Traveling with Bill
by Paul J. Partuzo
Bill is trying to buy a bike. A girl’s bike because it is easier to get on and off. The sales woman at Lechemere is patient, aware that Bill will not ride his bike.
Bill is not driving. I take him shopping and on errands to True Value to return a white plastic flower pot. The young, hip-hop sales woman smiles above his anxiety and takes the sales receipt from his shaking hand. She smiles. He is calmed, she is charmed.
The man at the fish counter in the food coop is not charmed. Bill is asking him to weigh tiny portions of many different kinds of fish as he tries to figure out how hungry he is. I remind him that he can freeze the fish he doesn’t want to eat but it is too late. Bill has changed his mind. The defeated clerk unwraps Bill’s order as Bill decides that flounder is better than scrod.
Bill wonders why I will not make a U-turn. It is a long discussion.
Bill is trying to decide where I should wheel him. He gave up walking. Perhaps he is already going too many places in his mind. To focus on moving in the physical world would distract him from the multiple travels in which he is already engaged. We decide to go to all the places Bill wants to go, cutting across the parking lot to the trees, just starting to turn colors—early this year—on September first, always moving, three minutes in the sun, then the shade. We finally reach a high spot near a picnic table and a large tree. Keith and I feel like resting. Bill is moving quickly in his thoughts.
Bill has stopped remembering me. He no longer sings my name with an elongated Italian accent—Paaolo Patortso!—as he had always done every time I saw him on the street or at the gym or spoke with him over the phone.
Bill is beginning to go places from his bed. His eyes, he occasionally moves into and looks out from. In these moments I am startled with joy and loss, like rereading a letter from a friend with whom I have lost touch.
Bill is smiling at me from a distance.
When I visit I hope to be startled by his presence.
Bill closes his hand around mine.
Tears wet his face though he does not blink.
He is traveling.
Bill seems calm as I leave.
Keith and I take off the next day to the beach. We’ve been there many times together and with Bill but we get lost on the way as we try to realize that Bill has left us. We do not speak much about him, instead we are intent on collecting the sand dollars, frozen in a narrow zone on the beach.
Paul J. Paturzo is an architect and Dean of Graduate Studies at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. He came of age during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis and remembers his friends through writing about them. Today, he is inspired by working with student artists and designers who use their talents to question, challenge and reshape our social constructs. His design practice considers social empowerment at all scales and he has collaborated on projects in the United State, Belize, and Tanzania.