His Reflection Wandered Away
Alzheimer’s sucked so much of the present out of his mind that the past filled the void. At times, it tries to pull me in too, but I can’t allow that to happen, so I cling tightly to the present reality. When it rained, he was in a Jeep in Vietnam, but the new layer of gravel in the driveway didn’t help him escape the flood then or now. A flare illuminated the battleground; a c-pap machine, the glucose kit with lancets he can’t remember how to use, nineteen pills to be dispensed throughout the day, a Lee Child’s novel with words too hard for him to read, and a clock with numbers that don’t matter anymore. I counted, one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand, before I heard the thunder. He knows it’s really the convoy, but he’s not ready to move on yet.
At the VA hospital, the doctor explained the new medicine might help prevent his memory from slipping away so quickly. He asked three times on the way home what the medicine was supposed to do. I knew he would count the pills that night, it would be three instead of two. He can’t have a straw with his water now because he slips the small, pink pill inside the end of it with his tongue. I explained why he had to take it again, not sure how many times now. I have to remember how many times. It’s important that I know this small piece of information that is not important.
Sometimes he stares at the corner of the room, above the doorframe. That’s where his brother waits for him. His brother has been dead for five years, but they still talk about old times. I stare at my reflection and wonder how this happened. I wonder why the US has seventy-five percent more cases of Alzheimer’s than India. It must be the food. I wonder how much curry and chicken biryani it would take to make his brother leave.
There are days that I worry he’s not coming back, that he will get lost in the jungle or the woods of Alabama where he and his brother grew up. But then he makes a joke and laughs and I know he is comfortably at home. He gets the mail and opens each envelope with his broken pocket knife. He tries to sort the mail. On the electric bill, he wrote “Junk?” On the advertisement, he wrote “save this.” On the credit card bill, he wrote “ARBedy ttut 5o” then he scratched part of it out and tried again. I write on the whiteboard every night before bed so that when he wakes up for reveille he won’t be so confused.
I try hard not to think about where he goes when he’s not here because I don’t know my way around the jungle or even the mess hall. One night, I watched him make his way carefully down the hall. He paused in front of the shadow box that holds his military photo, his medals, and campaign ribbons. That’s how I saw him, the young man in the photo and his reflection. As his body moved down the hall, his reflection drew further and further away from the young man.
About the author:
Lisa Aldridge lives in the Ozarks where she finds inspiration in the woods and people around her. She has an MFA from Lindenwood University and has published short stories, flash fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry in various literary journals, including Gravel, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Northern Liberties Review, Running Out of Ink, and Lunch at Giverny. She started out as a cultural anthropologist, spending time in dusty rooms with effigy pots and skeletal remains, but for now she is an adjunct professor of sociology and anthropology. She is currently working on her third novel, The Death and Rebirth of Maria Sanchez.