The Woods
George S Geisinger

The old man shuffled slowly down the public sidewalk near the rest home, ambulating quietly but deliberately past the little cops of trees by the side of the road, with some considerably focused amount of effort on his part, with his very necessary rollator helping him to do the walking down the short distance he planned to walk, outside of the rest home, as he breathed heavily through an oxygen cannula to his nose. 
A rollator is a fancy walker, with four relatively larger wheels than an ordinary walker, with a sort of high seat in the middle, used for resting. A rollator is generally used for greater ambulation than any sort of ordinary walker, and you always have a seat with you, to sit on temporarily, to take a break from your walking, if you ever need to rest along the way. 
He kept the bottled oxygen cradled in the basket of the rollator.
A rollator could get you there faster than a two wheeled walker, if he could walk faster, and it looked like a far more sophisticated machine than a walker ever is, although the two gadgets cost about the same amount of money, and they function just about the same way, one as good as the other, although the one with four wheels happens to be a little more mobile than the more simple arrangement, the two wheeled walker. 
Neither one is anything like a wheelchair.
A wheelchair is another matter altogether.
There was even more of a complication to the man's ambulation than simply having to hang on to a rollator, to keep himself from falling down anymore. He had been a smoker for 50 years, beginning in earnest in his youth, when he was well under age, after toying with cigarettes frequently from a very early age in his childhood. The complications to his health stemmed from smoking all sorts of things from very early on in life.
He'd not only been known to smoke cigarettes, but he'd been known to smoke reefer, hashish, rush, and PCP soaked parsley flakes, as well as dippers, which were standard cigarettes dipped in PCP, in order to make cigarettes into an hallucinatory chemical. PCP is actually a very powerful horse tranquilizer, used commonly to execute horses, but it is also a powerful hallucinogen when administered to human beings. The man had always preferred the hallucinogenics, relying on them to keep him isolated from the harsh realities of his youth.
The poor guy had smoked all sorts of things, with the solitary exception of never having smoked crack cocaine, or should we say, he avoided free basing cocaine early on, when people had just begun to experiment with that venue of getting high. He was becoming accustomed to being the fall risk he had finally become, which had a major detrimental effect on his walking, with increasing significance, the older the man became. At this particular time in his life, the man was aging rapidly, as a result of his breathing disability. All the smokeables had taken their toll on his respiratory system.
He had done almost all of the hallucinogenic drugs one could imagine, until he was almost grown. But he never took heroin, and avoided cocaine almost completely. One of his foster home buddies told him that all you had to do to get hooked on heroin was taste it once, so the man would never taste it, out of a healthy aversion to the chemical.. The worst things he took were things like PCP, LSD, magic mushrooms, and mescaline, for the purpose of escaping the horrors inherent in the staunch realities of his childhood. 
The system had gotten him involved in the Program of Sobriety while he was still in his teens, and he had succeeded in getting himself started in a meaningful sobriety, as well as making the most of his higher education, by getting an advanced degree in Information Technology. He was a natural at computers, and made a lot of money in his lifetime, determined to make the success of himself that his parents had failed to accomplish.

All of the ongoing complications of needing to avoid having another fall, which necessitated some sort of regular, ongoing manual support when he walked, prior to his 60th birthday, he certainly could not go around play soldiers in the woods anymore, not that he particularly wanted to as an adult. 
But the woods still had a certain allure for him, anyway.
Gazing wistfully toward those old trees and the unkempt undergrowth around them there, the old man couldn't help but wonder what it was that he ever saw in such places as the woods. He couldn't help himself from wondering what the whole big idea of going into the woods to play, as a child, had actually been for him. Then he remembered that the woods were always the safe haven for the boy that he used to be, that he'd frequently resorted to going and hiding in the woods, at any given moment in his rocky, unstable childhood, as a refuge, from his intoxicated, irrational parents.
The old man could remember his addicted, violent parents, who were seemingly unending in their abuse of the old man, who was remembering his life as a small child. He remembered his abuses frequently, as if they were an albatross around his neck. He could only stifle his urges to throw temper tantrums the way he used to do, when he had finally ended up a ward of the state. The thing that had accomplished that whole ball of wax, was the arrest his parents when they got carted of to prison for drug trafficking, when the guy who was an old man by this time, had still been a little boy.
He remembered as if it were yesterday.
He was passed around to all the foster homes for the remaining years of his childhood, until he had finally succeeded in raising himself, because there was nobody else to do it. He had spent his time with Voc Rehab, getting a degree and a job in computer technology, when IT was a new science, first opening up. His occupation in life did a lot to help him develop his independent resources. The man conquered all of his own addictive habits while he was working and reading books, to further his informal education, until he finally kicked the last of his addictions. 
After 50 years of being addicted to nicotine, the man finally kicked the cigarettes.
There, surrounded by those trees and that undergrowth, in an entirely different day and time, the boy could be free to imagine all sorts of elaborate fantasies, and he could smoke cigarettes as a juvenile, if he might have had any cigarettes on him at the time, to smoke on those rare occasions he could find to comfort himself in his childhood, with a false sense of impunity from his domineering, manipulative parents, at any given moment of his turbulent, abused childhood. 
The smoking was a matter of rebellion against his elders in his family, even as an adult, a good 50 years into adulthood. It took the death of all the elders in his family, for the man to finally triumph over his nicotine addiction in his own senior years. The time came, in the Rehab, where he'd gone to learn to walk again, after his very violent fall, when he finally realized he was cut down to about 5 cigarettes per day, when he was accustomed to smoking more like 50 cigarettes per day.
The damage was already done. He had already gone through whatever withdrawal he was going to go through. The only thing remaining for the man to do, was not go back to anymore smoke breaks while he remained at the Rehab. His nicotine addiction was already licked. It was only the old man's part to claim his victory and stop going to that outdoor place where there were a few die hard old men and old women, wasting their time and his, by sitting around in wheelchairs smoking cigarettes. It was no longer an attractive behavior in the mind of the man himself.
His chronic emphysema was cumulative, as it took over more and more of the old man's lungs, until he was finally forced to carry a heavy bottle of oxygen 24/7 everywhere he went, before the man was even 65 years old. His memories of childhood play, had grown dim in his many advancing years of living, as his brain got less and less oxygen from his debilitated lungs. 
His gait slowed down to a snails pace, as he coursed wistfully past his symbolic little cops of trees, outside his rest home, where he liked to take his symbolically defiant little walks in his old age. There was no way, by this late date in his life, that the old guy could lick anything or anybody, except for resisting his addictions, which just happens to be no small matter for many a human being, in this day and time.

