As I make my way out of town, I look back for one more view of my Home away from Home. The lights of Main Street twinkle as the sun is setting in faded rose gold and a purplish hue, like crushed grapes aging in a vat, soon to be transformed into fine wine. The Flickering Flame flickers on and off, winking at me, blinking back the tears of my final good bye. You will be missed, it calls. You will be missed.
But there is no path I can see calling me backwards. I only see Main Street as a place I once visited. A temporary home. A vacation getaway. Not a permanent residence. Definitely not Home. Not for me. Maybe for the Mayor and Officer Dewey and the Women Of the Pool. But I, I am traveling a solitary road and every step carries me further and further from the safety of the beating Heart of the Heartland.
I have no sense of time, so it comes as a surprise to find myself on the outskirts of an unfamiliar town, on the end of the path leading to a Nursing Home nestled in a valley surrounded by mountains. I am in the yard, the yard where patients are wheeled to bask in the sunshine, and to rest amongst the roses climbing recklessly up a trellis and a few dangling dangerously over the garden wall.
Only one person is in the garden. She stands out as a stark reminder to the lush foliage lusting wildly over the wall. Her hair is white, not silvery threads, but pure anemone white, almost harsh, as it is pulled back taut from her forehead in an unkempt ponytail. Her head is down, resting on the tray of her wheel chair. I am drawn to her, pulled into her empty space as though I must fill the empty space, the vacuum where she lives.
As I approach, she senses me. Raising her head, her face breaks, opens to me so fully that I step back at the sudden sincerity of her gaze.
You came, she says. I knew you would come.
And then, she says my name. as though we have known each other for years and years and years.
I am undone. Her face breaks, and I am broken. A thousand tiny pieces of me splinter and crumble to the desert floor under my boots. Shards of me litter the ground next to pink rose petals that have fallen from the arbor.
She sees me. I see her. And we are both lost.
Marie Alyce, the nurse says, has Alzheimer’s. She rarely remembers anyone anymore. You must have made quite an impression once upon a time.
Once upon a time, I think. That sounds like a fairy tale and I am so tired of wishful thinking. But the nurse continues in her medical clinical fashion, so typical of caregivers, duly charged, kind at heart, but so overwhelmed by the duties of care taking that they have no time for taking care. Of the memories.
Alzheimer’s is a vicious disease. It eats up current memories like popcorn at the movies. Chomp. Chomp. Gone. But, in a full snit of nasty, Alzheimer’s chews its cud when it comes to old stories. The stories of youth and passions and dances and first loves and babies and lullabies. These, the sweet memories of youth are more slowly digested and discarded. Thus, they tend to appear in full florid
detail, at the most unseemly times, while the names of inanimate objects, routines and regular life living skills skitter and crash at an alarming rate. Where did I put that? What do you call that? Where are we going? Until, the most awful question raises its ugly head and demands, Who are you?
I resent her. I resent Marie Alyce, as I wish that she was able to forget her most recent past and find comfort in her past lives. Her past loves. I have spent too much time in the past and if this is the way life ends, with the present ceasing to exist first, I am angry. I long to put these old memories down, and now you tell me that they will be with me to the end, while the day to day nonsense will drift away quickly. Life, I mutter, is not fair.
But Marie Alyce, is angry too. For though she may have seen in me, a faded memory, a joyous recollection, she falls unwillingly into a moment of clarity and declares for all to hear...
It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
Her eyes are trained on the mountains in the distance and I realize that she is not conversing with me, but rather, cursing at an unseen other, far away, yet vivid in her mind’s eye.
And then, like Pepper, she is gone. Her eyes are open, yet I feel her slip out of my reach. I sit close. I hold my breath, thinking that if I am still, she will come back to me. If I am here, she will feel safe enough to risk searching one more time for a memory of someone dear.
It is not to be.
It is going to end like this.
And so I do what seems most kind. I tuck her under the sheets, and whisper in her ear.
I love you Marie Alyce. I love you very much. From Here to There and back again.
I loved you Then and I love you Now.
I pick up a brush and sit quietly stroking the brush through her hair, watching her face settle into gentleness, and finally into eyes closed and the coming of sleep.
My eyes are heavy too, and I allow myself to drift, and as I do, I see her. Hands are lifting her out of her bed and carrying her outside to the garden. I follow, and there she kneels, clad in garden gloves, tending to her roses, an apron around her waist. She is smiling, surrounded by a bevy of imps, all pompously foolish in bedheads of pink and white and yellow roses, and they are all giggling like school girls. I am the odd fellow out, looking in. I turn to leave, but not before I feel the hummingbirds flutter at my chest. There is magic here. Sparks are flying and even though I cannot see them, I know the Yard Yetis are here. Eunice Everlasting is on her knees with a trowel in her hand, and a reassuring hand on Marie’s back.
I may never see her again. But for a moment, she saw me. Sometimes, Eunice tells me, sometimes that has to be enough. To see and be seen, Eunice says.
Such a gift you have been given.
Such a wonderful gift you carry.
in the Garden,
endings are merely the seeds of tomorrow.
You have tending to do.
Chapter 27 |