It was a beautiful morning on the North Carolina coast, a perfect place to spend Thanksgiving. I was reading Clarissa Pinkolo Estes’ Women Who Run With the Wolves. The weathered wooden deck of the beach house overlooked a sparkling ocean. The water, speckled with surfers, glittered orange from the early sun. I sat on a bench, still clammy from last night’s rain, the crevices of the wood lined with green algae due to years of humidity. Every time I shifted, my pants absorbed more of the wood’s moisture, and every time the salty breeze blew, chills passed over me like the first symptoms of a fever. My mother sat behind me in a chair, probably wearing her purple jacket and probably covered with a blanket, but I can’t quite remember. And then I heard her.
“Where is little Jenna?”
I was speechless, certain I’d misheard. I silently turned around so she could see my whole face.
“Have you seen Jenna?” she asked me again — me. Jenna, her daughter.
I told her it was me, but that I wasn’t little anymore. I was twenty-eight and all grown up now. I laughed uncomfortably. She smiled, thought about it for a few seconds, but then shook her head.
“No, no,” she said, just as stubborn as always. “Where is little Jenna?”
My mouth hung open, and my face filled with warmth as I tried to comprehend being unrecognizable.
What am I supposed to say? I asked myself. What does a person with Alzheimer’s need to hear?
I thought about all those pamphlets filled with “Frequently Asked Questions” lying around the neurologist’s office at her first appointment. The answers I needed couldn’t possibly fit in just one.
“She’s been running around here all morning,” my mother said, making a dancing gesture with her fingers. “Now, where is she?”
Goosebumps covered my body and tingled my scalp. It was as if I’d been teleported back in time and was watching my young mother inquire about me, an opportunity that felt rare, precious even.
I remembered being a child. How I roamed around the woods, building forts and making mud pies —wild and isolated, even feral at times, chasing my own wolves. I thought about how much I’d always blamed her for my loneliness, but couldn’t now because she was sick.
“Where is little Jenna?” she asked a final time, and it stung. It pricked at my heart. I said nothing.
I can’t help but wonder, even now, why she continued to ask me that question. What was happening to the synapses in her brain—why did her disease erase my face from her memory?
I want to say that a gust of wind blew the pages of my book forward or backward and swept away my bookmark, but I’m not completely certain. I couldn’t remember what chapter I was on, or where I had meant to pick up again. I suppose I lost my place in time.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Khairil Faizi