Crossing The Bridge: From Infancy to Adulthood to The "Golden" Years
With what time he had in a semi-lucid state, George Armstrong Barrow, known once as Gabby, reminisced about days long gone. He lived in what was polite society termed a retirement home but to him it was nothing more than a nursing home. Call it what you will, it was only a brief stop along a lonely highway headed nowhere before one arrived at the grave. People came here, stayed for a day or a year, and then died. Few had any movement, being restricted to wheelchairs or beds for the most part; fewer still had any cognoscente abilities beyond a casual conversation which might be repeated in a minute, an hour, or a day. Ultimately he was left to his own devices, his memories, his sadness.
He allowed his mind to wander as far back as he could; back to the happiest day of his life. The day he became a father.
He held the seconds old baby in his arms, cradled softly and carefully against his chest. With an adoring look at both the child and his wife, tears rolled down his cheeks and words failed him.
He was a father.
Carefully moving closer to his wife who was lying in the hospital bed, he gently placed the swaddled infant upon her chest, assisting her in placing the child in the crook of her arm. Setting on the edge of her bed, he wrapped his arms around both her and his new son and held on for dear life.
Within a few weeks, a routine had settled in. They took turns feeding in the night, changing diapers, comforting the crying. Sleep deprived, they functioned as best they could, catching catnaps when and where they could. Their old lives were on possibly permanent hold as they adapted to their new lives: that of parents.
The months rolled by filled with excitement. Playing patty-cake, stacking blocks, reading bedtime stories to their son, nothing could halt the wonder and excitement as their child grew. From crawling to standing up, then a few steps assisted by a parent's hand led to steps unassisted along furniture. From there, it was a no holds barred jaunt to anywhere. With each day came more ability, more stability until he ran throughout the house, screaming with joy at the freedom his feet brought him. And his parents laughed until he fell and hurt himself in some small manner, then comforted him for the few seconds it took to recover and strain to be set down again, the whole world waiting for him.
As he grew, the child relied less and less on his parents assistance, preferring to be his own person. Not that he did not crave their love and affection; rather that he enjoyed his freedom to play and roam his room and house unencumbered. But should he falter for a split second he knew that all he need do is call for his mommy or daddy and they would be there. Confident in their love, he grew quickly and became a bright, strong little man.
School came and with it his first taste of isolation from his family. He did not enjoy this at all; at first. Then as he came to know a comfort level outside of his home he grew more confident until he looked forward to being with his new friends at school.
The tie was stretching further and further as he grew. Independence was on the horizon, although it would be years in the making.
His father could see the writing on the wall and although he understood it to be right and natural, he still resisted allowing himself to accept it as fact. But he knew that in the long run, it must occur. He offered his knowledge, advice, and assistance in order to allow his son to make the best choices possible. But with each decision his heart both broke and celebrated for he knew the day was coming when he would be needed less and less in his son's everyday life.
Finally, that day came. College beckoned, the beginning to both the end and the future. With tears in his eyes he watched as his son, now a young man, drove away towards a university in the next state. Dreams had taken him away; perhaps dreams could bring him back.
Then came the day when his son had collected his honors and degree and set forth on his own journey; a journey that still included his parents although to a lesser degree and a greater distance than they might have preferred. They were now someone to talk with, not live for. His own life beckoned him ever forward and he was unable to resist the siren's call.
The father was now left behind. He and his wife had things to do and occupy their time but it was his son he had lived for through the years. Now, he looked around and saw...loneliness encroaching on the latter years of his life. He had never really given much thought to life beyond being a father; it seemed too far away, too distant to contemplate. But now here he was, standing on a precipice, ready to jump off. What lay beyond he had no idea. It was an unknown and therefore to be feared.
Then one day he received a call from an unfamiliar number. It turned out to be a doctor who was contacting him regarding his father. He and his father had never really had a very good relationship; his father had always been distant and cool, borderline rough towards him growing up. His expectations and plans had never met with a positive reaction from his father and in the end, he had left and never looked back. He had no reason to look back or return to a painful past.
The past had caught up to him.
His father was nearing the end of his life and someone needed to help care for him. There was little money remaining from a lifetime's worth of work, and the government would be picking up most of the tab for his healthcare and where he would live. But there would be plenty of opportunity for him to visit and assist his father.
His father was much worse for wear than he remembered. The intervening years had not been kind to a man who worked every day of his life and never took vacations. If he wasn't working in the building environment, he was working at home. Around the house, in the garden, caring for his cattle: he never stopped between sunup and sundown. And now, entering the off ramp of his life, what did he have to show for it? A tired, broken down body and a mind that did all it could to remember what year it was, let alone what day. Against his better judgement, a little sorrow began to find its way inside the son. Was this what would happen to him? Would his son end up caring for him and his wife in the late stages of their life? Would he slowly lose contact with reality and exist in that nether world of what was? Fear began to grasp him once more; a fear of the unknown waiting for him at some unseen junction somewhere ahead.
Is this what Life is, he thought? We care for our children for years until they are ready to take on the world on their own, then turn around and find out parents are in need of our help? We give birth, clean dirty diapers, feed baby food to the toothless little darlings, dote on them continuously until they stand up and take control of their lives and leave us behind, then learn we are still needed to perform essentially the same functions for our elderly and ailing parents? With a start he realized what he was.
A bridge. A bridge to cover the gap between the next generation and the one which had preceded his. As his father was before him, and his son would be following him, we all are just a bridge spanning a gap. From infancy to the "Golden" years, everyone would cover the gap at some point in their lives.
Then came the day he both dreaded and looked for: his father had passed. No more tears were available to grieve; no more sadness. The pain and suffering was over.
With a start, the old man came to the present once more. He turned his head and saw that the sun was setting outside his window. The end of the day. How he hated Winter anymore; the days just did not last long enough. Long enough for what, he thought? All he did was sleep, eat, and use the bathroom. He hadn't had to shave in close to a week and he was tired of combing the few remaining strands of hair on his head. This was not Life; this was purgatory on earth. He was waiting to die.
He closed his eyes once more and returned to a much happier time. A time when his wife was still alive, a time when his son was still alive. His son had died too young, before marriage, before children. There would be no visitors for him anymore; hadn't been for years. For him, there would be no bridge to span yesterday to tomorrow; his bridge was unfinished. A bridge to nowhere. For him, there would be no Golden Years; only lost futures and a past which haunted him daily.