The Power of Forgetting
I stared out the large, glass window facing the backyard. It was a typical warm, sunny San Diego day, cloudless with the ocean glistening off in the distance behind the rows of stucco houses. I could never get tired of this weather. Once a Cali Girl, always a Cali Girl.
I turned back towards the kitchen and scoured the cabinet for my favorite red clay mug my husband, Charles, had made for me 35 years ago. I opened every cherry brown cabinet and I couldn’t seem to find where I put it. “Mom, your mug is in the usual spot by the toaster,” called my daughter Reyna from around the corner.
There it was, gleaming and beautiful like the day I had first gotten it. This was my first time forgetting where I’d placed my mug. How did Reyna know I was looking for the mug? This girl has already developed a mother’s intuition, and she’s only been a mother for 7 years. I chuckled to myself. Boy were her kids in for some rough teen years. Lucky for them, old Grandma Lucy knew all the tricks of the trade. How to sneak out, how to become the popular girl in school, and how to get all the cuties to date you. I’d let them have lots of fun whenever they came to visit from Chicago.
I recalled when Charles first asked me out when we were 17. Oh, he was such a handsome man. Poor thing had to chase after me so hard to woo me. Little did he know I had liked him all along. A little spark of excitement raced in me when I remembered I had never told the grandkids the story of Lucy and Charles. My love story was one for the ages. Lots of twists and turns, but we ended up together against all odds. I glided over the dark oak floors in my blue, memory foam slippers into Charles’s favorite room of the house.
The study had book cases stacked seven feet tall, with every volume of every classic. My personal favorites were the Harry Potter series and all the Sarah Dessen books. If only someone had written stories that inspiring when I was a child, I would’ve been off in a rocket ship to another planet or had become a fiction writer myself. “Christie! Alex! Come to the study kiddies!” I yelled into the hallway. I stepped across the large-printed cashmere rug and settled down in the comforts of Charles’s mahogany rocking chair. That man was hardly ever home anymore, always on business trips in San Francisco for his company. Christie, Alex, and another little girl I didn’t recognize sat down in front of me on the rug. The little girl sat cross-legged in her bright pink romper, a huge pout across her face. What a depressed looking four-year-old, I thought. How could one small child have the weight of the world on her shoulders already? I decided my love story with Charles would put a smile on her face, it always did with everyone else. “Hey cutie,” I said to the little girl, “Do you wanna hear a story?” The little girl unfolded her arms from across her chest and nodded her head. I looked over at Christie and Alex. They gave me an approving nod. “This, kids, is the story of how Grandpa Charles and I fell in love. It all started when — ” I was interrupted by a huge wail, followed by a stream of tears from the little girl.
“Sophie! What’s the matter sweetheart?” said Reyna, running into the room, eyes flying wildly and scanning Sophie up and down for injuries.
“Are you hurt?”
“No mommy,” Sophie wailed, “Grandma Lucy is telling the same story for the fifth time this week and she never remembers my name. She always calls for Christie and Alex, but never me. Does she not love me Mommy?”
Reyna put her hand on Sophie’s shoulder and walked her over to the corner for a little chat. Reyna had another daughter? How would I not remember? Was she recently adopted? That was probably why, I would’ve definitely remembered otherwise. I love all my grandkids equally. I don’t play favorites.
I winked over at the kids and hinted that we should eavesdrop on Reyna and Sophie’s conversation in the corner. In my younger days, that’s how I had gotten in on all the juicy gossip. I cupped my ear to get a closer listen on what they were saying. It came to me in bits in pieces. “Grandma is forgetting things…it’s not on purpose…she has Alzheimer’s…it’s when you start losing bits of your memory sweetie…we’re here to join her in a nursing home…” My heart dropped to my stomach. I looked over at Christie and Alex. They didn’t even look surprised or the least bit “shook,” as the kids said it these days. They thought I had Alzheimer’s too! Just because I forgot where I put my favorite mug this morning and forgot Sophie’s name, didn’t mean I had Alzheimer’s. This was outrageous! I still remember how to drive a car, how to cook, what the names of my family members are, and all 50 states in the United States. If I had forgotten all of those memories, then maybe you could say I had Alzheimer’s. Frustrated, I stood up from my rocking chair and stormed out of the study and up the winding stairs to my bedroom.
