my friend dick

My friend Dick Fisco is ninety-one years old. I run into him every few days when I walk Rudy at the college athletic fields a few blocks from our home. He still drives, and parks his car at the end of a neighborhood street where I often see him sitting, driver’s side door open, with his toy poodle Nikki on his lap.

It takes Dick a long time to do everything. About ten years ago he developed a condition called Myasthenia Gravis, a neurological disorder that cripples him, stoops him over to such a degree that he can’t see where he’s going, can only look at his feet beneath him. When we chat, I crouch down as low as I can get so we can look each other in the eyes. Bent over like that, the enameled medallions he wears around his neck dangle against each other with a satisfying clack.

We don’t visit long, just enough time to gather bits and pieces about each other’s lives. He’s a veteran of World War II, a widower of a French beauty and a retired New York City fire lieutenant.

A couple of weeks ago while walking Rudy I saw Dick’s car at a distance. His door was swung open as usual, Nikki barking like crazy from inside, though no Dick in sight. I got worried. But as I approached I saw him sitting sideways behind the wheel crumpled over his knees with his feet firmly planted on the ground, thus hidden from view behind the door. As I got closer I could see splotches of blood everywhere, on his sweaty face, his coat, his jeans, his hands, and he pressed a wadded up tissue around a bony knuckle. “Hey, Dick, are you okay?” I called. He cinched up his brow, craned his head up to greet me, “I was just saying, ‘I hope Christy comes along.’” He’d taken a fall the day before and landed on his knuckles. He’d ripped off the scab shoving his hand into his pocket trying to retrieve the medicine he’d forgotten to take. “Can you put this bandage on my finger?” I fixed him up then helped him take off his heavy coat. He hadn’t been prepared for an eighty degree October day when he had left the house that morning.

Squatting at his feet I looked up at him as he extended a trembling hand and softly touched my cheek. “You are so kind,” he said in a quivering voice, “who talks to an old man?”

He asked me to open the back door to find a copy of his memoir stacked in a box with the others. I fished one out, peeled off the thin plastic wrapping and handed it to him. In wobbly penmanship he scrawled the date, my name, then, Thank you for your friendship. I patted him on the shoulder, made certain he’d be okay, then went on my way walking Rudy in the fields, my head nodding over the warm reflection of the open book in my palms.

A few pages into the book, above a dedication to two of his wartime buddies who died in battle, he writes:

No greater love than this hath no man than to give up his life for his friends.

With moistened eyes, it made me think of all the wonderful friends I have that, perhaps without knowing it, help get me through the rough times, the grief and the loss I've experienced since Calvin was born, and who've celebrated a few triumphs with me. Though Dick had never met Calvin at that time, he knew of him, of our struggles. Dick mentioned once how cheerful I seem. “It's a miracle,” he said. I’m not sure I really believe in miracles, but if there’s anything close to one it’s all the amazing friends I’ve met through the years, some who’ve come and gone, others who’ve remained by my side through thick and thin. Perhaps they're why I'm so upbeat most of the time. And how lucky am I that Dick Fisco is one of them?

Richard D. Fisco

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