These past few weeks have have been challenging on many fronts. Most particularly because the only man that I’ve known as a grandfather, the man who was most consistently rooted in my life, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease recently.
And though it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, it always is, isn’t it?
You overlook that turn down the wrong street to get home, or the repetition of a story that you’ve heard a hundred times before, brushing it off as simply old age. Nothing to worry about. However, when Grandma told me last week that Lionel informed the doctors that the year was 1999, the depth of reality finally sunk in.
I asked Grandma to put me on the phone with him. I needed to hear the Lionel I was used to. The jokey Lionel, the little kid Lionel, the man I always brush off when teasing me about something or other. “Oh Lionel, you’re crazy! Put Grandma on the phone!” Lionel was a noodge; the sort of guy you really didn’t like, but you kind of loved.
Grandma put him on the phone and I waited with baited breath for the husky, excitable voice to come over the line, but it never came. Instead I heard someone I didn’t recognize. Something broken. It was the voice of a man who deep down understands his fate but is unwilling to acknowledge it. Who would? Who wants to say to themselves, “I am forgetting my life”?
We exchanged a few pleasantries and he quickly handed the phone back to my Grandmother.
How did this happen? It was only four months ago that I saw him and he was fit as ever. Still going to the gym five days a week, still slapping Grandma’s ass, still sneaking into the freezer to down a gallon of ice cream.
“Grandma, is he still slapping your ass?” I asked her.
“No… I feel so bad.” She said. My Grandmother absolutely despised how Lionel teased her, but I could tell for the first time, she missed it.
We all miss it.
Lionel Fleischer was born in 1927 to a Jewish clothing retailer and his wife in Upstate New York. His father had a string of successful women’s department stores named Fleischer’s that was to be passed down to his only son. At 20 years of age, the spry and handsome Lionel managed a bevy of beautiful shopgirls at his father’s store, but was smitten by a young Gentile named Maryanne. The two quickly married and moved into a picture perfect house in an upper class neighborhood of Syracuse, NY, where they eventually welcomed three sons. However, the marriage didn’t come without it’s problems and Lionel sheepishly admits that he, “screwed around” on his wife. The couple divorced and Lionel spent the next couple of decades as a free agent, enjoying the success of his businesses, raising his sons, dating pretty ladies, and wearing quite possibly the ugliest hair piece that I’ve ever seen.
It was in the early 1980’s that Lionel’s life was to change. It was then that he met the beautiful Sandra and instantly fell in love. The two married and Lionel became a father figure to her two young sons. The couple’s ideal courtship came to a halt when the forty-something Sandy was diagnosed with cancer. Determined to save her, Lionel spent the better part of his savings making sure that Sandy got the best treatment possible. Unfortunately, after a long and difficult battle, she succumbed to the disease and forever left a giant hole in Lionel’s heart.
Many years went by and Lionel didn’t even think of dating another woman until he met a sassy Jewish lady that fell and broke her hip in the building that he owned. My Grandmother to this day still wears high heels and it was on that fateful day that her heel got stuck in an uprooted tile in our city marketplace. This caused her to break her hip and have her lifted out of the building by paramedics which embarrassed the living shit out of her. She sued Lionel for medical costs and he offered to take her out to dinner. My grandmother was skeptical, having heard that he was a sort of scheister, but she obliged anyways. They’ve now been together for fourteen years- through thick and thin. He became a part of my tiny family and there he has stayed. Loving my grandmother, my mother, and I the only way he knows how.
Now Lionel starts the next chapter of his life.