Ronny’s probably dead by now.
The first time I met him, I could see why his mom’s ad had asked for a male nurse, someone who could handle his size. He was sitting in his motorized wheelchair. In his tiny bedroom, he seemed enormous. Not fat, just really, really tall. I couldn’t tell from him sitting in the chair, but later, when I knew him better, I asked him. Six foot eight. I was a good six inches shorter, but I was physically capable of taking on the job.
I was there every weekday, twelve hours a day. I’d show up at 8, before his mom headed off to work, going straight to his room to check on him. He usually slept until noon, but he needed someone there for him just in case something went wrong.
When you can’t walk, can’t use your arms normally, can’t eat without help, can’t shit without help, well, there aren’t many reasons to get up in the morning. So I let him sleep. I didn’t mind. The guy had the biggest movie collection I’d ever seen. His personal screening room—a dingy office with a 26-inch flat screen TV set up on a desk—was a couple doors down the hall from his bedroom. After checking on him, I’d take out the PB&J sandwiches I always packed for breakfast and choose a DVD. Pretty mindless job, really. After my morning cinema, I’d check on Ronny again, usually finding him still out cold. If he hadn’t stirred by noon, I always woke him up.
I’d feed him his breakfast, then get him cleaned up. Clean around the catheter—that is to say, his penis. That was strange. I mean, I’d never touched another guy’s dick before. He wasn’t circumcised.
He was cool about everything, though. After all, he’d been having someone do this stuff for him for a few years by that point. He never acted embarrassed, never seemed to be really affected by it. It was normal to him.
It wasn’t really normal to me, though. After all, I’d never been a nurse before. Until I got the job, I didn’t know the first thing about taking care of someone like Ronny. I had never even seen a catheter. But I needed a job, and I didn’t want to work very hard. I figured taking care of a guy who was almost paralyzed wouldn’t be too demanding. I mean, besides the cleaning and the feeding, what else was there to do? And it paid a lot better than babysitting. So after I read his mom’s ad, I wrote up a résumé, gave myself a bunch of qualifications and experience, made myself sound really professional, and I prayed she wouldn’t check my references or ask for any sort of certification.
I researched how to insert and remove a catheter, checked out information on all his meds, what not to mix with what. Even taught myself CPR and how to give the Heimlich. By the time I went to work for them a week after my interview, I felt like an expert.
Of course, knowing and doing are two different things. The first time I had to remove his catheter, it was disgusting. After draining out the piss with a syringe, I took hold of Ronny’s penis and slowly, carefully coaxed out the tube. Poor Ronny might not have been able to control his body much anymore, but he could still feel, and when I pulled out his catheter, he screamed into his pillow, thrashing to his left and right, which only made my job more difficult and his pain that much greater. Also, the urine left inside shot all over the place. His face had turned bright red with pain by the time I had finally gotten the thing out. One thing you learn pretty quickly is how long catheters are.
After that little bonding experience, I decided to take him for a spin around the neighborhood. He didn’t want to go. If it was up to him, I think he would have just stayed in the TV room all day watching whatever new DVDs his mom had picked up for him at the video shop she managed. But I couldn’t imagine remaining indoors for so long.
“Come on,” I said. “Nice day out.”
“Wudja ’spec’, Dev’? S’Los Anj’les. Wuther’s always good.”
“All the same, we’re going for a walk,” I said, making sure his head was strapped firmly to his wheelchair neck support.
He and his mom lived in the shitty part of West Hollywood, east of Fairfax, just a couple blocks from that eyesore of a gay porn theatre on Santa Monica. We walked by it, though, because I guessed correctly that he’d get a kick out of the clever names of the porn flicks: Butt Pirates of the Caribbean, Sideways … and Upside Down, and his personal favorite, XXXMen 3: The Last Cram. Pretty juvenile stuff, but when you’re slowly dying, I say you can laugh at whatever you want.
A discussion on best porn titles led him to tell me about his own sexual history. I never figured out if he was making the shit up or not, but he said how before his body went totally south, he used to get laid a lot. He said the wheelchair only helped him.
