Irene gazed out the window to face a large parking lot where rows of car windshields reflected blotches of blinding sunshine.
Walk … hoooooomand … go-go-go …
She trotted down the linoleum hallway toward the red EXIT sign, weaving from side to side as her rubber-soled shoes squealed recklessly. Finally she crashed into the glass door shoulder-first, grabbed the handle with both hands, and rocked back and forth - tugging with all her might.
The locked door stood rigidly in place.
Irene turned and stared blankly in the other direction as a young woman named Michelle approached.
“Mom! I was looking for you!” Michelle called.
Irene’s empty gaze denied recognition.
Dumta … don’t … meesman … no …
“I brought cards - here, look - so I can play a game with you.” Michelle fumbled in her bag, then held up a notebook and marking pens. “And here - you can write letters to the kids.”
Irene mechanically scuffed a foot against the baseboard while combing strands of wispy gray hair with her twisted, arthritic fingers. She didn’t want this woman’s attention, or her cards, or her art supplies. She only wanted to leave, to find some less confusing world that made sense.
“But it’s your lunch time, so you should eat first,” Michelle added.
A nurse in a crisp, white uniform approached Irene with a wheelchair. “Have a seat on your throne, Queen Irene!! I’ll wheel you to the dining hall where Michelle can help you with your meal.”
No … arum … galo … no-oooo …
The nurse skillfully maneuvered Irene into the seat, fastened a series of restraining belts, and covered her lap with a snap-on tray. Then she winked as if inviting Michelle to follow, and whispered, “We’re giving this a try since we all know how Irene has a way of escaping from regular chairs!”
Although forced to stay seated, Irene briskly shuffled her feet on the wheelchair footrests as if she were still walking – left, right, left, right, left. All the way to the lunchroom she marched – left, right, left, right, left. Even when her chair stopped beside a table where food already waited, Irene’s feet never missed a beat.
“Here Mom, this looks good – let me help you try some.” Michelle stirred a bowl of steamy soup to help it cool and then offered her mother a bite.
Even though Irene’s lips opened her teeth remained defiantly clenched; chicken broth and noodles dribbled down her chin each time Michelle tried to feed her. She dabbled her fingers on the messy tray, intentionally smeared a noodle until it turned to paste, and then wiped it on her blouse.
Michelle sighed and sat back in her chair. Conversely, Irene leaned forward and put her whole self into the pseudo-walking activity. She craned her neck and gripped the sides of the tray while her feet kept time to the background music playing from the speakers on the wall – left, right, left, right, left.
“Mom, can’t you just rest? Hold still for a minute?”
Irene’s dull eyes studied Michelle’s face. Who was this woman? She looked strangely familiar and yet, not really. Could she be guarding some secret clue to Irene’s escape?
Irene reached for Michelle’s sleeve.
Octama … you …?
“What did you say, Mom?”
Irene hung her head, closed her eyes, and groaned out loud – the low, guttural, despairing moan of one beyond anguish.
Would there be no end to this torment? Would confusion, futility, and loneliness continue to stalk her every moment of every day?
Rompa-marindo … saaaad … hondolata-caringeta … saaaad … saaaad ….
Suddenly a sweet voice penetrated Irene’s chanting as Michelle held her mother’s shoulders and sang a soft lullaby – a childhood favorite. Hypnotized, Irene raised her head and stared at the young woman beside her. Could it be?
Mich-elle … Mich-elle … my ba-by … mine …
“Oh Mom … MOM! Do you know who I am, now? Do you recognize me?”
The two embraced while their hot tears merged to run in rivulets down Irene’s wrinkled cheeks.
“Mom! It’s me! Look at me; I love you!!” Michelle’s hands held her mother’s face and she stared intently into her mother's eyes.
Irene pushed Michelle away and resumed her earlier mumbling. The fleeting moment of recognition was gone. Another deceptive cloud descended over Irene’s confused mind and she returned to her inner prison - the cell labeled “solitary confinement” - where Alzheimer’s disease held her captive.
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