Alberta rose just after dawn, finished off two cups of tea, and proceeded down the back path to the open country beyond. She hadn’t taken this route as much in recent weeks because of all the preparations she had undertaken in light of her prognosis. Having Robin at home with her made all the difference. He had been attentive, non-intrusive, and a joy to be around, with his dry sense of humour. Unlike Jennifer, he hadn’t felt the need to press his mother about her feelings or plans; it was enough for him just to be her companion.
It took her a moment to unlatch the wooden rail gate that opened up into the valley beyond those houses, like hers, that backed onto a more natural world. Eventually, she achieved it, swung it open as far as she could manage, and then began moving into a world she had known so well over the years. She and Sandy trekked at least twice weekly through the tall grasses, sometimes following the worn path that wound around the trees, sometimes not. They would arrive at a small brook, likely the descendent of a great river that hollowed the valley out from the surroundings as the glaciers retreated thousands of years ago.
Alberta gracefully sat in the grass near a tree that boasted of blooms about to burst forth into the glories of summer. Looking back down over her street, she realized that she had managed the ever-increasing episodes of Alzheimer’s as best she could. They were small things, really – infuriating, but hardly incapacitating. She replayed them in her mind – lost glasses, forgetting to post a letter, the inability to remember when she went to bed or where she had placed her wine glass from the night before.
Gardening remained a soothing occupation in the mornings. For whatever reason, she religiously placed the short-handled hoe, shears, fork, and her gloves in the garden tool wagon the kids had bought for her years ago. It was such a trite thing in real terms, but it served as a staple, an anchor, of her present world that she had no wish to leave behind. The kids had been wonderful, pretending not to notice, but the routine was helpful in locating what she was searching for.
Nevertheless, where once she felt absolutely normal, despite the findings of her disease, she now often sensed a featheriness on the periphery of her vision. It was there now, as she looked back towards the gate – almost as if she were slightly tipsy from too much wine.
Alberta rose and suddenly felt flummoxed. It was a simple decision: whether to head up to the path or back to the gate. But she found herself unable to make the choice. She sat back down and waited for the confusion to pass, which it inevitably did. Her wits now about her, she straightened the wrinkles on her khaki slacks and moved further up the hill.
She was delighted to see a deer and her yearling, with the moist, almost button-like jet black noses pointed in her direction as they cautiously munched the tall grass while she passed by. She felt elated by the sighting – not because of its rarity, but in appreciation of the fact that, with her days limited, it had transpired on this particular morning.
Her legs feeling strong, she crested the hill and worked her way down the next valley to the brook. After a few minutes, she grew mildly alarmed that it wasn’t there – just an endless expanse of grass and skyline. Alberta looked about her, scouring for landmarks or some structure that looked familiar. Her searching caused her to keep moving along the path, sure that the water and its familiar burbling were nearby.
Eventually, she heard the movement of water over stone and moved towards it. She was on it before she realized how far she had come. Her walking shoes were wet as a result.
Yet there was a problem: it was the brook, alright, but she didn’t recognize its setting. Alberta permitted her gaze to float along the crest of the hills above her, and she had to confess that she was lost. This was either a location she hadn’t previously visited or she had been here many times but couldn’t remember – couldn’t pull it out of her memory.
She could feel her heart beating faster and fought the impulse to fear. Her seasoned mind was telling her that there was nothing to alarm her – no wild animals, no prowler or deep water in which she could drown. That thought assisted her in appraising her predicament more clearly. Something in her said that this was a place she had visited before, perhaps often. But was that true? She had no idea, but dwelling on it didn’t help.
Gradually, she moved along the bank of the stream until she happened upon a small wooden dock, no more than eight feet in length. Attached to it was a tiny rowboat, likely built for children. Feeling her heart beating rapidly again, she directed her lithe frame to the end of the structure and sat at its edge. On a whim, she disposed of her shoes and ankle socks, and placed her feet in the cool stream. It was a tonic; just what she required. She entertained herself by kicking water with her feet out into the stream and darting them back and forth in the current.
Alberta took stock of her situation again, though it now took some effort, given her growing insecurity. She knew she couldn’t be far from home, but the real problem was that she felt she could have been here hundreds of times before, yet couldn’t recall. Through her mind rushed thoughts of Sandy and the kids. But why? she asked herself. All is fine. There is no danger for me … or them.
Instead of wrestling with it, she permitted her mind to drift and it eventually took her back through the years to those times, as a child, when she loved being near water of any kind – springs, wells, brooks, the Thames, and the ocean. She recalled holding hands with her parents as she visited Land’s End for the first time, walking along the sand, still moist from the receding tide. Thoughts of taking the ferry across to Calais brought a smile to her face, as did the memory of the cruise ship she and Sandy had taken, as it travelled around the deep blue, clear water of the Mediterranean. These remembrances consoled her, calming her spirit.
Looking about her, she sensed that she would have to do something instead of lingering until the evening darkness. But not yet,she thought. Alberta sensed a deep joy in herself as her mind moved effortlessly in an out of situations and times.
And then a remarkable thought struck her. The fabric was paper thin between realities, she realized. She was intrigued to think that, maybe, the minds of those with dementia or Alzheimer’s weren’t so much lost. Maybe they had developed the capacity to slip in and out of different places at the same time. They were only lost to those around them. She smiled at the profundity of this, pleased with her philosophical twist. And was she lost right now? Really? Even if that was so, she felt perfectly at home with her mother and father, the water of the earlier years, the sense of intimacy that provided her security in this insecure situation.
The hours passed without her noticing, since her mind was flitting off in different directions, through time and back again. Alberta only sensed it might be longer than she realized when she felt the goosebumps on her arms and sensed the late spring chill, as the sun got itself set for its journey to the other side of the world.
“Mom … O God, Mom!”
She turned to see Jenny moving quickly towards her.
“It’s okay, sweetheart, I’m fine.” Knowing this wouldn’t satisfy her daughter, Alberta added, “I became lost, but found it thoroughly enjoyable here.”
“This is Trout Point, Mom. We used to picnic here.”
Ah, so there it was – she had forgotten. Perhaps somewhere in her subconscious there was a knowledge of that, and it had helped to calm her. She looked up to see Jenny crying.
“O, honey, it’s okay. To be honest, I was enjoying myself, and I knew someone would find me sooner or later. I knew I wasn’t that far away.”
“It’s only over the hill back there,” replied Jenny, pointing with her finger.
She helped her mother to stand and, arm in arm, they made their way back on what should have been a familiar path. It was only then that Alberta realized this had been no minor episode; it had lasted hours, and, at no point, did any memory of Trout Point return. While saying nothing to the woman clinging to her, she now understood that some major shift had taken place in the chaotic life of her disease. She wondered if a large number of brain cells had suddenly died or just shut down, overpowered by the past.
Alberta had no answer, but growing within her was the understanding that the Alzheimer’s was now moving into a faster lane and that today signaled a radical course in her decline. Though troubled, she shook it off while concentrating on assuring her daughter that she was fine. This, she knew, was a tragic irony worthy of Shakespeare, born only 100 miles to the west.