Every day I wake up is a new day. Every song I sing contains a new refrain. And when I see you again, we'll have changed. And I'll remember your face but maybe not your name. -- Charlie Parr
It was important to have a strategy. She had learned that right from the start.
The stranger would approach her, usually at the grocery store or sometimes by her mailbox. They would call her by name and ask how she was doing. Ask how her family was. "Fine, just fine, everyone is good," she would always reply by rote, but she had no idea who they were. After that, it was vital to initiate her exit strategy. To stop the conversation as quickly as possible. To not be exposed. "Oh, I would love to visit, but I have a doctor's appointment" was her usual response. Sometimes it was "Oh, I have something in the oven and need to get back." She knew it was important to smile, not look confused. But she was confused. Why didn't she remember them? They seemed to know her?
Talking to her daughter sometimes was worse. There was generally a quiz, who is this, who is that? It was very irritating; she knew her own family perfectly well. What difference did it make if the grandchildren's names were interchanged or confused? It seemed those questions came in a fog. At the mall, the clerks would fix a benevolent smile on her as her daughter pushed her in a wheelchair. "What a beautiful sweater!" they would exclaim in a voice used for talking to a cat or dog. Other times would be, "Oh, you look so cute with that ribbon in your hair"; again, in that loud voice as if she was hard of hearing or just not very intelligent. She didn't want to be cute. She still knew what that tone meant. She had not forgotten the need for affirmation -- to be really seen as a person, as a human being. When she was alone, things were better. She felt safe. There from her window she could still watch the clouds. She could still watch the sun. She could still remember the past. She knew those names well.
The volunteer parked his truck in the spot marked "visitors" by the front door to the assisted living facility. He had no family here, but he made the time to visit here once a week. He had several regulars who eagerly looked forward to his visits. He would share a smile, maybe a verse or two, always giving his time. Walking toward the front door, he spotted a woman sitting on a bench by the entrance, slowly finishing off a cigarette. He had not seen her before. "Guess I better get in there and do my duty," she said with a resigned grunt as he approached. The volunteer bit his tongue: "Duty?" he screamed inside. Holding the door, they walked in together.
An hour later, the volunteer, having finished his rounds, walked back out the front door. Glancing over he saw the women he had seen earlier sitting next to an elderly resident on the bench. He had seen the older women before many times inside. He had approached her in the past as she sat in her wheelchair by a window but despite his best efforts, he could not get her to respond. She would just look off in the distance. He walked over to them to say hello. The younger woman said, "Yeah, we're just sitting outside enjoying the sunshine, but not that my mother would care. She has no idea even where she's at." The volunteer bent on one knee in front of them and responded, "It's been my experience the folks here are just trying to live as best they can." While the daughter responded with small talk, the old women suddenly lifted her head and looked directly at the volunteer, her eyes bright with purpose. "Thank you," she mouthed the words.
For some of us, the waves wash away our footprints on the shoreline, erasing quickly the marks we leave behind. Slowly someone else becomes the guardian of your memories. But they still feel the sun on their face, see the blue sky up ahead. And give thanks for the here and now.
NAN Our Town on 12/06/2018
Print Headline: Someone is still in there