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  • Jackie Marx

Chasing the Stranger

I wrote this in 2016, a few months after Bob Carpenter's passing.

For the first time in thirty-four years, I am responsible for ONLY ME. For. the. first. time. Not my kids, not Bob, not everyone else first before me. My children are grown and very capable of taking care of their own lives and have been for some time. Of course, I will be there for them if they need their mom, but they are not a daily responsibility. I have learned to let my friends/family solve their own problems without my intervention (for the most part). Somehow they survive. And now Bob is gone ( RIP September 2, 2016)...finally free of all Worldly pain.

His last words were, "So this is it", as they wheeled him into surgery at St. Joseph Hospital, in a valiant attempt to repair a neglected, decimated man. And that WAS it...

Bob was my friend, my manager, and at one time, briefly, my significant other. He believed in my music, my talent--ME-- and no one else had in a very long time.

Bob's life-changing accident happened on December 7, 1982.

The responsibility for my friend's well-being somehow fell on my shoulders (and consequently, my children's for a time). His family did not want to deal with the trauma in any meaningful way and did not step up. Bob and I had only known each other for a few months when things took this bad turn...but I stepped up; I didn't know what else to do. He needed help.

Bob was hit by a car as he was getting my daughter's dry-cleaning out of his trunk on the first icy day in a long Illinois winter. He made the headlines and got mentioned on the radio that day because he was the first victim of an accident due to bad weather.

The woman that started it all was going 30 mph on the curving, icy road--too fast for the weather conditions. Bob's leg was pinned at the knee between Mrs. Wade's front bumper and the back of his 1981 Chevy Nova (heavy chrome back bumper), causing an open total dislocation and decimating his leg.

It all happened so fast. In a blink, life changes faster than a melting snowflake on a warm cheek.

Enter: the first ambulance (first of many) in our relationship and his first experience with death and being brought back to life. Blood on the fresh snow greeted two of my children when they got home from school. Cindy, my oldest child (owner of the clean coat) saw it happen in real-time. She called 9-1-1 while I ran out to see what I could do.

Bob's car was parked in front of MY house. The accident happened in front of MY house. I watched it happen in front of MY house. Guilt, fear, the 'what-ifs' ( What if it had been Cindy at the trunk getting her own coat?, What if we had gone to eat and come home later as he suggested?), shock, depression, empathy, sympathy; you name it, I felt it. AND STILL DO. These things do NOT go away. They call it PTSD.

I am exhausted just being part of the saga, and can't imagine how Bob must have felt all those years as the disabled one, struck down in his early forties. He was brave to the end--crabby and hard to deal with at times--but that is/was totally understandable. As the main caregiver, however, no matter how I jigger it, it was taxing to the max for me.

When you live with a disabled person, your first thought every day is about that person's safety and well-being; at least that was my experience. When Bob left home eight years ago, (with the assistance of five paramedics, one stretcher, and an ambulance with sirens blaring) never to return, things actually got worse. I thought they would get better since his daily safety wasn't up to me anymore.

Silly girl.

Care in nursing facilities is not good if one is receiving charity from the state.

I had no idea until he died that he had fallen through the cracks, although I did have a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that something wasn't right. But, hey, professional medical people would not let bad things happen to their charges. Right? Wrong!

Oh, I don't mean that MOST of the caregivers and other employees that keep things moving along at the Vet Home weren't caring and kind and doing their jobs (they were), or that the volunteers didn't do their best to make the residents feel wanted...make Bob feel wanted and cared for. They were.

What I hadn't realized was that it was a VILLAGE overseeing his care. A VILLAGE with a strict mayor/father figure of the ugliest sort...the collective mayor/father in question (VA, ALTCCS, and Mercy Care) maintained or destroyed lives as 'he' tightened the purse strings at will or by edict, choking the life out of his charges: a narcissistic godlike collective 'he'. Bob was living in Heaven's holding cell (Room C237-Bed B) and didn't know it. Nor did I!

And I do lose sleep over that. I will always lose sleep over that.

And now Bob is gone, and I am forced to figure out how to live as I should have thirty-four years ago...taking ME into consideration first. (What a concept.) I must be gentle as I blend ME into the equation...into my life...while gingerly picking my way through the shattered bone shards scattered along my path as I chase this stranger.

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