A First Date
Hayley sat silently on the sofa in her living room; a shiny brass pole lamp scattered illumination over the four walls and the television was on but muted. The colorful figures on the television danced in confusion in reflections on the linoleum floor. Hayley was slender, almost petite; she had raven black hair and attractive features: a pretty face, bright blue eyes and an old fashioned rosy complexion. But her eyes were clouded. She sat quietly, still as a statue, except for her hands, which twitched furiously. Hayley had just turned forty and had had Parkinson’s Disease for the past twenty years.
She continued sitting because standing and walking was such an unwelcome adventure, frequently resulting in missteps, staggering collisions with the furniture or walls, even falls. At length, the telephone rang–the land line, not the cell she kept at hand–and she was forced to get up off the sofa. As she rose, her head swam, she saw little white spots in front of her and she teetered on her feet. She was unalarmed, for the dizziness often came and went. The phone rang again. She hurried a little, struggled to put one foot unsteadily before the other. She brought her cane into play. The telephone continued to bleat.
It was like walking through deep water, thought Hayley, as she reeled and staggered to the telephone table. It was always worse when she had been sitting or reclining for a while. Reaching a trembling hand out, she grasped the phone just as it stopped ringing. She put the receiver to her ear and listened intently. She spoke hello into dead air, frowned, and slammed up the phone. She glanced at the Caller I.D. screen and scowled. No number or message appeared. Another hallucination! she thought bitterly. She’d cancel the land line, except she never knew when her cell might lose power or malfunction; and she needed a reliable connection to emergency services. She’d have to get an extension wire in order to place the phone nearer the sofa. She sighed. The hallucinations were a new addition to her condition. The tremors and the difficulty in standing and walking was one thing, but the delusions were something else again. She couldn’t trust what she heard, what she saw.
Suddenly Hayley glanced at her cell, noted the time “I’ve got to get going,” she murmured aloud. “I’ve got a date, and that doesn’t happen every night!” Indeed it didn’t. Hayley hadn’t dated regularly in ten years, ever since her disease began worsening. The half dozen dates she’d had over the last couple years or so didn’t count, she decided. They had all been unspeakable disasters, blind dates set up by friends or family. They clearly hadn’t been expecting the cane or the hand tremors or the clumsiness. Oh, they were nice enough guys, just not prepared for a woman with disabilities. She sighed, shook her head at the disappointing memories.
This time, however, she had covered all the bases: she used a computer dating service that catered to clients with “special circumstances,” such as age or, in her own case, a disability. She had listed Parkinson’s on her app and been contacted by a man about her age, who also had the disease. The man–Roger–had had the condition, he said, for about nine years. Not as long as she, but then, Parkinson’s progressed at different rates in different people; at any rate, he could at least relate to her situation, surely. They’d settled on dinner, at a moderately priced restaurant and they would go “Dutch.” That suited her right down to the ground; this last year, particularly, had been difficult. The loneliness was often discomfiting, sometimes simply overwhelming. Oh, Hayley had girl friends, but they couldn’t really relate to her situation; they were all married or dating in serious relationships. They were always trying to set her up, but the few resultant dates had been unmigated disasters. She resolved to just hope for the best. Roger had sounded nice on the telephone.
Two Hours Later
Hayley arrived at the restaurant a little early, so she wouldn’t make a spectacle of herself walking in and stumbling into a chair. In spite of Roger’s similar affliction, she felt almost helplessly self conscious around other people. She shooed the waitress away, telling her she was waiting for someone. Her date! She felt curiously giddy. Hayley watched the other patrons, all dressed fairly casually: sport jackets and blazers and off-the-rack outfits. The men all looked handsome and the women were pretty as well. It was a young crowd. They stood at the bar talking and sipping drinks, lurid concoctions with umbrellas for the women and shots of some amber liquid–whiskey?–for most of the men. She noticed pointedly that as they all drew their drinks to their lips, not a hand shook. Hayley placed her own hands in her lap, out of sight.
At length, Roger walked in, not self conscious at all, thought Hayley. He was standing straight, walking smoothly and as he got nearer she noticed that his hands didn’t shake at all. What was his secret, she wondered. He looked just as handsome as his computer image had been. Blond hair, tall, around six one, nothing extra around his middle. He was rather nattily attired, keeping with the unofficial dress code. She met his eyes and smiled. She really was very pretty, she told herself, and Roger seemed to pick up on that right away. “Hi, Hayley, how are you?” He offered his hand. She reluctantly pulled her own hand from her lap and clasped his hand in a firm grip. “I’m fine, Roger, how are you?” He seated himself opposite her. “I’m good; it’s nice to finally meet you–in person, I mean,” he returned, then fixing his eyes on her glass, asked, “What are you drinking?” “Just water,” she answered, taking a sip.
“Well,” he said in a jolly voice “we’ll have to change that.” He signaled for the waitress. When she turned up, he said, “Scotch and water; Hayley?” he turned to her. “I’m fine,” she said. “Oh, c’mon, don’t make me drink alone,” he said persuasively. “Well, Seven-Up,” she said. “Make it a Seagram’s Seven,” he added. “No, Roger, I don’t want any alcohol.” Turning to the bewildered waitress, she corrected, “Just a plain Seven-Up.” The waitress hurried off. Hayley looked up; Roger was staring at her blankly. “My medication,” she explained. “I can’t have any alcohol with my medicine.” “Oh,” he said, genuinely surprised. “None at all?” he asked her, incredulous. Silently she shook her head no. The waitress returned with their drinks. “Don’t you take any medication?” It was her turn to be surprised. Roger took a heavy slug of his scotch before shaking his head and saying, “Nope. Nothing.”
