Summary: 2226 words
The world of dementia is a strange world in which to live, where everything is filled with memory, and yet nothing is recalled. I spent years with my grandfather as the world around him stopped making sense in a linear fashion and accepting his worldview became the only way to stay with him.
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My head hurt, I think it always hurt anymore, but today it just hurt more than I could stand. And this woman was trying to talk to me. She looked like a mix of exasperation and sadness, but I couldn’t tell why.
“Susan, my name is Susan. Do you remember that?”
She looked familiar so I nodded yes. There was something about her I connected with, but I wasn’t sure what. I was normally great with names, but we all have our blind spots. I’d figure it out, I’ve always been good at figure things out.
The room was an eggshell blue, like a robin eggshell. I had a memory of my little girl coming into the house with a smile that could knock through the hardest heart. She held up a bundle of sticks woven into a prickly little nest filled with four pale blue eggs and a pile of shells. Her eyes shone with pride as I cooed over her find. What could I say, she had likely condemned those eggs to never hatch by bringing the nest in, but she was so proud.
I patted her head. She had been my heart, her every accomplishment was my pride. For a room, though that blue was ugly, nobody would want to sleep in a room like this.
But someone did sleep here poor bastard. A small bed was pushed into the corner, evenly folded sheets and blankets hugged the thin mattress. The bed looked uncomfortable, and my back ached at just the memory of that mattress. A small chair squatted by the window, and I remembered trees and a groomed lawn. Long wistful hours staring out at the same thing waiting for Sally to finally get here.
The room was nearly bare which I respected. A room should speak for itself without any clutter, and the hospital feel of the room seemed right. I am not one for a hospital feel, have always disliked the antiseptic look, but I hated things on walls, and these clean lines I could appreciate. Allowing the room to speak for itself the way this one did.
Near the door, though someone had ruined the clean lines with an amalgam of photos and notes in the ugliest collage I’d ever seen. Photos were labeled with sticky notes as if someone was trying to name every moment in their lives, it distracted from the simplicity of the room. The photos looked important, but I could not tell what they were. Where I stood I couldn’t make out the photos, but I’d look later, it’s important to take note of these things.
“Are you ready for our walk?”
The woman’s voice was patient, as one is when dealing with a child. It irritated me. I had not lived my life to be treated like a child. But so many people these days weren’t raised right. I shook my head and thought about my answer. I wasn’t sure if I was ready, but I knew I was going regardless, so I nodded yes and followed her out the door into a long hallway.
The hallway assaulted my nose with the stink of old people. It was like a sickness that someone has given up on washing away so they covered it with plastic flowers. I wasn’t impressed with the people or the place. More bad color choices splashed along the walls and even the carpet was ugly pastels. I would be gagging at the color scheme if I dared open my mouth and let in the stink hanging on the air.
Old people shuffled here and there in robes. I counted maybe three younger folks mixed in, but by and far it was an elder’s gathering. Their clothing was haphazard and poorly chosen. I looked down at the jeans and shirt I found myself in and felt a moment of sympathy for myself and these other poor fashionless souls. I knew my choices were better, but there was better, and there was what I normally wore.
I was not up to snuff, and I felt a moment’s embarrassment that my wife or daughter might see me this way. Sally would be so upset, but our daughter would laugh. Who was I kidding our daughter likely wouldn’t even notice. Her fashion sense had always lacked her mother’s and my finesse. I stared at my clothing with the stink of old people in my nose and said the first thing that came to my mind and what it so happened to be.
“I don’t like it here.”
The woman ducked her head and looked away.
I said it louder, enunciating each word as clearly as I could.
“I don’t like it here.”
“Let’s walk.” The woman’s voice was quiet, I could hear the sadness underpinning her words and let my dislike drop. She began to walk before she stopped and looked back at me standing there. I suddenly had a thought.
“Sally are we leaving soon?”
“Susan my name is Susan.”
I tasted the name and liked it. Sally’s mother had been named Susan.
“My wife’s name is Sally, have you met, my wife?”
“I have, do you remember Sally?” The woman’s smile really was quite beautiful.
“Of course I do, how could I forget anyone so important?” I paused for a moment the woman’s smile had faded and I wondered what I’d said.
Her sadness made her look younger. I momentarily thought of a young girl covered in grease and bruises kicking a little purple bike that had bucked her off. She had been learning to ride but even the most talented crashed at some point for the first time. Most laid and cried, some few got up and tried again. This little girl had kicked the shit out of her bike for daring to buck her off. I had feared she might damage the bike I couldn’t afford to replace, while at the same time filled with pride with the knowledge that she would fight until the end of her days. Her inborn response was to attack, and I was proud of that. That little girl had been magnificent, and she had been mine. So much of me and so much of Sally.
“Are we walking Susan or standing here?”
“You remembered me.”
“Why would I forget you.”
The girl smiled in response. I thought of my wife hidden in that smile, but this woman was not my wife.
“Did I ever tell you about my wife Sally?”
“You have but I’d like to hear more.”
