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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Anniversary (04/11/05)

TITLE: Darling Stranger


Darling Stranger

Vivian stared at the stranger sitting beside her bed. She had the impression he had been there before, and that thought kept her from screaming for help. She doubted the “white coats” would take her screams seriously. Even if she didn’t know who he was, they seemed to like him, and didn't appear to mind answering the questions he asked about her. No, Vivian decided, it was best to just be quiet and endure the strange man's visits.

She was certain that he came every day, apparently staying until she tired. He would chatter on about his life, always with a hopeful look on his face, only to leave with a sad, tearful look in his eyes. She knew that on occasion he brought a young man and a young woman with him. The man looked like a younger version of the stranger, except where the older man’s hair was gray, the young man's was brown. Both men had the same sad, dark eyes, but the young woman's eyes were a bright, intense blue and sparkled whenever she smiled, most notably when she talked about the baby she was carrying. She offered to brush Vivian's hair and Vivian loved her gentle touch. Like the two men, the girl seemed to resemble someone Vivian used to know. Was it a little girl in ballerina slippers with pretty ribbons in her hair? Vivian thought she had brushed hair just that color before, but no matter how hard she tried, she could not remember who it was. The image was too elusive, too frustrating, and it made her tired to think about it.

Now, the man was talking about the new grandbaby his daughter was expecting and Vivian wondered why he thought she would be interested and why he singled her out for these daily visits.

"Today's a very special day, Vivian. Do you know why?" the man was saying, again with that hopeful look in his eye. Vivian shook her head and her eyes strayed to the long-stemmed red rose wrapped in green tissue that he'd placed in her hand. The rose seemed familiar, significant somehow. Vivian kept quiet.

"It's our 40th wedding anniversary," the man replied, then sighed softly. "I know you don't remember it, darling, but I have enough good memories for the both of us."

His words made her sad for reasons she could not quite comprehend and when he began to talk again Vivian listened intently, trying hard to understand who he was talking about.

He recounted wonderful and sometimes funny stories about his wife – he called her Vivian and maybe that provided a clue, but she wasn’t certain – and their two children, Derek and Lynn. Lynn was expecting a baby and Derek was now engaged with a wedding planned for the summer. He spoke with such love and compassion that Vivian soon relaxed and for a while felt comforted by his voice. Occasionally, his words would provoke an image that would flash through her mind, leaving as abruptly as it came. Vivian began to grow agitated, frustrated with the attempt to keep up with him and to attach significance to the transitory images.

Finally, like a little child, Vivian put her hand over her ears in frustration.

“Stop it! I don't want to hear anymore," she told him, shaking her head rebelliously.

Had she done this before? she wondered, watching the stranger stand up as if to go. He didn't seem alarmed, just resigned. He leaned over as if to kiss her on the head, but Vivian shrank away from him. He patted her hand; the one that held the rose and managed a whispered and tearful, "I love you" as he left her room, watching her until he was out the door.

Vivian lay on her bed absently stroking the velvety petals of the rose, her mind a chasm of disconnected thoughts.

There was a wedding dress. A nursery painted blue, then later pink. A worn white bible. A strand of pearls and a dozen red roses. She could see the stranger holding her in his arms.

A tear slipped down one cheek and for a moment Vivian remembered the stranger's name.

It was Frank.

"Happy Anniversary, darling," Vivian whispered to the empty room, relishing the memory just before it receded into nothingness.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Corinne Smelker 04/18/05
A sweet, sad story that accurately depicts the life of a family dealing with Alzheimer's.

Thank you for entering it.
Pat Guy 04/18/05
I loved this piece. I love it because it shares the bittersweet relationship with a loved one who has developed Alzheimers and the world the loved one must constantly struggle to function within. Thank you for taking the time to write this and share it. Well, well done! Pat
Karri Compton04/18/05
So sad! This reminds me of my husband's parents, both who don't remember me or my kids anymore.
Well written.
God bless, Karri
vicki mccollum04/19/05
Very well written. The only suggestion I would make would be to somehow clue the reader in at the beginning that it is an Alzheimer (?) story, if that is what it is. Perhaps in the title in some way (?) Otherwise, I think it's perfect.
Lynne Gaunt04/19/05
You did a great job handling this sad topic in a way that gives us a glimpse of what its like for both the patients and their families. Thanks for sharing this important work.
Suzanne R04/21/05
Absolutely beautiful.
Helga Doermer04/21/05
Reminiscent of a page from the notebook
Leticia Caroccio04/22/05
A dignified piece. You were able to perfectly portray the thoughts and pain of Vivian. I found myself there and it made me uncomfortable. You did a fine job. I really enjoyed it.
Sally Hanan04/23/05
Very well done and drew me right in to the pain of not being recognized anymore.
Karen Deikun04/25/05
This was so beautifully done. What a trubute to the many loving spouses who walk through this valley and show up every day at nursing homes - continuing to love in spite of obstacles like Alzheimer's.
Deborah Porter 04/25/05
Diane, what a great entrance to FaithWriters and the Challenge! 3rd place in the Editor's Choice and 1st place in the Level 2 Champion Challenge, is really quite an achievement. Well done. I know you're only new to the Challenge, but believe it or not, it's time for you to move up to Level 3. As far as the judges' ratings for your entry went, you were only a breath away from the second place winner. Again, congratulations and I know we'll all look forward to seeing more of your work in the future. With love, Deb (Challenge Coordinator)
Deborah Porter 06/01/05
Hi Diane. I'm just editing the next FaithWriters' anthology, in which this wonderful story is going to be included. I'm all teary sitting here reading it again. It's such a powerfully beautiful and tragic piece. Anyway, I just noticed that you haven't really done any more writing at FaithWriters since about April, and if you are writing somewhere else then that's great. But if you aren't, I really wanted to take a moment to encourage you to keep writing. You have a very definite gift, as evidenced by this excellent story. I just wanted to take a moment to make sure you kept using it (just in case you weren't). With love Deb (Challenge Coordinator)