Love, Luck and Laughter

It’s hard to say when she began forgetting to remember. It was a gradual occurrence. Michael, her husband, could not recall when misplacing the car keys turned to losing the car and eventually losing her way home. Family members, hoping the problem would just go away, observed their patriarch, in quiet concern, as she lost the ability to recognize first, her beloved poodle Roxie and then her own children.
Marla had enjoyed a magnificent life filled with an overabundance of love, luck and laughter. Many had described her life with Michael, a fairytale; too good to be true. Together they had spent the last thirty-eight years raising a beautiful family in the dream home they’d designed and decorated together. Their five kids had grown up gone to college and were now immersed in successful careers all over the state. They had settled into their own idyllic lives, raising eleven gorgeous children, all of whom Marla adored, but whose names she couldn’t remember.
Michael had laughed to himself when the bank returned one of Marla’s checks dated June 3, 1962….in 2014. They had both giggled when she accidentally put the milk in the dishwasher, leaving it to sour overnight. However, as of late, the occasional mishaps and mistakes had become common, everyday occurrences which were not so funny anymore. The extreme patience he’d been blessed with had recently disappeared. It had been replaced by aggravation and annoyance with front doors being left open and stove burners left on, not to mention Marla’s incessant barrage of recurrent questions which he answered mechanically, far too many times throughout the day. The children remained silent, noting their mother’s odd behavior, while not wanting to upset their father with their own concerns, but the day eventually came when all were forced to come together and address the problem.
How or when it began, was of very little relevance at that point. Michael held Marla’s fragile hand inside of his own as the doctor sympathetically explained to the family, there was no way to stop the dementia from destroying what was left of their beloved mother’s mind. The ship had sailed and there was no going back. All they could do was to attempt to make the voyage as safe and comfortable as possible, realizing that there was absolutely no chance of a happy ending. The loss of memory was only the beginning, he explained to them; eventually she would begin to experience urinary incontinence, reduced motor skills along with balance and walking problems. Michael stared at the doctor in utter disbelief as tears filled his faded blue eyes. This was not how he had imagined spending their golden years. Marla sat in silence as Michael tightened his grip on her tiny hand.
The kids became more involved in the care and supervision of their mother which eased much of their father’s anxiety. Friends and neighbors stopped by frequently, out of concern at first, and then mostly out of pity and curiosity. Eventually the visits and invitations dribbled away and Michael was left alone with only a shell of the woman he had fallen in love with. Marla’s bright green eyes faded and the smile disappeared, yet his love remained true to this beautiful soul with whom he had shared the best years of his life. There were brief moments of normalcy from time to time as the two shared a laugh or a smile and hope erupted inside of Michael’s lonesome heart. They spent every moment of every day together as steadfast companions, although Michael felt more like a parent or guardian figure as their emotional connection rapidly deteriorated.
Finally, there came a day when options disappeared and the outlook seemed hopeless. His children surrounded him as he sat and signed the papers that would forever separate them. Feeling dizzy, he attempted to steady his hand as he put pen to paper. “Bring her back in the morning” the director murmured, “and we will take good care of her…I promise”.
Ironically, Michael could remember speaking those same words on that exceptionally warm August evening when he proposed, nearly 4 decades ago. After putting the engagement ring on her finger, he had whispered “I love you my dear Marla and I will always take care of you. I promise.” He had…until now. His hands shook as he gently buckled the seatbelt and he thought about their kids waiting for them at Hickory Hills. As he leaned into the passenger side door, their eyes locked and it was almost as if he were staring into the eyes of the woman he’d met 40 years ago. Smiling, Marla reached up and touched his cheek as his heart crumbled inside of his chest. Kissing her on the forehead, Michael squeezed her hand and gently closed the car door and began to circle around to the driver’s side, stopping only to slide her brown, leather suitcase into the back seat. It saddened him immensely to think that an entire lifetime could be squeezed into one small piece of luggage.
Salty tears slipped from his eyes, landing in the cracks and crevasses of his furrowed face as her turned the key in the ignition of their trusty Pontiac and slid the gear shift into reverse.
They traveled hand in hand, down the freeway in silence. Michael, who was in no hurry to reach his destination, stuck to the slow lane, as trucks and cars whizzed past. His foot jerked off the gas pedal quite suddenly when he saw the green exit sign for Hickory Hills looming in the distance. The tears rained down and he began to sob as the ramp neared. Suddenly, without warning Marla squeezed his hand and whispered, “I love you Michael”. His heart began to pound wildly as he processed her words. Abruptly, Marla let go of his hand and twisted the knob on the radio, filling the mournful car with music. Pushing the gas pedal to the floor, Michael raced past the exit, and the two laughed uncontrollably as the old Pontiac disappeared into the brilliance of an apricot colored sunrise.