by Jessica Gray
|Do you remember when Dr. Kline told us Alzheimer’s affects one out of a hundred people? He relayed the information like it would soothe us, as though it was unavoidable—this lottery of forgetfulness. You started calling nursing homes, didn’t even allow the news to resonate in my ears. You poured us unsweetened tea and reached for the phone, the directory split open as you sat at the table with uncertain eyes. Forty years of marriage seemed a long history to stuff away in a room on the far side of town, but you did it. That morning when I drove down from Frisco to help you take Dad in, he hadn’t been willing to go. Do you remember that? Like a stubborn child, he wouldn’t buckle his seatbelt. You had rushed inside the house, your sienna face flustered, kinky curls wild.
“His bags, where are his bags?” you snapped at me.I knew the high pitch in your voice was sadness disguised as annoyance. We weren’t on a schedule, but in your mind the longer we kept him around the more you would see exactly what you were losing. I didn’t argue because of this and I didn’t tell you, but when I went outside, the passenger door was open and Dad was gone. The bags had fallen from my hands and in a panic, my eyes squinted trying see through the pine trees across the street. I had taken a deep breath and as I closed my eyes, the image of the pond down the road appeared on the inside of my eyelids.
My gut confirmed this vision and I found him squatting in his brown fedora and black overcoat, the one you gave him last Christmas, humming to himself. The low clouds seemed to gravitate toward him like he was charming them with his tune. I thought you’d be worried if we were both gone when you came back out, but I didn’t want to rush him. I didn’t want him to be cut off from the one last place he could recall.
He stared out at the black pond, solid as glass. The leaves crunched under my shoes as I approached him. I couldn’t believe we had once skipped pebbles on the very same surface during my elementary summers. My skin had soaked in the sun and Dad and I had dug our hands into the warm soil, now frozen. I had lowered myself next to him. His face marked with dark lines dug deep into his black skin, trenches telling stories days weren’t long enough to talk about.
“She loves you, but… it’s tough, you know?” I whispered.
His face remained stoic. Dad had always been good at that, hadn’t he? The year I got stitches from falling on the porch, my head cut wide open, he didn’t flinch once, but calmly took me to emergency while listening to John Coltrane on the radio.
“She’s given up.” These words fell from his lips in a whisper.
If you would’ve seen his face fold into despair, I think maybe you’d have changed your mind. Maybe you would’ve sat him down and explained why he was leaving. Maybe you would’ve recalled those days your hand seemed to melt into his when we’d visit the pier on the last Saturday of the month, or maybe you would’ve remembered the times when your eyes met and you’d smile at one another for no reason. I understood you no longer wanted the shell of your husband to linger through your halls, but while I was with him in that moment, I swear he was aware of his world, of you.
No matter how decrepit we thought his mind was becoming, his spirit remained untouched beneath skin and bone. I used to tell myself that you didn’t walk through his nursing home halls because you wanted to remember him in that pure way. When people asked you what your husband was like, you wanted to tell them about the suede penny loafers, the creased suits, the hats and golden wristwatches. You wanted to remember the man you married forty years ago—the one who could pronounce your name and spot you by that beauty mark on the back of your neck.
I had to bite my tongue when you refused to visit him. I hated to hear you say it didn’t matter. Do you remember that? You’d sit behind those wire-framed glasses flipping through the worn pages of Dad’s books you’d never paid mind to before, books that had lined his office for years, and you’d raise your eyes every so often to roll them and shoo me away like a naive child.
Your grandfather was number three of ten who married a famous jazz singer. Thanksgiving was always at Aunt Helen’s even though Aunt Carol, no matter the year, claimed she’d host the next time. Mom always cooked the steaks on the Fourth of July because the last time you used a barbecue you nearly burnt down the yard.
When I spoke his eyes didn’t distress me. His silence didn’t feel like rejection. The walls of that nursing home weren’t enclosed to keep us in or to keep you out, they were there to show us who was willing to come inside. Every day I visited my father. I thought he might speak of you, but he never did. Although his memory was brittle—breaking—I wondered if he dreamed of you like a blind man dreamed of color. Did he see you in flashes of light the way spouts of laughter bounced on eardrums? Were the images of you unfocused like looking through a smudged window, your shape outlined only by his imagination? I always wondered if he dreamed about the drowning puddles of your eyes, the winding kinks of your hair, and if he remembered those freckles blotted across the valley of your nose that crinkled when you used to smile. Did he forget? Did he forget all about those things because you forgot him? I wondered.
I still do.
What was it like to dismiss love, something that brought the rush of blood, which stirred memories of entwining fingers and the softness of smiling lips? To forget love was never to have loved at all, even if everyone else remembered. That’s the tragedy in it all. So tell me, what was it like to forget?
Jessica Gray is a fiction writer born and raised in Southern California. When she isn’t on Tumblr, she’s writing. She is currently studying creative writing at the University of California. First recognized at Victor Valley College for her short stories, her work was recently published in Matchbox Literary Magazine and on the online social magazine Spoiled Minds.