“How do you manage that?” Hayley wanted to know. “You seem so…normal. Look at that,” she indicated the hand holding his drink, which he was fast polishing off. “You don’t have a tremor at all!” Roger raised a finger at the waitress, pointed at his now empty glass. He waited until the waitress returned with his new drink before replying, “Well, the truth, Hayley, is that I don’t have Parkinson’s Disease at all.” He took another big gulp of his scotch. Hayley blinked, utterly surprised. “You mean…you mean you’re not sick at all?” Roger frowned. “You make it sound like that’s a bad thing,” he complained. “But…why did you say you did? What was the point of that?” While Hayley had been speaking, Roger had silently ordered yet another drink and was half way through it already. Hayley observed that Roger wasn’t nearly as attractive as he’d been when he first arrived. Perhaps the alcohol was revealing his true self. And he was thoroughly in his cups now, obviously something of a lightweight.
“Answer me,” she said sharply, surprising even herself. “Well,” he replied, slurring his words a little, “I figured I take one of them disabled chicks, I might get lucky, you know,” he grinned lecherously. Hayley’s stomach roiled. “I mean,” he said more expansively, his voice rising, “you get a girl who’s got something wrong with her, that don’t get around much, maybe doesn’t get much action.” He winked grotesquely, ordered still another drink. How many drinks could he hold? wondered Hayley. Already he seemed drunk. Hayley was feeling a little ill herself now.
Their waitress appeared again, asked if they were ready to order. “I…I’m not hungry,” said Hayley, waving her hand at the girl. “Well, I am,” insisted Roger, pushing away the menu. “I want a big steak, rare, baked potato, sour cream, and asparagus!” he demanded. The waitress turned back to Hayley. “Nothing for me,” she murmured. The waitress withdrew. “One other thing, Hayley,” said Roger, slurring his words anew. “Can you…you know,” he pointed at the table, made a circling motion with his finger. “Take care of this?” She stared at him blankly. “I’m a little short,” he explained. She regarded him coolly, then said, “I’m not interested in your sexual inadequacies. But pay for your own meal; you drank it, you pay for it!”
And with that she was on her feet, headed for the door. Roger, chagrinned, called after her, “I would have made it worth your while!” Hayley turned back only long enough to reply, “I doubt that; I really, really do.” She continued toward the exit, her cane accidentally knocking against a diner’s chair. “If I knew how bad you were, I never would have taken you out!” Roger shouted at her back. She made her way through the exit, out to an available taxi, where a man was just getting in. He halted, looked her way. “Hayley?” he said. She stopped, surprised. It was Mr. Beasley, a man who lived in her building. “Hi, Mr. Beasley,” she managed, clearly upset. “Do you want to share a taxi?” he asked. “Uh…sure. Thanks.” They both climbed in. Mr. Beasley gave the driver the address and they sped away. She sat slumped in her seat. Beasley looked over and said, “Are you alright, Hayley?” She shook her head no. “You want to talk about it?” She took a shuddering breath. “I just had the most awful date I’ve had…in years,” she exclaimed. He nodded encouragingly. “I met him online, at a dating service. It was a site where if you have a disability, they hook you up with someone similar…you know, my Parkinson’s. I have Parkinson’s.”
“Yes,” he said. “I thought you did.” They hadn’t talked much, he’d lived for years on the floor above her. He was at least fifteen years older than Hayley and she hadn’t given much thought to him before. She glanced at him, noticed that his hand shook a little and his head darted to the left, then to the right. It wasn’t really pronounced, but noticeable. “You…you don’t have it too, do you, Mr. Beasley?” she asked hesitantly. “Oh, you don’t have to answer me if you’d rather not,” she hurried on. “No, it’s alright. No, my own cross to bear is Tourette’s Syndrome; you’ve heard of it?” he asked. “Oh, yes, of course. I didn’t know you had it, though.” “Usually it’s controlled by medication; this is one of my ‘unfortunate days,’ however.” Hayley nodded.
“What happened inside?” Beasley asked. She rolled her eyes. “My ‘date’ was some predator who pretended he was disabled, just to prey on women he thought would be easy.” She went on to describe the scene inside the restaurant. “How about you?” she asked him. “Just on my way home from work,” he replied. They rode in companionable silence for a few moments. He’s not at all unattractive, she thought. And she knew he lived alone. Maybe he’s gay, she thought. Not that that would make him a bad person, but as far as boyfriend material, it would be a little limiting. Still, he had always seemed very nice. “Well, did you at least get a decent meal out of it?” Beasley asked. She frowned. “No. I was so mad that I walked out without even eating.” “Well, you know, I’m pretty hungry right now myself.” She looked across the seat at him. “And I’m a pretty good cook,” he continued with a smile. She smiled back at him. “And call me Ron, won’t you Hayley?”
About the Author
Bill Tope is a retired 67-year-old who has suffered from Tourette’s Syndrome for over 40 years and Parkinson’s Disease for more than twenty. All in all, he’s doing well. With respect to his employment history, he worked for many years as a Public Aid caseworker in both Illinois and Missouri. Bill has also been a cook, a construction worker, and a maintenance man; he was even a nude model for college art classes. Bill lives alone in Illinois in an eastside suburb of St. Louis, MO.
Read Bill Tope’s Essay, “Suffering in Silence,” published in this issue of Wordgathering.