by Angelina Morris
(Dunmore PA USA)
*Disclaimer- The following story is not a children's story, but is family friendly. It does deal with the very hard reality of Alzheimer's Disease and what families go through when a loved one is diagnosed. You can read it and discuss it with your children to help them understand if you like.
When I awoke and turned to look at her, her face looked ten years younger then it had the night before. For a moment, I thought I might still be dreaming, but then I realized this change had been gradually coming. All the daily worries of life had been removed. Her mind was no longer able to absorb the news headlines, the microwave buttons, or the changing tax fees. I did it all now and gladly. I’d been looking for a small job since I’d retired anyway, though I hadn’t quite counted on this. But like I said, I didn’t mind. The change in my wife, I refuse to say disease, such an ugly word, had given her a peace, a serenity that fit her well. Her eyes were mild and calm now, even on the day they rested on our cat lying still in the middle of the road. I had tried to stop her as she ran out the door with a blanket her eyes asking me to follow. Its fur was stiff in the morning air. I pried it from the pavement as she waited holding out her arms as eagerly as she had received our first son.
“It’s dead Marie.” I reminded her gently.
But she only continued cooing and rocking until I was afraid she really had gone off the deep end. I followed her back to the porch expecting a request for a cradle, but she only stumbled over to the shed and handed me a shovel. We dug a grave in the garden together.
Such patience. Hours and hours darning the same pair of socks, the hole redone so many times that I begged her to let me get a new pair. But she only kept on threading, the morning light bathing her face, gentle fingers kneading away any sense of time. The doctor said I would have her for a good many years yet; her heart was as healthier than my own. He suggested, tactfully of course, that I might want to read up on some of his free literature on “establishments for proper care”. The look on my face must have said enough because his hand never made it back out of that desk drawer.
“Breakfast Marie.” I touched her cheek softly before swinging my aching legs out of bed.
I noticed how cold her skin was and decided to close the window. Spring had come to stay but the nights were still damp. Downstairs I pulled out the waffle iron; well I should say one of them. Each had been a gift from one of the kids, and each had come equipped with an automatic shut off, so that crazy Mom and Pop wouldn’t torch the place. Forty five years repairing electrical appliances and they still enlarged the print on the instruction books for me.
“But you have so much more to take care of now Dad,” they would say, their eyes straying guiltily to where Marie sat staring at the blank TV, laughing and swaying to a program long canceled. What did they think? That they had been all sweetness and light? That their teenage years had been worry free and lovely to recall? Each year I had watched the barber sweep away more and more of my hair more and more of it gray, and I knew I had them to thank for it, at least my Marie never did that.
The red light on the waffle iron was blinking noisily; it was ready for the batter. I poured the instant mix over the metal patchwork watching it steam and hiss. I looked around as I worked waiting to hear the soft sound of Marie’s feet on the stairs. She always smelled food cooking at least we had that, she ate well. I set the table for two using our wedding dishes just for the heck of it, and even taped a plastic flower to her juice glass. I sat and waited for awhile, the sun was bright in the living room, slanting across the rugs. I knew I should get up and close the blinds, Marie would have a fit if her Oriental rug faded, but I couldn’t move my feet, something kept niggling in the back of my brain, something was wrong.
“She’s entitled to sleep in.” I told myself firmly and gathered up the plates on a tray, the waffles a bit cold but they would do. The bedroom was hot now, the sun full on her face. It surprised me that she did not stir; she always wanted the blinds tightly closed during an afternoon nap. She slept a lot, it was to be expected I guess, with all the medication, and I didn’t mind. I wasn’t lonely. She was still there, tucked under her homemade quilts, hair neatly combed, face washed, so what if I was the one who did it all? It was done.
I felt so safe watching her dream, the steady rise and fall of her chest, lowering my ear to hear her heart as she had once done to me, the week before our third child was due, or overdue I should say. She couldn’t sleep, couldn’t find a comfortable spot to settle in, until she’d rested her head across my chest.
“I can hear you.” She had murmured sleepily and then was out.
I couldn’t think about that day now for some reason. I just couldn’t. I sat on the edge of the bed settling the good china precariously on my knees. I cut the waffles putting them in my mouth mechanically, piece by piece tasting nothing. The phone started ringing, but I ignored it. I was busy.
“Answer the phone Marie,” I whispered. “Wake up and answer it, please answer it.”
The waffles were falling out of my mouth too salty and wet to swallow, but I just kept putting them back in. Suddenly I couldn’t stand any of it, not for one more second even the scrape of my fork on the dish was deafening. I jumped up the plates shattering at my feet, covering my ankles with shards of yellow daises.
“Answer the phone!” I yelled. “ANSWER IT! ANSWER IT!”
As I stood there knees buckling, staring at her motionless face, three things happened at once. The caller hung up, glass sliced into my toe, and my Marie opened her eyes.
“What’s wrong Teddy” she asked. “What is it?”
I gazed at her smooth familiar face and for a moment forgot everything. Everything that had happened this past year, every frantic phone call for help I had thought I needed to make only a few moments before. Our life would be the same as ever they would all see, she would get up, button her clothes perfectly, and we would march to the doctor hand in hand letting him see for himself that he made a mistake and that she could still take good care of herself.
She touched my cheek. “”You’re crying Teddy.” She sounded amazed. “I’ve never seen you cry, have I?” she paused and took my hand. “Have you been drafted honey? Don’t worry we’ll make it through. I’ll wait for you.” She frowned suddenly looking at the floor. “Is that my wedding china down there Theodore?!”
I started to laugh. Laugh and cry until I didn’t know which was which. She had closed her eyes again and this time I could watch her breathing. I wasn’t afraid anymore. Up and down. Tick and tock. My silver watch was loud against my wrist. I flicked open the face and rewound the hands setting them at crazy hours, after all how smart is time? If I can make it dizzy maybe it will get lost and I’ll get to keep her forever, but if it finds us…
Her eyelids fluttered softly as she slept, tiny wings testing the air.
“It will be all right Teddy. I’ll wait for you.”
And somehow, I know she will.
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