It’s too hot out here. She said I should go for a walk, but now I’m too hot. Maybe I’ll stop here under a tree and wait until it gets cooler. Wait, which way do I go to get home? This sweatshirt is hot.
Where the hell is he? I know I’m supposed to have patience with him, but I’m tired. I should have left him watching TV. He loves those damned rodeo shows. After the third replay of some girl getting thrown, he always says, “Gee, why does she keep getting on that ornery horse, anyway?” This morning he tried to get dressed in MY shirt. I didn’t mean to yell, really I didn’t. But did he think he should be wearing a sweatshirt that said, “World’s Best Grandmother?” He said he was cold. I gave him his “World’s Best Grandfather” sweatshirt. I sent him outside a while ago. I need a break for five minutes. I don’t see him down at the end of the drive. I feel like I could cry and cry for days, but there is no time. Now I’ll have to go look for him and we have a doctor’s appointment in town in ten minutes. I’ll take the car. That way we can go straight to the doctors.
Why is that car stopping by my tree? The woman in the driver’s seat is yelling something, but I …I can’t hear. I guess I’ll go and see what this is all about…oh, it’s her. Yes, dear, I’ll get in the car, but I really have to pee. She says we are going to the doctors. Oh, okay. Hey look, there’s Ma’s house. There’s no car in the driveway, she must be out today. That’s what I say out loud, but she tells me Ma is dead for years and years. Oh, God. I didn’t know that. I turn my head to the window; I don’t want her to see me crying.
His mother has been dead for 20 years. That’s what I tell him when he says his mother was probably out, driving. He looked shocked when I told him. But then he turned away to look out the window again; he’s probably forgotten what I told him. Lord, another doctor’s dementia assessment. Maybe I should be assessed. Couldn’t find my car keys yesterday and today, I forgot his prescriptions until half the day was over. I can’t imagine both of us in this state. “Let’s go dear, the doctor is waiting,” I tell him as he takes forever to get out of the car. “Don’t forget your cane,” I remind him for the hundredth time today.
Oh, there’s the door with “MEN” written on it. I’ll head there, maybe she’ll tell me if it’s not where I’m supposed to go. Wait, what am I here for? I’ll go ask her.
I had to quietly remind him he had to go pee. I wanted to blurt out, “Go into the bathroom and pee, for God’s sake! And don’t forget your cane this time! I don’t want to search for it later!” Now, he’s been in there for 10 minutes and the nurse is here with his chart. I don’t want to be embarrassed by his slowness. I tell her he’s in the bathroom and she nods knowingly and says she will be right back. I knock on the door a couple of times and he says, “What?” What? What the hell do you think! Come out here, the nurse is ready, I shout inside my head.
I think I’m done. Did I go? I guess I’ll wash my hands, but there’s no towel next to the sink. I’ll wipe my hands on my pants. Oooh, here’s a candy in my pocket! I open the door and the first thing she says is, “Where’s your cane?” I didn’t know I had one. Oh, there it is, on the door of the stall. I guess I must have gone in there. She asks me why my pants are all wet, but I don’t know why. I don’t say anything; I don’t want anyone to see the candy in my mouth. I shrug when she asks me again.
Oh, it feels good to sit here and read a magazine without worrying. It’s time to get some respite again for a few hours. I wish I could stay home and be by myself for the afternoon. I love him, but I’m exhausted from him. I remember when he would take out the garbage, but I have to show him where that is. I just do it myself. I have to do all the chores. He can’t figure out how to get the vacuum going and half the time we argue about whether or not he has vacuumed the bedroom. He says yes, and I know he didn’t even go down the hall! I might as well do it myself.
Why am I looking at these pictures? The lady in the white asks me to tell her the names of the pictures, but I don’t know what some of them are. “Wait, that looks like a horse, like the one we had on the farm.” I must have been right, because the lady in white tells me, “Good, what about the next one?” I start to talk about the farm and the horses, about how Ma and Pop made me clean out the stalls, about how I met my wife at a horse show and how I fell in love with her smile, but the nurse keeps asking me about another picture. I don’t know what it is. I shrug.
I love the AARP magazine. I imagine it is the two of us looking healthy and having fun. What happened to us? When did the dementia start? One day he was mowing the lawn, paying the bills, holding me close at night, and the next he disappeared for two hours in his truck and couldn’t remember where he’d been. When it happened again, I sold the truck. He sat on the porch for hours after it was gone, staring out at the driveway. He rocked and rocked, and when I asked him if he wanted supper, he shrugged. I brought him his meal to eat on the porch. Finally, late into the evening, I asked if he wanted to come in now and go to bed. He looked at me and said, “Where’s my truck?” I held his hand and told him we were all worried about his forgetfulness. And that was the day he said, “But I won’t ever forget my truck.”
I told the lady in white the picture was a truck, and she said, “Great!” Yeah, I know trucks, don’t you worry. I used to have one. But she sold it, over my dead body I told her, but I sure was alive that day. I miss the truck. I told the lady in white I used to have a green one. Behind me, behind the bench seat, I kept all my hats, ‘cause you never know when you might need a hat. But the lady in white reached over and patted my hand and said we were done, that I could go home now. She told me my wife was waiting for me. I nodded and headed for the door. “Don’t forget your cane,” the lady in white said. Oh, is that my cane?
While he went into the bathroom again, the nurse said that it seems his recognition of things isn’t getting any worse, but he’s much slower in coming up with the answers. She said the doctor will want to see him in 2 months. I want to say, “Wasn’t this supposed to be our golden years? Happy looking people on a glossy page, that’s what I want to be! Not this.” Not this endless vigilance, or constant worry about paying bills, emptying garbage, picking beans in the garden and driving to doctor’s appointments. I want our life back, goddamn it! I just want to sit in the corner and cry, but we are meeting friends for pizza. I knock on the door of the bathroom, urge him to get done. I get him in the car but have to go back to the men’s room for his cane.
I tell her I remember the truck. It was green. She looks at me like I’m crazy, and asks, “What brought that up?” I shrug because I don’t know. But I remember the truck. She reaches over to my hand and gives it a squeeze. That feels good. And she says she’s sorry she had to sell it. And I look at her and say, “We sold it?” She laughs her beautiful laugh, squeezes my hand, and says, “Let’s go get pizza.” “Ok,”I say.
Terry Cleveland is a closeted writer, coming out slowly, but surely.
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