It was good seeing you last week, I know it’s been awhile and I know I need to visit more often. But I’ll be honest, I get worried before stopping by. I’m afraid you’ll forget who I am. Since your diagnosis, I know it’s a matter of time before that’s the case. But each visit you remember me; the exact time I’ll stop by, what I like to eat and what we talked about on our last meet. You even remembered to make a copy of that photo I love. The one from Chicago in 1938, when you were sixteen, serving as a maid to those wealthy people from the city. You look adorable in that photo, It’s no wonder Grandpa snatched you up so quick. But on each visit you slip away just a bit further. In subtlety; you look a little older, your attention to me more distant. Death, but more so, dying, becomes a reality to me when I see you. And I just don’t know how to handle it.
Did I mention that the frame you picked out for that photo couldn’t have been more perfect. You’re so young there in that yard; your youth eases the thought of time running out.
Last November you asked me a really odd question. Do you remember what it was? You asked, “what are all those markings on your legs?” And I thought you were talking about my shin injuries. Those scars that run up and down my legs: from when my foot slips off my bike pedals. I went into detail explaining to you the grim, bloody, details of those scars and then realized you were talking about tattoos. The one on the back of my calf in particular: that tarot card, with the image of a death’s head. Its true meaning serves plain and simple as the symbol for death. Who’s death I’m not sure? I wasn’t planning on it being my own, and I wouldn’t wish death on anyone. It just makes me feel young; having this image of the ultimate stuck underneath my skin and not being scared. Well I am scared, I just try not to think about it. Seeing you reminds me how fragile you are, and really, how fragile I am. I know that at some point, death is all that will be on my conscience. I know I will be consumed. For now, apathy is my antiseptic.
Besides the image and what it truly is, the card serves as a symbol of “treasure,” of something that I wish to keep forever. Let me to you a little story.
A. brought the card back for me from her trip to the city. She hated the image. A bit brutal it is, a bit too abrasive. But I loved its grimacing face, the colors, and the font that “death” was written in. For years, I have had it above my computer. As I busied myself with schoolwork, writing tedious essays about science experiments, or, what I thought was meaningful lines of verse, the death’s head loomed on my shelf. For me, it was and still is a gift from A., besides death, something that represented her kindness, her support, and her love. It was like any other little treasure. Its true meaning hidden behind something subjective, something you created for it the moment you received it. It could have been a box of candy hearts, it could have been a plastic skeleton−you know I love skulls and bones. Because of A.’s devotion, it all means the same thing, regardless of the shape.
Do you remember the last time I visited you? I stared at my brother’s wedding photo and you, you sat to my left, in your dinner chair with your favorite cushion. There were remnants of pasta in your bowl, some fresh vegetables unfinished. You looked up at me and asked what I was looking at. And I told you how long A.’s hair was. How beautiful she looked. How I love her glasses even though she hates them. How I still can’t believe we’ve spent ten years together. I apologized for A. not being able to stop by on that visit. I told you that the photo seemed like yesterday. You paused, took a breath and said that you didn’t know who A. was. My heart sunk.
Instead of explaining, I just stood silent. And in that instance, your Alzheimer’s became a reality. I knew that it was going to be a slow process. A metamorphosis changing everything that is ultimate; self-worth, the love bestowed upon you by others, and the simple, yet so complicated act of living. It breaks my heart that life is given away to something as hateful as nothingness. It just breaks my heart.
I’m going to stop by again soon when I’m not so busy. But I feel guilty that that’s my excuse. It’s funny how you always forgive me, you say it in the same, lackluster tone: “I understand, everyone is busy.” But being too busy can be a curse. And I’m caught in it, caught up in the moment where “busy” is an excuse not to think, not to feel, and not to worry. It’s easier that way, and I’ve become really good at it. Once every month is like a year in your condition. I’ll have to visit once a week. Just a quick visit so you know that I’m coming back soon.
I don’t want you to forget me.
P.S.-Tonight I took down that Tarot Card from my shelf. Funny enough, the little clearing that opened up offered a perfect place for my new framed photo.
Published in HRVST: "Death," Issue #1. March 2010. Berlin, Germany.