The fancies of his youth have left the old man bereft of his imagination at the moment, as he realizes easily enough, the necessity of walking with a rollator, his perpetual precaution against being fall risk, medically speaking. A while back, the man had fallen violently and broken his right hip, precluding any further driving of an automobile, without spending an awful lot of money to get the controls of a car altered to be specifically adjusted for his most recent physical disability.
He wasn't too alert anymore, either. The old man had become an invalid, living in a rest home with the other forgotten people of life. Every once in awhile he could go for a walk outside on the sidewalk, to look on without passion or fancy, at those few old trees that were there, in that little bit of a woods, down the street a little bit from the rest home where he'd chosen to live out his old age. All of his walks always took him to the same place, which he practiced as a deliberate act.
It had been a major effort for him to quit smoking.
If it not become so difficult for him to supply his habit in Rehab, the man would have picked up a smoke a long time ago by now. But the way things went, he would have had to walk five miles each way, in a blizzard after dark, to replenish his supply of smokes for that final moment of weakness. It had been quite awhile since he'd smoked at all. It was just not feasible for him to go get cigarettes, in spite of the intensity of his craving.
He had a severe case of the jumping heebie jeebies for a cigarette, one desolate evening at the Rehab, where he was relearning how to walk again. Since he could hardly walk down the heated hallway to get to his suite, from the dining room where everyone ate their meals. He was learning how to walk again, after that horrible fall he'd gone through. The man finally decided it was a fool's errand for him to try to walk five miles in a blizzard to get a hold of a pack of cigarettes.
It was a profound revelation.
He'd been given a titanium ball joint surgically, in his right hip, which was really quite sturdy, but it rendered him a perpetual fall risk, medically. The idea was that his hip would work like any normal hip, within reason. The idea of losing his balance and falling down again, was clearly something for him to avoid altogether. The only thing he could do this late in the game, was to keep himself on his own two feet whenever he walked. The reason for all the precautions, was not that the titanium was brittle. Titanium is anything but brittle.
That was far from the point.
The one thing that made him a perpetual fall risk, was the idea that all the human things around the titanium ball joint inserted into his femur, could possibly break in such a way that no orthopedic surgeon, regardless of his skill in surgery, would ever be able to repair the damage caused by another fall, so that the man might never be able to walk again in his lifetime. Rehab drummed that message into the man's subconsciousness mind on a daily basis. Our man even had trouble saying the message to himself coherently.
It was a medical imperative that he avoid falling at all, ever again. It was his responsibility to maintain the functionality of his right leg.
The old man gazed into those little bit of woods, and remembered playing soldiers in the woods up home, when he was little. He would simulate the noises of the imaginary battle with his own voice, and go cavorting around in those woods, flopping down on the ground anytime he liked. He'd been young and carefree then, or was supposed to be, with the few things he found to entertain himself, in an atmosphere around a house with a couple of junkies for parents, trying in vain to raise him, while actively feeding their own addictions.
As a child, the boy had fended for himself with as much ingenuity as he could muster, like his parents did, who would manipulate everyone around them, to get everything they had, from their own cigarettes, to the food on their table. When the boy had become a man, by the sweat of his own brow, as the addicted son of a couple of heroin addicts, the boy learned early about the value of money – and the value of a good education and a good job.

Now, the old man turns his rollator around, and slowly makes his way back to the rest home. His walk is almost over. He never did hear from his parents again after they'd been arrested for drug trafficking. Social Services saw to that. He was shuffled through the system, and learned in the Program of Sobriety how to lick his addictions like the craving he had for the reefer and the alcohol, which were bad enough addictions in the first place. He learned how much of a key it had become for him to avoid the alcohol.
Then, finally, he conquered the cigarettes. 
He never had a wife or children, because he was too wary of others to trust anybody well enough to marry them. He got a job with computers when he was still a young adult. In those days all the professional programmers were using COBAL. Now that he was old, with enough of his own resources under his belt to be able to afford to live alone in a rest home for the remainder of his old age. He was slowly suffocating to death on emphysema. No one ever came to visit him in his old age. 
There had never really been anyone he let into his life all that much.


10/14/2012 6:49am

interesting character study, as well as a sad one.


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