I paced back and forth around the room. My daughter and grandkids were against me. They thought I was diseased. They were going to throw me into an old age home. I was going to lose the house, this beautiful house. I had spent my entire life in this home. As I wore down the carpet some more with my pacing, I caught my own reflection in the corner of eye. I walked over to the full-length mirror in the far-right corner by the closet. I had my favorite blue dress with the white flowers and off the shoulder sleeves on. My face was pale and had some wrinkles, but not very many in comparison to most 70-year-old’s my age. I spun around and let my dress form a little mushroom around me. I was still young in my step and youthful in my heart. There was no way anyone was sending me away to a nursing home. I grabbed my makeup box and started putting foundation on my face. I was going to see Charles up in San Francisco, he’d know what to do. He’d believe me when I’d tell him I didn’t have Alzheimer’s. I quickly finished up putting on my mascara and went to put on eyeliner. I hesitated. I couldn’t remember how to draw on wings. I didn’t want to mess up and look ridiculous. If I didn’t though, it would probably add up as evidence that I had “Alzheimer’s.” I snorted. Me having Alzheimer’s, what a joke! I winged it and went for the eyeliner anyway. They looked fabulous. Forgetting things here and there are a part of old age, this younger generation needed to chill out.
There was no way Reyna would let me to drive up to see Charles. She already thought I was mentally impaired. I’d have to sneak out when she put the kids down for a nap. Luckily, I was an expert in this from my youth, from all the times I had snuck out of the house to go dancing with Charles. Quietly, I crept down the stairs, skipping the creaky last step. I peered around the corner. No one was in sight. I tiptoed past the front door and placed my suitcase in a hamper in the laundry room next to the garage. I proceeded to walk to the kitchen, when Reyna walked right into me.
I gasped, “Oh my, Reyna, I am an old woman, the last thing I need is for you to send me up to the skies with a heart attack.”
“Sorry Mom, I was actually just going to come upstairs to talk to you about something.”
“Reyna, I’m really not in the mood to hear anything right now.”
“Mom, please hear me out, you need to sell this house, you’re getting too old for this place!”
“Too old for this place, or too much of a burden to you, Reyna?” I glared at her, my hands and legs trembling with fury. “I grew up in this home, I raised you in this home! I was born here and I will die here for all I care!”
Her eyes welled up, “Do whatever makes you happy, what do I care?”
She whipped around and beckoned the kids upstairs to their rooms for a nap. She looked at me one more time before she went upstairs.
“I am really trying,” she said, and disappeared up the stairs.
I wanted to say something, but I knew this was my only chance to get out of this house and head north to see Charles. I quickly grabbed some snacks from the fridge, emergency food kit, and the first aid kit and walked to the space gray wall mount by the laundry room door that held my keys. Charles would help me keep this home, he always had a way with convincing Reyna that I never did. I grabbed the suitcase and threw it into the back of our red BMW. I turned the key and heard the low purr of the engine starting. I rolled the car of the driveway and sped off towards the I-5.
It was pitch black outside and the dashboard glowed in the darkness of my car. I’d been on the road for 6 hours and I was just a little over halfway to San Francisco. I would’ve gotten there faster had I not been pulled over three times for driving too slowly on the freeway. What do they expect? My body can’t deal with high speed and sharp braking, otherwise my bones would break. And of course, I had to make a couple pit stops along the way. Reyna had called several times and sent me messages asking me where I was, but I decided it was best to block her number until I got to San Francisco.
The lights from oncoming traffic were starting to blind me. I decided I was fatigued anyway and pulled off the highway. I drove down the road for a while until I hit a sandy lot. I parked there and pulled out the black car cover from the trunk to shield myself from nighttime predators. I left the cover a little unzipped so I could see the light shine through in the morning. With that, I closed my eyes for the night.
A bright ray of sunshine greeted my face the next morning. The birds were chirping and I could hear the wind whistling off in the distance from the freeway by my house. Oh, how I love warm, sunny San Diego mornings. I cracked open my eyes. My heart filled with dread. Where was I? I looked around and saw a steering wheel in front of me, a dashboard, and four other cream leather seats. How did I get here? Was I kidnapped? I unclicked my belt and rushed outside and pulled off the cover on top of the car. A BMW 323i? I ran around to the back and read the license plate number. I pulled out my phone to take a picture of it. Whoever had kidnapped me was going to pay for it. I dialed 9–1–1 and scanned the area for landmarks to describe my location. A rickety old sign read “Kettlemen’s Station”. The receiver picked up:
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“I’ve been kidnapped! I’m by the faded brown Kettlemen’s Station sign. Please come help me before they come back! It’s a BMW, license number 4PTS932.” I screamed terrified into the phone. I could feel my heart trembling in its chest. How had I gotten into this mess?
