“Where’s Joe?” Mrs. Huntington asked.
“Mom, he died three years ago,” Nicky answered.
“Well, he won’t give you the time of day!”
Nicky’s eyebrows shot up. This was her usual response about anyone who had not called her in the last five minutes. “I’m sure he would if he could.”
She asked this question repeatedly every day, but some information would stick. He could tell her he had a doctor appointment today and she would remember immediately. She would ask every five minutes when he was going to leave. It made no sense that it never sunk in that Joe had died. It was as if the path from her ear to the place in her mind where this information should be stored was washed out. The fact just couldn’t get there.
The idea of washed out roads played in his mind. He imagined houses where facts lived. Some houses had their driveway and street intact. Others were washed out. Whole streets were washed out. The facts were stranded in their homes where they could neither leave nor could anyone retrieve them.
In his daydream, his mother stood in the house where her consciousness lived asking where Joe was. The last time she’d checked he was next to her, but now she couldn’t find him.
She stood in the house and yelled down the washed out street, “Where’s Joe?”
Nicky was at the end of the street. He yelled over and over, “Joe died three years ago.” But, she couldn’t hear. The message never got to her. She asked over and over again.
She had to be thinking in her head that he went to the store or the post office. After all, she knew the fact that Joe had always been next to her. She was there. He must be nearby.
Nicky thought about how not just the driveway was washed out, the whole street was inaccessible. The house where the memory of his illness lived and the house where the memory of his funeral lived were also inaccessible. He could see the memory there in the window but it couldn’t get out. His mother could not get to it. Strangers lived in those houses, as far as she was concerned.
He wondered if that’s what dementia was truly like. The memories are there but blocked. Paths where new memories should go are blocked. It would make it really hard to put thoughts together. In fact, it could make conclusions that just didn’t make any sense.
These days she focused on why weren’t all her family (her children, siblings, cousins, et cetera) with her all the time. She took it as a personal insult that they weren’t sitting next to her all her waking hours. Couple that with not being able to remember where Joe went, and you would get a comment about how he wouldn’t give you the time of day.
“Joe was my husband, wasn’t he?”
“Yeah. You all were married for over fifty years.”
She looked at him silently thinking. He could imagine her running through the town in her head trying to find the house that held the fact that she and Joe were married. There was a house at the end of a long road. The lights were on and smoke came from the chimney. It looked so familiar, so welcoming, but she couldn’t get to it. The road was gone.