If the patients at Kingsbrook Hospital are Lenny’s siblings, you might say that I’m Lenny’s first cousin. Every Sunday for the past who knows how long, we schmooze, argue and banter while my sister Tova visits Molly, an older woman who is blind and lives down the hall.

Kingsbrook Hospital is where Lenny has lived since childhood. It’s his hospital-home. “You know, Chani, I’m here for always,” he says, neither sad nor mad about it. I intuit that his family chose Kingsbrook on his behalf when he was a young child.

As the self-appointed “Prince of Kingsbrook,” Lenny carefully crafts his kingdom in present tense, ruling from Room 903. Lenny, the patient advocate. Synagogue sexton. Correspondence-course graduate. Man with paraplegia.

“Hi, Lenny,” I say.

“What’s new, besides for the usual lunacy?” he says. He always wants the undiluted answer.

“Great question,” I counter.

I’m still not ready to tell Lenny of my engagement. He might notice life passing him by while everyone else gets to waltz into happily ever after on two healthy legs.

“Really nothing much, Lenny.” (I hope you don’t already know.)

Lenny coughs. “Have you seen my latest?” A silversmith, Lenny empties a tiny bag of glittering jewelry onto his wheelchair tray. Every handcrafted piece on display speaks of the struggle and triumph living Lenny’s life.

“This one.” I pick up a whimsical crystal charm attached to a thin silver chain. “I’ll pay you next week.” (After all, I do visit Kingsbrook every Sunday.)

He waves at me. “Okay, you’re not running anywhere.”

Next Sunday, I plunk down two $20 bills onto Lenny’s wheelchair tray. He is different today.

“We need to talk, Chani.”

“What happened, Lenny?” (Please, let it not be news of my engagement.)

“It’s your engagement,” Lenny scowls. (Huh? Which idiot told Lenny? How utterly insensitive! I planned to do it with tact.)

“Your sister told Molly. Duh.”

“Lenny, it’s all very recent. I intended to tell you today. Lenny, I did plan to tell you today . . .”

(But I didn’t think you’d celebrate too happily, what with your living in this depressing long-term care facility, and my walking off into the proverbial sunset and all.)

“Whatever. I’ll remember to forget to tell you when I’m engaged. So is there a wedding date? And where’s the invitation?"

“The wedding is on January 28th, and I’ll bring you an invitation next week.” (I’m floored! He plans on attending the wedding!)

“Chani,” Lenny pauses, “I won’t be jealous of your problems. Don’t ever be jealous of mine.”

That’s his way of settling the score.

Lenny releases the brake of his wheelchair. “Walk with me,” he commands.

We amble down the hall.

Lenny approves of my wedding invitation. I tell him I would understand if he couldn’t make it. The weather’s been awful, and the first part of my wedding ceremony—the chupah—will take place outdoors.

But Lenny is undeterred. “Kingsbrook ambulette can bring me inside the hall, and I’ll see you all after the chupah.”

“Are you sure, Lenny?” (Yikes, he can’t be serious. I know he doesn’t leave Kingsbrook very often.)

“For someone who’s getting married in four weeks, you’ve still got plenty growing up to do, Chani.”

“Congrats!” Lenny beams. Lenny wears his black bowtie and spiffy jacket with flair.

“I am honored by your presence, Lenny.” (You are a gift. You teach me what it’s like to live your best life—excruciating challenges notwithstanding.)

Lenny smiles approvingly. “Great ambiance. Oh, and mazal tov.”

I visit Lenny one last time before my big move to Toronto.

“Chani, the wedding was superb. Can’t say I loved the chicken, but everything else was perfect.”

I wait, sensing more. I know he’s been considering surgery.

“Listen, I’ve decided to go ahead with the surgery. It’s complicated and the doctors are cautious, but I’ll be okay. Walk with me.”

We make our way to the nurse’s station. Dorothy in 804 desperately requires a geriatric ophthalmologist, and Lenny threatens legal action, along with “Don’t give me that long holiday weekend nonsense. Figure it out, ladies!”

“Lenny, I hate goodbyes.” (I feel like your bags are packed, too.)

“Then let’s skip that part.”

I say nothing.

“Promise me that I will be remembered as someone who made a difference. You know I was here for all of them; you saw. This was my journey. And now you’re off on your own journey.”

“Yes, Lenny.” (I will cry. Later.)

“So, hop to it.”

This painting was created by Charna Brocha Perman, the author's daughter.
This painting was created by Charna Brocha Perman, the author's daughter.

In April, Molly reports Lenny’s surgery did not go very well.

Lenny’s stride quickens. Past the narrow, stuffy halls of Kingsbrook Hospital, past the patients he adored, past the disobeying nurses and nosy visitors, past the doting friends and buddies, Lenny walks—this time alone—to a new place.

Lenny no longer commands, “Walk with me.” But I hear his voice, still insistent. “Keep on walking, Chani!”

And with sometimes faltering, sometimes fierce footsteps, I blaze my own trail.

Lenny’s yahrtzeit (date of passing) i‎s on the 28th day of the Jewish month of Shevat. Please do a mitzvah (good deed) in honor of Yehudah Leib ben Shlomo, and share your mitzvah with me in the comments section below.