but I can see our bags.
We're in too high a place for street
sounds. Cold is coming through the glass,
the curtains. You're not moving.
Are we both young again?
Me yelling through the shower curtain,
you naked, trembling under hot water?
Or maybe I hear teeth grinding,
and stop sleeping so I can move
near you, and feel you breathe, and rub
your back, or touch the tips of hair,
what little of you I see.
Paul Schweer is a student at Shindai Aikikai in Orlando, Florida. More about Paul can be found here.