I think she looks beautiful. They’d just done her hair and put on lipstick and what...eyeshadow? Rouge? Her gray hair looks blond in the dim restaurant light. She is smiling and looking around.
“How’s the soup?” I ask her.
“Fine,” she says, “very tasty.”
It’s hard to believe we’ve been married forty-five years this day. When I think back, well, it hurts.
“How’s the soup?” she asks me.
“It’s excellent,” I say. “It’s like you used to make. Same seasonings, I believe. Not as good as yours, of course,” and I laugh politely.
I miss her so much. Even the daily visits are almost too hard to bear. Though sometimes she remembers things and sometimes, if we just sit out on the lawn and don’t talk, it’s almost as if we were young again, just dating. The weather is turning cooler and sometimes we sit in the solarium. But there are others there too, mostly patients, and it’s not as if you can pretend it’s a normal scene. It’s a rest home. A place where mainly the residents are victims of Alzheimer’s Disease. Like my Lola. It gives me a smack-in-your-face vision of how the mind dies in bits and pieces. They call them “plateaus” or “stages.” It’s a strange scene. No one’s playing cards and the TV is on just for noise. I’ve read the booklets they’ve given me to help me understand it. I still don’t understand it at all. I simply adapt.
“How’s the soup?” she asks me. Her spoon is held in delicate fingers. She hasn’t eaten much at all. The taste goes too, the books said. The mind clings to what it can and fights to hold on, and wouldn’t you know it, the taste buds for sweetness are the last ones to go. I bring her chocolates once a week, and those jelly fruit slices sometimes. I think she eats them all in one day. But little else.
“It’s excellent,” I say. “Almost as good as you used to make.” They’ve told me not to try so hard to find different answers. The same one, just like the question, will do.
It started about five years ago, maybe sooner but I missed the signs. There’s so much we get used to, forgive in relationships: the groceries not on the list, the forgotten important scheduled appointment that doesn’t appear so important after all, the lost necklace that turns up in a coat pocket put away for the winter. So much we just laughed over.
And the blindness to flaws that love allows. Both on her part and mine. I, I’ll admit, didn’t take anything all that seriously. No, that isn’t fair; I just wasn’t putting the pieces together, wasn’t as concerned as I probably should have been. And Lola, I suspect Lola might have guessed what was happening but was either too scared or too worried about me to have brought it up. While she could. While we could talk about it. Seek help sooner.
“You should eat a bit more of your soup,” I tell her, knowing well that she’ll just pick at the main course.
She smiles and takes another spoonful, anxious to please; anxious to appear normal and fit in because she doesn’t really know where she is and what she’s doing there.
I raise my wine glass to her. “Happy Anniversary, my love,” I say.
She quickly finds and raises hers. But she says nothing. Mimics my taking a sip. I point to the soup. “Have some more. It’s delicious. It tastes a lot like yours.”
She does pick at the filet she used to devour with such delight. It’s one of the things I loved about her. She’s so tiny, even after three children, but oh, how she could eat!
The pale blue of her dress reminds me of the senior prom and how I brought her pink camellias because I never thought to ask her what color she was going to be wearing. She said they were lovely and had me pin them to the strap of her dress. It’s the same shade of early, early morning. The time we would make love, especially after the children were born.
“Have some of the steak, please,” I urge her on, forkful by forkful of meat, mashed potatoes, the asparagus she used to love but now stares at as if it were garden weeds on the plate. “I love you, Lola. I always will,” I say.
There’s a flash of recognition, then fear, in her eyes. She doesn’t know what to say.
“How’s the steak?” I ask quickly.
She relaxes, smiles, pretends to take a small bite. “Fine,” she says, “fine.”
Sometimes she calls me Roger. My name is John. Roger is a patient there too. She’s told everyone he’s her boyfriend.
But today, this Sunday dinner out at our favorite restaurant, where many of the waiters know her and she knows no one at all, she calls me nothing. It’s happening more and more now. She doesn’t know who I am. But I’m kind and gentle, and that’s all that matters to her in a world that’s collapsing around her and a past that’s fading away.
She loves the dessert, tells me many times how delicious it is. Almost eats up every bite. Little things like this make me happy. It’s all I can do; make the minutes between the long lost hours mean enough to make her happy.
She puts down her fork, looks around, then at me, and seems to forget she’d been eating. “Thank you, John,” she says.
The sweet pain of it is nearly too much.
published 6 December 2011