As I turned the key to the old house, I am reminded of my late grandmother’s cooking. Walking through the first floor, I see the piled-up dishes she was about to clean before her fatal heart attack. It was still dusty and musty, but it didn’t stop my plans for the place. Take down this wall and open the space, I thought. I would need an architect or an engineer to make sure.
I turned around and went towards the staircase. Though very old, it still maintained a sense of regency to it. The steps were still firm, solid wood through many years of walking up and down, up and down. As I reached the top, there was this disgusting smell. I tried not to choke as I reached the door to the room across from the stairs.
The door opened slowly and creakily. In the center of the room, between a lumpy bed and a white chest of drawers, was a man in a wheelchair. He was the source of the nasty odor, as he had feces and urine on and around him. I don’t know why he’s here, or why my grandmother didn’t mention him.
He smiled and said his name was Tristan. I called 911, not knowing whether he would live the next minute or not. His limbs were thin and his skin papery, but he was young and still had a good smile. While explaining to the dispatcher what I found, they agreed to send the paramedics. When I completed the call, I tried to talk to him. I asked him small questions, as he seemed too weak to handle the big ones, and he will need strength for the medics. He did say my grandmother was his as well, and she took care of him until a few days ago. He didn’t know that she was gone, and I wasn’t about to tell him in his condition.
The rescue team arrived. They brought a stretcher up the stairs. They thanked me for calling as he may not have much longer to live. They picked him up, bones and all, and laid him gently into the stretcher. He smiled and waved weakly, and I waved back as they took him away.
For weeks I was his unofficial caretaker. I still did not know who he really was. I had other things to contend with: some shadow relatives contested my grandmother’s will. With a lawyer and the directions in the will, that was squashed quickly. I settled most of her estate and hired cleaners to scrub down the stained floors. All the while I would pop in to Tristan’s room in the ICU and see if he was still with us. Though very ill he still managed to smile, wave, and talk to me, as if I was the only angel who knew he existed. He said the doctors were amazed that he was still alive. He did miss his room, though, with the large windows looking out to the back yard.
While going through my grandmother’s bank account, I saw a payment that was odd. I tried to investigate, but couldn’t trace where it was coming from. It came monthly, so I wondered if someone else was paying for Tristan’s care. They would need to be notified, of course. That led to grandmother’s roll-top desk, crammed with various papers. After piles of grocery receipts and files of paid bills, I found a folder that had Tristan’s name on it. I called the number on one of the papers, only to find out it was disconnected. I even went to the address, only to find a rundown, vacant house. The neighbors said the owner died a long time ago. I decided to do a name search online to find even a distant relative who would take him. His name was there, but no one connected to him. Back to the desk, I searched through more files. Up popped a folder of legal papers. Flipping through them I discovered that my grandmother was Tristan’s legal guardian. I took the documents to my lawyer and asked for advice. He said Tristan needed to go to an assisted living facility, and to not legally take on his care. I have inherited the house, but I did not inherit him.
Tristan’s brain was like that of a six-year-old boy. His spine was broken from abuse as a child. He never walked after that. His parents were well off, so even though he belonged to my grandmother they paid a small amount for his expenses. When they died the estate kept paying her.
Highly discouraged, I went to visit Tristan. He had a line up his nose for nutrition. He said his head hurts. The doctors noted that he had open sores and they were infected. He said he had something called sepsis. He didn’t feel good; in fact, he felt icky. I held his hand, carefully minding the IV line. I told him he was brave, and had lots of good things ahead of him. He smiled and said he would sleep happy now.
Tristan died that night. I found out on my next visit. I don’t know what they did with his body. That was out of my hands.
I renovated his room into a home office. I look out of the large windows and watch the gardens enclosing the backyard. I still hear his wheelchair at times. I miss his voice and smile. Even through all the suffering, he found happiness in the little things. This is still his room. I just occupy it for him.
©2017 Valerie Hathaway