Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Don’t Look Back (04/19/12)
- TITLE: Vacancy
By Chely Roach
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In a long series of bad days, in a horrid year—a year that I have cried more than any in my life—this day, might have been the worst yet.
But now as I watch her, she’s so peaceful…so sweet. Like after other rough days, her sleep is somewhat restless; her arms reach out heavenward, her lips mumble words and pantomime taking bites of food or licking ghost ice cream cones. But she’s calm. In the land of dreams where nothing makes much sense, she is at home.
Back when we were newlyweds—such a strange word for two fifty-year-old people, both in second marriages—we frequently visited her mother in a nursing home. In a very short span, we watched the Alzheimer’s erode her mind, body, and the very essence of her personality, into a black hole of confused hostility till nothing remained. After one of the later visits, we sat in the parking lot as my beautiful second-chance bride sobbed. She turned to me, When it happens to me, when it goes to pot like this, just put me in a home and walk away. Don’t look back. I don’t want you to see me like that…I don’t want to hurt you like she is hurting me.
She knew. She knew then that this was her fate.
Tears filled my eyes, and she probably thought I understood and agreed, but I was choking on her words. Don’t look back. That phrase was in the last—or perhaps second to last?—note that my first wife left on the nightstand beside her shell. You deserve so much more…marry again…don’t look back. I shook off the ghost, squeezed my new love’s hand in reassurance, and vowed to never let her slip away. Never.
I am cursed.
History is repeating itself in a crude, cruel parallel.
Tonight she has an accident, as she often does now. She doesn’t understand why this keeps happening. I coaxed her into the shower to clean her up. She screamed at me, cried, cussed me, said she was going to leave and go home. The f bomb made three appearances. The majority of her vocabulary—the entirety of her life and mind—sits on the tip of her tongue, refusing to pass her sweet lips, but vile things she would have never said before fly freely. For the forty-third time today alone, she said, I am going to kill myself. And for the forty third time today, my heart shriveled in sorrow. Then I cried, too. Often I doubt there is a God, and if He’s up there, surely He has forsaken me. Punishing me maybe, for not doing enough the first time around. But when she utters the phrase kill myself, I know with all my heart that the Devil lives.
While my mind wondered and sulked, without warning, she sat down defiantly in the tub demanding a bath instead of a shower. For the next hour, I tried to get her out. I tried towels as slings, from under the armpits, around her waist, but nothing worked. We both cried and cussed and cried some more. Faced with calling 911, I dialed a neighbor. Mortified but saintly, he averted his eyes and scooped my bride from the tub like a toddler, leaving quietly in his wake the realization I had been ignoring for months, if not years…
I will not be able to do this by myself forever. All the love, devotion, and head strong determination I possess cannot put youthful muscle tissue back into my seventy-year-old body. I struggle through what my Alzheimer’s caregiver’s guidebook calls “36 hours days”, and honestly, they are sucking me dry. But I would do it for another five years, or for the rest of my life, just to be with her, to make her feel a little more safe, to hold her hand and coax her back a tiny inch from the precipice of madness. Just to watch her sleep peacefully in our bed, like I am doing right this moment.
But I am cursed.
The last spark of recognition will burn out. She will focus her lovely blue eyes on nothing, fade into the vacancy, and never, ever look back.
Fear grips me, like watching my beloved being buried alive, of those days, weeks, months, she will be alone in the dark, between our home and her next.
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