Sometimes I close my eyes and disappear.
In that warm space I find my safety. The memories suspended there reassure me that I have not been altogether deserted. They show a life that has passed in a blur of happy moments, days of heartbreak, and years of contented monotony. Most days, I would accept the sharp knife of a painful memory from my past rather than the confusion that has become my present. And so, I try to disappear as frequently as I am able.
Dressed and looking presentable, I am seated in my wheelchair beside the nurses’ station. Sounds tends to rattle around in my head, muddling my thoughts and overwhelming my senses. A phone rings, alarms are pulsing, and several residents are calling for help, calling for a husband long gone, or calling for home. The noises crash over me, threatening to reach an unbearable crescendo. And so, even though the illuminated clock above the nurse’s desk announces that it is only 8:52 am, I close my eyes.
I am 7 years old, in the spring of life, and the world is fresh and exciting. I inhale deeply the heady aroma of buttered popcorn and the sticky sweetness of cotton candy. The cacophony of sounds that greet me are welcome to my young ears. They are the sounds of excitement – the click of a roller coaster ascending the track, the call of a vendor luring customers to his stall for a taste of ice cream, the lowing of cattle resting in the barns before the big show. The country fair holds a world of possibility for my 7-year-old mind.
I am holding tightly to my mother’s hand as we stroll through the crowded aisles of the fair, safe in our connection. We make a game out of deciding which delicious treat to sample next. I am biting into a candy apple – a difficult feat when you are missing your two front teeth. Juice drips down my arm as I sink through the toffee coating and crunch into the tart flesh.
I am on the edge of my seat, feet dangling from the top of the ferris wheel. I am up where the birds fly free. I am certain that if I stretch out my hand, it will touch the sky. I feign nervousness and slide in a little closer to Bobby Watson, who is seated beside me on this heart-pounding ferris wheel, and I reach for his hand.
I feel jittery and on edge through most of my waking hours – like I am expected to be somewhere, but am not quite sure how to get there, or what to do upon my arrival. As I make slow progress down the hall in my wheelchair, people stop to say hello. They seem to know me and call me by name – Mrs. Blake, or Delia, or Sweetie. The most I can muster in return is a nod of greeting. Names tend to float through my mind like a puff of smoke pushed in the breeze – almost within reach, but forever slipping through my fingers before I can take hold.