“Ma’am, we will be over immediately, please get yourself to a hidden area or shelter, do not remain near the car.”
I hung up and sprinted to hide behind the nearest dumpster. I whimpered as streams of tears escaped my eyes. If only Charles was here to protect me.
Emergency services arrived, found me and walked me inside the ambulance for treatment and questioning. They attached metal stickers to me and a clamp to my finger to check my vitals and decided they would wait to question me until after we were at the police station.
The station was small, a small glass office and two temporary cells in the back. They sat me down in front of the Chief, who preceded to ask me to describe my kidnappers and how I had escaped. I told them I never saw my kidnappers. I had woken up and I was inside a car. I had no idea how I had gotten there. He looked at me puzzled and asked me to try to remember harder. I still couldn’t recall a thing. Another officer reporting to the Chief gave me a strange look as he walked up to report some information.
“Chief Anderson, we ran the license plate numbers. The car is Ms. Lucy Dawson’s car.”
I stood up outraged.
“You think I would kidnap myself and call the authorities for fun? I know what my own car looks like, and that’s not it.”
The Chief shot a look at the other police officer and tried to calm me down,
“Ma’am, please, no need to be flustered. I am sure there is a reasonable explanation for all of this. Tell me what your car looks like.”
I smiled confidently and sat back in my chair.
“Oh Anderson, my car is — ”
I couldn’t remember. Did I even own a car? I looked down at my hands, frustrated that I couldn’t jog my memory as to whether or not I owned a car. It seemed so simple. The other police officer walked over again.
“What is it now Luke?” muttered the Chief, rolling his eyes.
Luke whispered something into Chief Anderson’s ear. His eyes widened.
“Ma’am, we found some interesting, confidential details on your case, we will need you to wait here for a several hours before we can close the case for good. We will keep you updated.”
“Of course, Chief,” I said, “Anything to get the bad guys behind bars.”
Five hours had passed by. I was starting to lose my mind from the boredom. There was no beautiful view to stare at out the window, just barren sand and dead trees. My phone battery was dead from playing Angry Birds for the past three hours. I was about to ask the Chief how much longer would I have to wait around, when Reyna walked through the door.
“Reyna! What are you doing here? Did the Chief call you? Have you come to take me home safely? Oh Reyna, I was so scared! How did you make it here from Chicago so quickly?”
She stared at me with empty eyes.
“You don’t remember anything, do you?”
I looked at her puzzled.
“No dear, they must’ve drugged me! Did Charles come with you?”
Reyna turned a deep red, her voice turning as sharp as glass.
“Mother, Dad has been dead for three years! Three years! You ran away from home yesterday after yelling at me and chiding me that you could take care of yourself! I had to file a “missing persons” warrant on you! Do you know how terrified I was? CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE?”
She burst into tears and sat herself down in a chair while she wept. And all I could think was how could I had forgotten my beloved had been gone for three years. That had to be the biggest tragedy in my life and I couldn’t even remember shedding a tear for him. Tears streamed down my face as I was smacked with realization.
“I’m so sorry, I don’t remember anything. I can’t no matter how hard a try. I am broken, Reyna.”
I covered my face with my hands and a shudder went through my body. If I was going to forget all the people I loved and what mattered most to me, I was going to be a nobody. No one would care to remember me. I would be a lost memory. I felt Reyna’s hand on my shoulder.
“Mom, no matter how difficult it gets, I won’t leave you alone and I will never forget you even if you forget me. You gave me this life. You’re my mother and you always will be.”
I looked up at her.
“Well then, before I forget forever, I hope you know you’ve grown into a fine young woman and mother. I am proud of who you’ve become.”
She smiled and wiped away a few more tears and she helped me towards our escort car. I was going to be put in a nursing home with other people with Alzheimer’s, in hopes that the exercises and daily routines would help keep my mental health from further deteriorating. As I sat down in the back seat of the black police car, I knew I couldn’t fight the facts, just accept the future and the support my daughter had promised me. And with that, I leaned my head on her shoulder, closed my eyes, and fell into a forgetful sleep the whole way home.