“Lozza chicks wan’ know whuz like t’do’t with a guy inna chur,” he said.
I noticed how others on the sidewalk stared at this behemoth in a wheelchair, but Ronny didn’t seemed bothered by it.
Even after he lost the ability to walk on his own, he said, up until he was 20 he was “fully funkshnl, sex-wise.”
“You miss that?” I asked.
“’Snot t’bad yet.”
I wondered how bad it would have to get before it was ‘too bad’? He had gotten used to his condition, he said, but he told me how at first it was hard to take. He was 18 when his doctor told him that most likely the disease would kill him by 35. Ronny told me this with that same silly smile on his face, like it was no big deal being given a death sentence. The worst, he said, wasn’t the dying; what sucked was losing control of your body piece by piece. Every day, he lost a little more motor function. Every month there was one less thing he could do on his own. Tie your shoes—gone. Control your bladder—gone. Type on a computer—gone. Pretty soon he knew he’d be just a lump of meat, unable to digest food, unable to speak, his brain a prisoner of his useless body.
Ronny had come to accept his inevitable death and just wanted “tbe done withit a’ready”. I would say he had made his peace with God about it, but that wouldn’t be exactly right. “Omnit sher Gawd igzistss,” he’d say, his head straining to bust out from where it was held in place by the wheelchair’s neck supports. “Buddiff he does, man, Ommuna kill’um.”
Ronny’s mom—she told me to call her Patti—usually came home around six or seven, headed straight upstairs to where she kept the gin, and when she came down an hour or so later, she was always well lubricated.
Ronny and I were watching Saw 3 one night when she came and stood in the doorway. One arm over her head, she leaned against the frame, the other arm on her hip. She seemed to like the movie better from there. She waited for a particularly bloody scene before slurring, “I don’t know how you can watch this junk, Ronny. It’ll rot your brain to hell, you know!”
“Shup, mawm, ‘zbest prts cummup!”
She looked at me. “What did he say?”
“Shut up, Mom. The best part’s coming up,” I repeated.
She just laughed, and a moment later I heard her mounting the stairs, probably to get another drink in her. When the movie ended, I got my stuff together and headed out for the night. She came back down and walked me to the door.
“I don’t mind, really. He can watch movies ’til he starts shitting ticket stubs for all I care. I mean, he’s going to be dead soon anyway. And it’s not like he can do anything else. I tell you, what kind of life is that? What kind of fucking life is that, anyway?”
I didn’t have an answer. If she was looking for some speech about the beauty of all life or something, she wouldn’t get it from me. I shrugged, said good night, told her I’d see her in the morning.
The next night, the same scene repeated itself. She drunkenly spat out how awful it was to be Ronny. I told her he didn’t seem to mind so much.
“What are you talking about, David? He wants to die as much as I do!”
I smiled. “Wait, you mean you want to die, or you want him to?”
She laughed. “Either, really.”
Something in our relationship changed at that moment. Admitting to another person that you’re contemplating your own death, that you’re actually maybe wishing it… well, you don’t usually say such things to the supermarket checkout clerk.
“Wait a second,” she said, dashing back into the house, returning a moment later with a bottle of cheap red. No glasses. We sat down on the front steps, passing that bottle back and forth until it was empty.
I guess it was inevitable that we’d sleep together that night. I think she needed it. Her job was just something she did nine hours a day so she had health coverage for Ronny, and since her husband split when Ronny was ten, I figured she didn’t have a lot of men banging down her door. One look at Ronny, and they probably went running. So, I felt fine giving her what she needed. She wasn’t bad to look at, a little bloated by the alcohol, and a lot older than me, but I’d had worse.
I ended up spending a lot of nights with Patti. We kept the relationship hidden from Ronny. I thought it might weird him out, his mom fucking his nurse and all. No need to complicate matters. So, whenever we were in his company, we played it straight. On the nights I stayed over, I just hung around the house until he was asleep, and once he was out, well, like I said, he was dead to the world. And how hard could it be, after all, to hide our little affair from the guy who couldn’t leave his bed without help?
