Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How It All Turned Out

As promised, here is my short story.  Told from the perspective of a loved one of an Alzheimer's sufferer.  One day I might attempt to write from the other side, but as of yet I just don't feel like I could capture what I can only guess it must be like.  This is a work of fiction.  No direct correlation exists between any actual person and the characters in the story.  Please remember to pick up a copy of Scarlet and the Keepers of the Light or The Truest Life as all of my proceeds until Christmas will go to the Alzheimer's Association and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

How it All Turned Out

What is it that you’re so afraid of?  It’s Nana.  The same woman you’ve known all your life.  Just gotten a little bit old too fast, that’s all.
“Hello,” I said, to the plumb, middle age woman at the desk.  She smiled warmly, but gave me a questioning look.  I guess at thirty-one, I was a little out of place.  “I’m here to visit my grandmother.  I’m Jonathan Charles.  My mother…”
“Oh, of course,” the woman interrupted.  “She’s going to be so excited to see you.”
“Does she know I’m coming?” I asked.
The woman frowned ever so slightly, her smile almost returning fast enough to hide the slight display of sadness.  But it was there; I saw it.
She paused.  A natural pause from anybody else.  Just thinking of the right words.  Not here though.  Not in this situation.  It was filled with unspoken pity.  I had to admit though, she hid it well.  Most people would never notice.  “Let’s just take you to her, shall we.  She’s in the main hall listening to music.”
Lord, it hasn’t been that long.  How bad could it really be?  Mom exaggerates…worries needlessly.  It’s part of her charm.  But this lady, she has no reason to exaggerate or worry.  She deals with this all the time. 

