By Rachel McMillen
The garden was beautiful, full of bright, spring flowers. The scent of grass mingled with the soft perfume of lilacs. She was sitting in the sun, a plaid blanket over her knees. Her white hair glowed. Her gnarled hands lay quietly on her lap. Something far beyond the trees had drawn her gaze and she didn’t notice me. I sat down beside her, willing her to turn. Hoping, wanting, helpless, desperate, lost. There were no rules for this. No map to follow. All the greetings were useless. All the habits of the past sixty years were meaningless. All the shared memories were gone.
Why was I here?
I told myself it was for her, but she no longer knew me. It had been a year since she said my name, months since she acknowledged my presence. Yet still I made this pilgrimage every week, counting the days, dreading the days. I worried constantly about what to say. Dreamed of shared laughter and conversation. Yearned for the warmth of her smile.
Such foolishness. It was all gone.
Now I sat in silence, leaning gently against her. Memories streamed like a river in flood: school days, camping trips, vacations, hurt knees, hurt feelings, lost friends, new friends, report cards, first date, graduation, marriage, divorce, children, work. The currents and eddies of my life and through all of them she was there. She was my anchor, my sounding board, my mentor, my friend. Now she no longer knew me. She was gone – and yet I could still see her. Could smell her familiar scent. Could touch her warm skin. The need to speak, to communicate, to connect, was overwhelming and I struggled desperately for words that would reach her. But what to say?
“How are you?” Meaningless.
“Guess who I saw today?” Useless.
“Did I tell you Mark’s daughter got an A on her report card?” Irrelevant.
“We are planning on going to Mexico this winter?” Incomprehensible.
“I got a card from Aunt Val today.” So what!
We sat there, silent, for almost an hour. The sun slowly sank behind the trees and shadows dappled the lawn. A thousand untold thoughts came and went, sliding silently into the mists of isolation. Events that had seemed so important this morning faded into obscurity.
A sudden revelation! Was it me? Did my life need vocalization to be real? Was I living in a half-world where unacknowledged events were meaningless? I looked across at her serene face and saw her smile. Tears filmed my eyes and I finally found the words.
I was halfway up the path when I heard her voice, faint and caressing.