Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas on the Fifth Floor

In his heart and in his bones, Arch has always been an athlete. Baseball was his passion growing up.

Even though his parents named him "Timothy," all his friends call him "Arch" -- after his childhood sports hero, NFL quarterback Elisha Archibald "Archie" Manning.

While Arch is an athlete in his bones and in his spirit, his muscles have their own agenda. The dystrophy that most of his siblings also inherited started showing up in high school. On the baseball field, Arch began to notice it was becoming harder to swing a bat.

Over these years, muscular dystrophy eventually put Arch in a wheelchair, but one doesn't see a life diminished. He's been married to Becky for 17 years. He's a successful accountant and the president of a nonprofit that assists other families affected by MD. He has faith in his God. I've never seen Arch when he hasn't borne a grateful, optimistic, and beaming countenance.

Arch is spending this Christmas in a hospital bed -- but he's rebounding. James showed up on the fifth floor of IU Health North Hospital yesterday, as he did the day before that. Jim has plans to pause his own family Christmas to visit Arch on the fifth floor again today.

Before Arch and Becky were married, Jim had a routine: most mornings, he’d drive a 20-mile round trip to Arch's house. He'd help Arch dress and prep for his day crunching numbers as a CPA. I went with Jim once to carry his tools while he installed heavy-duty handrails in Arch's shower. Jim is a pilot. In '93, he loaded Arch and me into a Cessna and flew us south for a bird's-eye view of the Mississippi flooding around St. Louis.

Twenty-five years ago, I drove west on what was more a pilgrimage to the desert than it was a road
trip across America. I didn't know if I was a father or not... she'd stopped taking my calls eight months prior. 

This was a trek to ask a question, and then to sit and listen for an answer. I'd go first to the Rockies. Though I hadn't initially planned to, I ended up in a mountain pass southwest of Ouray, visiting the meadow where Michelle's ashes are scattered amongst the larkspur and Indian paintbrush.

My plan was to continue west to the Pacific, and then loop south toward Mexico before jamming the helm hard to port, tacking east for the desert. I'd heard tell of sacred places among the red rocks of the Sonoran, where a pilgrim could ask a question -- and if he could get quiet enough, perhaps hear an answer. Do I get back into the arena and find out whether a child of mine exists on the earth? If so, what do I do then?

I told Jim I'd be gone for a couple weeks. He asked about itineraries. When I told him I'd be in San Francisco for a few days, he asked, "What days?" Then he hatched a plan. He gathered up Arch and his wheelchair, and shepherded him west for a rendezvous.

Jim rented a Mustang convertible and drove Arch around the Bay Area. We met up at Fisherman's Wharf, wandered the art galleries and ate shrimp, clams, and scallops. He drove Arch across the Marin Headlands and wheeled him among the old-growth redwoods at Muir Woods. 

We smoked cigars on the hotel dock. At the end of a
day, Jim got Arch out of his wheelchair and into the hotel's steam room, which brought comfort to an aching body. Jim did all this.

Arch should be going home tomorrow. If a guy has to spend Christmas on the fifth floor, he could do worse than having a friend like this one.

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