Big Ed

By: Jill Fiore

I was scheduled for my weekly volunteer work at a rehabilitation hospital for the elderly on this particular Valentine’s Day.  Though I did believe it to be a beautiful way to spend it, actually going in felt really challenging.

Photo by Jon Tyson

The joy of volunteering was always up against the sadness of seeing people in the pain.  I did my very best to lift the spirits of the injured and recovering, most of whom were octogenarians plus, but even my bubbly personality was not always welcomed or appreciated. I had actually been told to “get out” on occasion.

I don’t put that much importance on Valentine’s Day when I’m in a relationship. I’m more of a “it’s a hallmark holiday” kind of thinker, as I’d rather get flowers from a special someone on a random day, just because.  I mostly just look forward to the card in the mail from my dad which is always signed “Love, your first Valentine.”  So sweet and so true.

This year’s Valentine’s Day was significant.  The man I was dating throughout the summer and fall broke up with me exactly two weeks before Christmas. Though there was a break up conversation I had been struggling to initiate myself as the relationship was clearly running it’s course, it was abrupt, there was another woman involved, and I got hurt.

It set a particularly sad tone to my holiday season.  Something I remedied with lots of great friends, booze, and decidedly steering clear of men.  This Valentine’s Day was essentially the last leg of the crappy holiday run and I went into it with a ‘can’t wait to get this day over with’ attitude.

I walked into a 90th birthday celebration taking place in the common area of the hospital floor I was assigned to that afternoon.  A large group of peolpe were standing around a big, deliciously decadent cake covered with tons of sugary white frosting. It screamed classic New York bakery.

This was a gathering of both residents at the hospital and visitors. I was asked to join the celebration.  Who am I to say no to a party or a piece of cake like that?

An exceptionally tall gentlemen was being tenderly escorted to a seat.  I was introduced.  ‘Big Ed’ put his hand out in a different direction than where my extended hand was.  As I shifted over to meet his hand, he pulled me in surprisingly close to his face to register a proper look at me. I now understood.  Big Ed was legally blind.

Big Ed was charming and funny.  He had one liners and jokes from a very old school generation. He was flirtatious regardless of the amount of years he was my senior, but it was harmless and endearing.  He made me smile. He was awesome.

Before the party wrapped up, I excused myself to carry on with my volunteer duties and said my goodbyes.  Big Ed asked when he would see each other again.  I assured him “I have no doubt, our paths would cross again.”

I finished the day, grabbed my coat, and sat with my phone for a moment in the lobby of the hospital to coordinate Valentine cocktails with my friend.

The elevator doors opened. Into the lobby comes Big Ed by himself with a white can, working his way towards the main door.

Admittedly, I was ready to leave and relinquish my responsibilities for the day.  Go back to feeling cranky and drink through it with my single girlfriend.  But I had made a promise and that promise was immediately presenting itself as an opportunity.  I knew the difference it could make for him.  What I didn’t know, was the difference it was going to make for me.

I walked up and touched his elbow to get his attention.  “See Ed, I told you our paths would cross again. Can I please walk you out?”

Once again, he adjusted himself to an extremely short distance between our faces.

“Lovely Jill!  I would be honored.”

Unclear of how one without full sight could get themselves around the bustle of this big city, I asked “do I need to call you a car?”

“Absolutely not. I take the bus. Always have.”

In a city of Ubers, Lyfts, and an abundance of yellow cabs in the particluar area, this man stayed true to his native New Yorker instincts.  I was impressed.

“Ok Ed, let’s walk to the bus stop.”

“I am the luckiest man in New York!” he responded with true enthusiam.

I put my hand through his arm and he folded his cane.  We walked out into the cold day making playful and genuine conversation.  I told him how impressed I was with his mobility, and that most people with sight are lazy.  He had a ‘nothing’s gonna stop me’ kind of attitude that was truly inspiring.

We reached the bus stop and I offered to wait until his bus showed up. Big Ed asked if I was going to meet my boyfriend for Valentine’s Day.

“I don’t have a boyfriend right now,” I responded with honesty. “We broke up right before the holidays.”

“What an idiot,” Big Ed gave me the common ‘his loss’ reassurance.

“Thanks for saying that.”

He stopped walking.  He stopped me and made sure I was at full attention….”No really.  WHAT an idiot.”

Wow.  I heard him loud and clear.

We reached Ed’s bust stop and his old school chivalry stepped up to the plate.

“I would love to take you for a Valentine’s drink right now.”

“Thank you, I do have plans to meet my best friend.”

“Well another time then.  Here, could you take this?” he asked as he passed over a small black plastic bag.

“That’s for you, keep it.”

It was a half eaten heart shaped box of chocolates he brought to the party. I was touched to receive a unexpected Valentine gift after all.

Big Ed started poking around at his pockets and his bag.  “Uh oh.  I can’t find my phone.”

I offered my assistance. “I can run back and see if it’s at the hospital.  Do you want me to call it?”

“Yes, please,” he agreed as he gave me the number.

Right after I  pressed the call button, a low ringing sound came from Ed’s pocket.  Without moving for his phone, he just smiled widely and said, “Now I have your number Jill.”

I laughed and commended him on the smooth moves.

I went to hug him goodbye and thank him for being my spontaneous Valentine.

As I pulled away, he grabbed the outsides of my arms by the elbows and centered me.  Once again, prepping me for the importance of what he was about to say.

“Jill, you are so pretty, you can make a blind man see again.”

My eyes instantly filled with tears.  I heard something I had not wanted to hear in months.  Something I wasn’t able to believe because I was too busy being committed to feeling bad.  I heard honest admiration from a man who was handicapped but exuded more confidence than many people. I heard something I needed to believe again, and could have missed out on if I passed on the day.  I had an experience that snapped me out of ‘it,’ made me kick the dust off my boots and get my still hot ass ‘back out there’ again.  Feeling confident, knowing what I’m worth,  believing it, and radiating it.

I hugged him again tightly. “Thank you Ed.  That is the best compliment I have ever received.”