I Didn’t Realize

I saw them walking toward the movie theater at a very slow pace.

An elderly woman  with a walker and a middle aged daughter going to the movies on a summer Sunday afternoon.  I remember those days.

The elderly woman clearly was struggling with her walker and with breathing.  The daughter went to buy the movie tickets as her mother sat down unassisted next to me on the bench.

It was not easy for her to sit down either.

After a few moments, I asked her what movie she was going to see.

“My daughter is my guide.  She says the Woody Allen one is good.  So, that’s what we are seeing.”  She did not appear enthusiastic or interested in it.  She looked up and down the walkway and then from politeness not curiosity said,  “How about you?”

It’s called “Man on Wire” about the Frenchman, Phillipe Petit, who walked between the World Trade Towers back in the early seventies.

“Oh,” she said and the conversation ended.

Her daughter came back out with the tickets and her mother struggled to get up and on her feet.  Slowly, very slowly, with the screech sounds of the walker mixing with the horns of street traffic, she went through the door of the theater that her daughter held open.

When I left,  after the movie, the mother and her daughter were both sitting on the bench but at either ends of it, like strangers.

The mother was holding on to her walker and saying in a worried, defeated voice, “I just didn’t realize how little I can do…” and her voice trailed off.

Her daughter, legs tightly together, was sitting silently on the edge of the bench, listening but wordless.

Her head turned and looked past her mother to the doors of the theater, now fully open, and spilling out people talking and gesturing about the movie they’d just seen.

©Pat Coakley 2008


12 comments on “I Didn’t Realize”

  1. What a heart breaking story, how very very sad, the bigger picture overwhelms me – Beautifully retold with an important lesson for us all. Incredible Pat!

  2. With your observational gentility you’ve pointed out such a very touching and heart rendering state of being.
    I could squirm at the daughters’ discomfort with her mothers’ plight and feel so saddened for the elder womans’ acknowledgment of her frailty.

    And maybe Sanity, above is alluding to living every day.

  3. Sometimes when I see an old abandoned car in a country field I wonder about the circumstances of the last time it was driven and how there would’ve been a last time whern it was never driven again.

    One day I was walking along a main street when I noticed a very old a frail man having trouble standing, let alone walking. I went up to him and offered some help. He gratefully latched onto my arm but he could only mange about two steps before almost collapsing. By the time we had “walked” past one store I knew he was literally on his last legs. He only had to go about two or three more doors down to the bank but I knew he wouldn’t be able to make it. So I just picked him up like a groom does a wife and I carried him about 50 yards into the bank and took him to the counter. When I put him down I said goodbye and went on my way. I’ve got no idea how he made it home.

    I suspect that was the last time that poor old guy went out walking on his own in the street to do a few errands.

  4. Sad. And devastatingly familiar.

    Your growing photo series has something very compelling, telling of the human condition just by concentrating on the feet. I think you’re on to something here.

  5. Sanity, girl, Yes, these lessons are all around us, aren’t they? Thanks for pointing out that aspect.

    BL, You always wisely point out the necessity to acknowledge the sadness, feel the discomfort and yes, squirminess and to move to an even fuller life because of it. Painter and teacher, a potent combination.

    Razz, your story? This image of you picking him as a groom does to his wife…? If I’m St. Peter at the pearly gates? Whatever bad things you’ve ever done in your life, AND I do mean EVER, were just wiped off the chart with this one simple gesture of strength and almost unbearabe touch of sweetness.

    Tipota, I know your response is to my story and to Razz’s.

    Nava, thank you. Seriously. I hadn’t thought of this as a series…but, you are on to something yourself! I have been taking random photos of people walking on the street for the past six months without really knowing why. Maybe, now I do.

    Seriously, people. What a gift all of you are.

  6. Sometimes it takes an external eye to point the obvious ;-)

    I’m curious to see where you’ll go with this. Maybe I should start a series of people with Plantar Fasciitis, which is now very close to my heart, umm, foot…

  7. I see these things often. People impatient, selfish. Who cares about a movie when you have a mother there, broken hearted? How could an $10 ticket be so important.

    A wonderful, yet heartbreaking story… told with kindness and empathy. Thank you for sharing it.

  8. I used to love going to the movies with my mother. We saw some great ones over the years.
    The last one we went to together was “Iris” with Judi Dench; about the writer Iris Murdoch and her slow slip into dimentia or alzheimers.
    After the movie was over we walked back to the car. My mother forgot a letter at the movie theater, so I went back to retrieve it. I think I made some joke about her being like Iris.

    My mother was diagnosed with dimentia 6 months later.

  9. Nava, just the sound of plantar fascilitis makes me wince and at the same time wonder what an unbelievable word! PR, are you listening?

    Amber, These moments turn so quickly. My mother used to say she vehemently wanted to go someplace and when we got there, it usually was a disappointment. These things are so multi-layered, with yes, selfishness as one of them, but sandwiched in-between heartbreak. Enough for all to go around, even bystanders!

    PR: Oh, I’m so sorry to hear this about your mother. So many of us know that road. I hope your Mom retreated into her memories of all those afternoons or evenings when she went to the movies with her wordable (do you like that word??) son. Sometimes, the past is not a bad place to dwell. It can be harder for those still straddling the present. Thanks.

  10. Isn’t it interesting how we can all identify with this post? My father no longer walks, but he thinks he can and gets frustrated when we won’t help him out of bed. He thinks he can drive from the UK to New Zealand. He thinks he can do a lot of things but his body is no longer capable. We used to try to explain why he can’t do everything he thinks he should be able to, but that upset him more than not being able to walk. Now we just say “maybe later, Dad” and change the subject to distract him. It’s heartbreaking sometimes, but at others he is so lucid and witty and intelligent that we forget his handicap. We’re all so proud of the way he copes. That girl on the end of the bench will probably never realise what she’s missing out on by ignoring her mother like that.

  11. unforgettable stories, thankyou

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