The drive to Cherry Hill Manor, a New England nursing home, was 20 minutes. Linda Densmore's husband was waiting for her in the lobby. She spotted Bob right away: receding hairline, dressed immaculately, at 53 one of the youngest people in the home.
She also spotted the indentations on his head from the surgery.They embraced, and at the nurse's station she picked up his phenobarbital for seizures and Lasix for the phlebitis that developed in his legs when he was in bed so long after the accident.
It occurred to her it was an anniversary of sorts, 15 years ago this month of October. She drove him to their Rhode Island home, as she does every other weekend. He asked if there were any ballgames on TV, and she made a joke about how he could be happy forever watching sports. Briefly, she thought back to a time long ago, when he was still whole, a business executive, and of the season tickets he had to the Patriots, and how that was where the accident happened.
At dinner, Linda did her best to make small talk, at one point mentioning the president. That confused Bob. He asked who the president was, then asked her to spell his name. Afterward, she took out some birthday cards sent him by their three children, all of them now grown.
"Read them to me," he said.
"Gee, Bob," she said, "you try, hon."
He stared and studied, but he couldn't get it, finally asking what the first letter was.
"H," his wife told him.
"Oh yeah, H."' Slowly, she'd work through it: a-p-p-y. Happy birthday. That made him smile, but of course, five minutes later, she would not be able to talk easily about the cards because he would not remember having looked at them, the accident having destroyed his short-term memory.
There was so much she wanted to tell him: her hopes for the kids, her thoughts about the world, the pain she felt every day over losing him as companion, soulmate, lover.
At least they'd had a life for a while, both growing up in the same neighborhood, him trying to get her attention by honking as he drove by, her looking down because she was a proper '50s girl. But he managed to meet her through friends and marry her, and after the Army, a master's in business and a few years in the Midwest, they moved back East when he had a chance for a job as national sales manager. And the house filled with three kids, and he'd happily read Louis L'Amour novels while they watched TV.
Sometimes he drove her crazy the way he'd finish the last cookie, then put the empty box back on the shelf, but each night she felt herself blessed to have so full a life.
She began to get nervous that October day in 1975 when he did not get back from a New England Patriots game on time. Then the phone rang, and it was his sister-in-law; Bob had gone to the game with his brother. There'd been an accident. A man from Connecticut. He'd been drinking. Coming out of the parking lot, he'd plowed into eight people, Bob among them, then hit a bus as he tried to escape, and now Linda was needed at the hospital to sign a release for the neurosurgeon.
Because of the swelling, they had to remove some of the brain stem. The coma lasted four months. The rehabilitation lasted more than a year. For two years after that, she tried to keep him at home, but it wasn't possible.
So now it's just every other weekend, and she found the tears coming as she drove him back to the Manor. She turned to him as they pulled up.
"This isn't how we planned things," she said, "is it, Bob?"
"No," he said, "but it's good for me and good for you."
As always, ever a gentleman, he insisted on carrying his own suitcase into the home, limping slightly. At the door, he turned to wave.
And she wished so much that those who drive drunk could be with her to see the pain they cause.
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service