Short Short Story
Lynne and I walked outside her assisted living facility toward pink cherry blossoms promising shade from streaming sunshine. Fresh air brushed her cheeks instead of the oppressive lobby atmosphere emptied by the quarantine of fellow dwellers at least septuagenarians and older. Lynne’s 54 with no underlying health concerns, so she could escape her apartment and walk with me separated by social distance to avoid infections from the Covid-19 virus. Across the street we saw a returning resident steadily shuffling small steps along the sidewalk. She wasn’t supervised because she could find her way back. She smiled and lifted her hand in a slight wave.
Lynne said, “That’s why it’s so hard to live here.”
The resident has no speech beyond single syllables. She displays another of the diverse disabilities accompanying some form of dementia limiting nearly ninety percent of the inhabitants, and who relentlessly remind Lynne where Alzheimer’s disease is driving her. When I eat dinner in the dining room I wonder which condition will be mine, or if I’ll be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s like my mother.
Lynne remembers Grammy as happy, which comforted Lynne after her diagnosis. True, Grammy was happy for years, but I get blindsided by bad images of Grammy’s end. My last indestructible image is Mom staring at me with unfocused pupils sunk in eye sockets of the skull I kissed on the forehead. I was shocked into thinking she was already dead. I left on a trip and she died a few days later.
When I returned Lynne to her entrance, her mouth drooped under eyes filling with tears before she turned into the darkened lobby. I needed a long walk before I could shed my sadness and avoid the loneliness in my apartment across the street. My mood lifted on quiet neighborhood sidewalks. Birds chirped in pink, red, and white cherry blossoms and obstinate old growth trees, preserved to reluctantly honor modern brick and steel multi-story condos.
That night I noted in my journal items that made me grateful and wondered what I’d overlooked as I headed into tomorrow. I read until I set down my book to rest before bedtime.
Suddenly a blissful memory walking with Lynne flashed into view as if a TV screen snapped on. I juxtaposed that walk with our walk that day and committed to see if could write something to make the good and bad memories sync.
Fifty, or so, years ago, in a mountain campground, Lynne and I exited a bathroom onto a path between towering pines in the moonless midnight hours. I held her hand as she noticed a glow flowing onto the pathway. She tilted back her head to look. Her grip tightened on my hand as she shoved her other hand skyward and shouted, “Daddy, look at the stars.” I still feel her hand tugging mine as she surged with wonder at her first view of the star-splattered universe.
Lynne and I have vividly shared that mystical night and Grammy’s happiness. But bad memories shelved inside me carry stronger emotions. Science has confirmed negative events trigger more powerful brain signals that aggressively trespass on our tranquility..
Whenever Lynne says Grammy was happy, I silently acknowledge both memories. And remember to be grateful I’ve learned ways to recover from giving her care, and open myself to receive always accessible bliss from sharing my precious child’s happiness.