I’d been there about six months, fucking his mom for four, when one day I was in the middle of putting Ronny’s catheter back in. I was holding his penis, the foreskin peeled back, threading the lubricated tube into his urethra, when he asked through the pain, “’Zmuh mum any good ’t fuggn?” I’d gotten really good at understanding his speech, even though it had gotten progressively worse since I’d started caring for him. I knew well enough not to flinch at the statement, as I didn’t want to hurt him, and I didn’t want to give anything away.
“Y’hrrd me. I know y’all’re fuggn. ’Mnot deaf yet, y’know. Y’can stop blassin’ a TV inna mornin’ too.”
I stifled a laugh, keeping my eyes on the hole in the tip of his penis, waiting until I felt the tube hit the back of his sphincter. “Yeah, guess it’s been going on awhile now. You okay with it?”
“Don’ care ’bawt n’thin’. D’whatcha wan’.”
The catheter hit his sphincter, and I inflated the balloon. Then I attached the drainage bag. “She seems lonely, that’s all. Depressed.”
Ronny breathed deeply, trying to minimize the pain. I finished up with the catheter, making sure I’d done everything correctly. I’d done it so many times already, that I felt I could probably do it with my eyes closed by that point.
“Yuh. But y’know, yern’ th’firs’.”
The possibility had occurred to me. Often drunk. Clinically depressed. In need of a man to make her feel needed a few times a week. Made sense that she’d had similar relationships with other former employees.
“Duzza same thin’ withalla yuh.”
“Is that why the others left?” I asked, pulling Ronny’s sweatpants back up.
“Dunno. She duzn’ tell me shid.”
I washed up and made his lunch.
A few weeks later, I walked into Ronny’s room and found him shaking really bad. Fuck, I had no idea what to do.
I called 911, and they were quick to respond. They rushed him to the hospital. Turns out he’d gotten a bad kidney infection, which caused him to develop a high fever and the shakes. The doctors got everything under control, but Ronny had to stay a few days for observation. I felt like a fucking idiot.
A nurse at the hospital asked me for my name and had me complete a form, since Patti hadn’t arrived yet. I filled everything out, and she told me she just needed proof of my nursing certification. I told her I didn’t have it on me, and she scolded me for working with a patient without having the proper documentation present. She was cute, and I tried flirting with her a bit, asking her to let me slide. She smiled back at me and said it was fine, that I could fax over a copy. She gave me the fax number, and I contemplated forging the document. Couldn’t be that hard, but I didn’t want to risk getting into legal trouble. I realized my gig was done.
That night I told Patti she’d better find someone else, that I wasn’t a real nurse. She sat up in bed and arched an eyebrow. “Really?”
I thought about reaching for the night table and grabbing a cigarette. Instead I just got out of bed and picked my pants up off the floor. “No training at all. I just read a bunch of stuff on the internet. I actually thought it wouldn’t be that hard, you know?”
She laughed. It sounded more like a roar. I’d heard her laugh before, but this time was different. Her laugh was usually subdued, cautious. But this was one of those “tears rolling down your cheeks” laughs that could just as easily turn into crying. I picked up my shirt and pulled it over my chest, while she kept laughing.
“You’re not a nurse?” she managed to squeak out between convulsions.
“That’s right,” I said, eyeing the cigarettes again.
“You must be a fucking genius to have lasted this long!”
I smiled. “Nah. Guess I just know what people need.”
“Too bad,” she said. “You’re the best nurse Ronny’s ever had.”
The next day I visited Ronny at the hospital, and I told him I’d be leaving.
“T’bad,” he said. “Yer probla th’bes’ lay muh mawm zever had.”
I chuckled at that. “How would you know?”
“Y’lassd lah longr tha’ mos’.”
I walked out of his hospital room, and I haven’t seen either Ronny or his mom since. Patti’s probably got a new lover. But I hope it’s not another nurse.
Truth is, I just hope Ronny’s dead.
Read more about Stephen here.
Read more about Sam here.