We entered the hall where a large gathering of elderly sat in two rows while an old man played the violin poorly.  Not one member of the aged audience seemed to notice this.  They smiled joyously, as if they were listening to a virtuoso.  My guide waited for the song to end and then cleared her throat.
“Everyone,” she called out.  “This is Mrs. Charles’ grandson, Jonathan.  He’s come for a visit.”
They all turned and stared at me, the same joyous look on their faces.  They clapped, eyes beaming.  My Grandmother looked up from her chair where she had been nodding off and turned to me.
Here it is.  The moment of truth.  They told you to be prepared for it Jonathan.  You can’t say they didn’t warn you.
“Jonathan,” my Grandmother exclaimed.  “My darling boy.”
I breathed a deep and noticeable sigh of relief. 
Always making it worse than it is.  Human nature I guess.
“Hi Nana,” I answered.
My guide helped her to her feet, an effort on both their parts.  I moved to help but the woman motioned me away.  We all walked slowly to a sitting room and after the woman left us, I sat in the chair beside my Grandmother.
“How are you?” I asked loudly.  That bit they hadn’t exaggerated about.
“I’m fine, fine.  How are you my darling boy?”
Well, my marriage is a joke.  I’m pretty sure my wife doesn’t really love me, not sure if she ever did.  Despite all that, the current situation is almost entirely my fault, as I’m immature and horrible with money.  I’m an overweight alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in two years and pretty much feel like a complete waste.
“Great,” I lied.  “Doing real well.”
“That’s good.”
She patted my hand and sat back in her chair, smiling.  I looked at her closely, studying the familiar lines of her face.  The wrinkles were deeper, but it was still that same wonderful face I’d loved all my life.  My savior in times of strife and need.  My protector and provider.  My shield and my strength.   
“You’re a policeman, now, right?” she asked, only seeking confirmation.
“Yep, sure am.  Almost two years now,” I answered.
Her smile seemed to grow, which didn’t seem possible, but I knew better.  There was no end to that smile and its capacity to bring comfort and warmth.
“That’s just wonderful.  You always wanted to be a policeman, you know?”
“I know.  Oh,” I said, pulling out my phone.  “I almost forgot.”  I navigated through several screens and pulled up the pictures of my boys that I had recently taken.  “Thought you’d like to see some pictures.”
I showed the phone to her and she smiled, and made comments on how cute they were and how much they’d grown.  She began to look tired, so I put the phone away.
“You like coming here?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s such a nice place.  They run it through the church.  That way elder people have somewhere to go, while people are at work.  And they’re such nice people.”
“That’s great.”
I wish you didn’t even have to know this place existed.
My grandfather passed when I was five, and to me, even at five years old, it was like losing my whole world.  He and I had been as close as any two people could be, and I had only five short years with him.  My grandmother knew this and had spent even last 26 years loving me for the both of them.  It was like losing them both, seeing her slip away.
“I saw your house, you remember?” she asked, referring back to the scenes from the pictures, I assumed.  “Such a nice house.  And those boys…so beautiful.  Nana’s little Angels.”  There was that smile again.
I smiled back.  She was right, it was a nice house.  If she only knew how tense and troubled those who lived in it spent there every moments.  How much I avoided it whenever I could. 
“How is Sarah?” she asked.  I couldn’t hide the surprise on my face.  She was supposed to be so far gone and yet she wasn’t missing a beat.  The rhythm was slow, that was true, but she was still on beat.  For a moment, I almost contemplated laying it all on her.  Get her wizened advise.  Hear that voice of hope and comfort.
“She’s well.”
A long, not uncomfortable silence followed.  At first I searched for the next thing to say, but then I just held her hand and enjoyed the moment.  The man from the hall was still playing his violin and his audience was still, evident by their applause, enjoying the show. 
She then turned to me, and with eyes that for a moment didn’t seem old at all, she said, “I think its just wonderful how it all turned out, don’t you?”
How it all turned out.  If you only knew, Nana.
I had looked away but she had not, still looking straight into me with clear focused eyes.  When I met her gaze again, she held me there for another moment, then she too turned away.  When she looked back, that clarity was gone.
“Have you seen you grandfather yet?” she asked.
My heart wrenched.  My breath stolen. 
I wish, Nana.  God I wish that could be true.  Wouldn’t he know exactly what to do?  Like what do I say right now?
“Not yet, Nana.  Not yet.”
She shook her head.  “Well he just floats in and out.  No tellin’ when he’ll show up.”
I searched her face for further meaning, but found none.  This was to her, as simple and true a statement as any other.  We spent another hour together, talking about nothing and everything.  Over the course of the hour, she faded more and more, almost as if she had gone to sleep without ever going unconscious.
I walked from the elder care facility with a heavy heart as confused as ever, her words rolling over and over in my head.  ‘I think its just wonderful how it all turned out.’
What’s wonderful.  The fighting.  The tension.  The anger.  The lack of any kind of relationship.  Nana couldn’t know that, shouldn’t.  At least in her world, a world that’s closing in on her, everything turned out alright.
The drive was long, mostly due to traffic.  The mustang swallowed asphalt in bursts between traffic jams.  And then suddenly, it all came in on me.  Thirty minutes from my exit, it descended on me like a flood and somehow I was completely ill prepared.  I pulled the car over to the shoulder and gave in.  I wept and I screamed.  I fought and surrendered. 
The fact was, it had turned out alright.  I had a job I enjoyed.  Despite our problems, I was married to a smart beautiful woman.  And the children.  Two healthy, smart gorgeous children.  What did anything else matter?  Wasn’t everything else just a problem to be worked through?
By the time I pulled into the drive I had pulled myself together.  I knew what I had to do.  With marked determination, I stormed into the house.  My wife was at the kitchen table, a shocked look on her face.  She had stopped serving the two children wearing a look that basically said, ‘what are you doing?’.
I walked straight to her, pulled her close, kissed her as long and deep as I knew how.  The explanation would come later.  The how’s and why’s. 
Then, she pulled away.  The same expression half way between bewilderment and anger on her face.  She then turned and went back to serving the children.
“The bank statement came today,” she said.  “Is there something you forgot to tell me…again?”
Forgot to tell you.  How many things I have forgotten to tell you.

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