“I was lucky you know. Sally was beautiful sure, but anyone who noticed just that was an idiot. She was the fiercest woman I’ve ever met. She could go from hugging you to slapping your face in the space of a second. A woman to fear, and a woman to love. And love we did, in elevators, bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens, couches, forests. Hell, our daughter was conceived on the Ivy Mountain peak because after that climb who could resist.”
The woman looked embraced and I turned my eyes on her as she turned her’s away. She seemed uncomfortable with what I had said about my wife. I supposed not everyone was free, god knows my own Sally had been more than private in this arena, but I had always been who I was. This younger generation just didn’t know what they were missing with all their restrictions. But they’d grow old, they’d understand. Still, Sally would be upset with me if I offended such a nice young woman, and one does not upset my wife without very good reason. I cleared my throat.
“What I mean to say is that she is a wonder to behold. Is she here?”
With that, we walked amidst our individual silences. The hallway gave way to a faded cafeteria. The tables were cracking with the same age that bent those mulling around with trays covered in browns and greens they called food. At the sight of it my tongue dulled, the spiciest thing in this room was the old white lady mumbling about her stolen crystals in the corner.
“Nobody wants your god damn rocks,” I yelled from where I stood, the very idea irritating me. The food shoppers began to move with a bit more vigor as I heard arguments about stolen rocks begin to circulate. The woman next to me grabbed my arm and guided me away.
“You can be nicer to Mrs. Sawyer you know.”
“Women like her were mean to my wife.”
“They were a product of their time, they didn’t know any better.”
“Ya and Sally was a product of our time, and she suffered for it because of that woman and her bull shit.” I turned back to the old white lady, “Nobody cares about you, you’re gonna die here, you old bitch.”
“Calm down, you always told me that we should live calm lives, so calm down.”
“I am calm.”
“Are you sure.”
“You know Mrs. Sawyer was never mean to mom.”
I wasn’t sure what this woman was talking about, she seemed adamant though, so I said the only thing I could think of, “I don’t know about that.”
“I do, ok.”
“Ok.” I smiled at her hoping it helped smooth over whatever upset her.
“Did you want to eat before our walk?”
I looked around and thought the answer must be obvious. Brown and green piles on tan trays, carried by bent over elders mumbling into their mush. Sally would kill me if I put something like that into my body, though she really would want me to spend time helping the elders.
I moved with purpose through the cafeteria and out the door into the garden. The garden was mostly a waste of flowers and shrubs designed for a calming beauty. I had suggested several times that if they really used the space for more useful plants they could fill that cafeteria with fresh foods at almost no cost. But nobody listened to old people.
The weeds along one bed were irritating and so I arrow lined over to them and crouched down to get into the dirt and start cleaning up the ground. I had always loved to garden, it was something my wife and daughter and I could do together.
“There is an entire landscaping crew to do that.”
This woman sounded frustrated, but I wasn’t sure why. Maybe she didn’t like to get her hands dirty. I decided to talk my way through it.
“Sally always hated weeds, couldn’t stand them in the garden, she won’t want us to leave this bed so badly cared for, when she gets her she’ll be upset if we just leave it. It’s a disgrace it has gotten so bad, Sally would just hate it if she ever saw it.”
“Sally isn’t coming.”
The woman ignored her own whispered words and knelt next to me in the dirt and began pulling weeds. I found myself pointing out this weed or that she should grab, but mostly we sat and dug the dirt in silence.
The feeling was companionable, and I couldn’t help but remember a young girl in a spring dress covered in mud digging with a little shovel. There was industry there in the girl’s every push into the ground and the growing pile of earth beside her. The girl would accomplish nothing but a hole in the ground if I ignored her. It would make her happy, but she’d learn nothing that way. So after my strawberries were cleaned up I handed her some seeds.
“Here you go, bury these and in no time we’ll have tomatoes.”
“You know they won’t let you grow tomatoes, these gardens are for flowers.”
The woman looked at me, always looked at me, her eyes heavy and digging at my skin. My head just ached as I thought about how everyone looked at me in this way now. Like I was an old man. Like I couldn’t remember my own name. Their stupid rooms and bland food spiraling down into days of nothing. I hated it here. I breathed out in exasperation, “Sure sure, no tomatoes.”
I brushed my hands off and just sat there in the dirt.
“I don’t like it here, when am I going home?”
I asked even as part of me knew I was never going home.
“Dad, you know this is home now. You know that since mom died, I just haven’t been able to care for you. Your dementia has gotten so bad you scared the kids.”
She looked down and I could see her attempting to fit her justifications into the little box inside her. I was angry towards and sad at the same time for this woman. “I don’t know why I am saying this. I don’t know why I keep visiting you never remember.”
Thick tears fell to the earth, and I said the only thing I could think of to calm the situation.
“I am getting better, your visits remind me of happier times. Honey, I love you. Sally will see how good you have been when she comes to get me. Don’t worry about me, don’t cry baby.”
I could not think of what else to say, I would not die here in this place.
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3 thoughts on “The Visit (Short Story)”
Lovely story. Touched me. Is it inspired from the book ‘The Notebook’?
It was inspired by my time with my grandfather who also suffered from dementia:(
I am glad it touched you, as it is very important to me as a story.
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