We’re going to the eye doctor today, right?
Know why I’m going?
Because I have a shitty outlook on life and she thinks she can fix it!
Dad doesn’t slap his knee anymore, delivering the punchline with a crack, but waits patiently instead, lips pursed like the house cat caught before swallowing the pet canary, giving his audience a moment to “get it.” He is 86 today. The soft landing of his jokes these days is the result of massive experience developed over time.
This eye appointment was the second time I’ve accompanied my parents to visit Dr. Wang. I reminded her I had been to her office once before and wrote about the experience afterwards. They had pried Dad’s eyelid apart with a miniature speculum and pierced the milky egg-white of his sclera using a long shiny needle. I found myself trapped in an episode of Frankenstein meets Sandra Oh in Grey’s Anatomy. I told Dr. Wang the experience was irrefutable proof the sighting of a speculum means just one thing and it was not good. The doctor howled, nodding. She was powering Dad’s chair backwards when she suggested I turn away if I were prone to fainting.
“It’s happened before,” she warned.
“Oh…I bet!” I quipped.
No one wants to see that! I silently rebuked the doctor. The chair now all the way back, Dad melted into the hunter green leather, staring at the ceiling, resembling an astronaut preparing for takeoff. He had dressed for this occasion, sporting a starched button down paired with pleated trousers, even threading his long-forgotten, stiff black belt through the loops. He was wearing Bob’s shoes. Dr. Wang picked the needle up and I turned away.
What was it like to walk in a dead man’s shoes?
My eyes were constantly drawn to the black bluchers, a hint of shine still glossing them, their molds and wrinkles shaped by another man’s feet. I couldn’t help but think how weird they looked casing my own father’s, like a child riding in an adult saddle, trying to pass it off as their own.
Dad didn’t seem to mind. In fact, he was rather pleased to be wearing Bob’s shoes. Maybe I was bothered because Bob had not been dead yet one year. Or maybe it was because my own father was on the cusp of 86 and I cannot recall the last time he wore footwear other than his moccasins lined with sheepskin.
For years he has lamented, “Getting old isn’t for sissies!” This is in reference to the spreading decay of the human body, of his body, with each passing season. I have no doubt pain and suffering usher the entryway through the threshold towards geriatrics, but bearing witness to this evolution isn’t for sissies either.
Last week in class, another writer surmised my essay was “embedded in the throes of existential angst” to which I replied, “It’s like you’ve known me my whole life!” As I tail those before me closer to the precipice, this heavy contemplation of mine has gained momentum at an identical inverse rate to our shrinking velocity. I once considered my professed midlife crisis an interlude, but that would imply it has a beginning and an end. Now I have no choice but to admit this is a personality defect, my underlying predilection breaching the surface, like watering a weed underneath the parched soil, giving it roots to hold its ground and bloom with ferocity.
It’s going to take some getting used to, seeing Bob’s shoes on Dad’s feet, but I always picture Bob’s smiling face for a moment, his cheeks rosy like two cherries, and that makes me smile. I told someone the other day I was contemplating my third Act. I wonder what’s next, and what it might look like. I feel lucky in that regard. How often does a person get to live more than one life in a single lifetime, let alone three or four? A wise friend once told me, “To live a thousand lives, you must die a thousand deaths.” But maybe walking in another man’s shoes is the gift one man can give to another, the sharing of a life well lived, to another man still living well.