Lost by Betsy Johnson

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Sabarish Raghupathy

once upon a time Pop went hunting in the woods of northern Minnesota, the forest floor so clean of brush you could wander at will—telling my grandmother he’d be back in time for dinner, my grandfather climbed in his car with a gun and drove off

my husband has an opportunity to travel abroad without me for four months – he wants to know if I’ll be okay

when it came time to go home my grandfather couldn’t find the car or anything familiar, only identical trees standing straight in an evergreen platoon – he slept, slumped against a rough trunk

I want to tell my husband how bad it’s been lately; he wants me to tell him how bad it’s been

in a wing-backed chair I sat on my grandfather’s lap marveling at the leathery skin on the back of his hands, at the details of his story – three days, endless trees, too faint to go much further, he stumbled upon a hermit’s shack – together they got an old car working once they reached the highway, they passed a swarm of school buses, my grandfather asked the hermit to pull over, he asked one of the hundreds of high school kids what was happening – We’re looking for a hunter who’s lost in the woods – my grandfather thanked the hermit, sent him on his way, and spent three hours in the forest looking for himself

there is good forest and bad – good forest has nicely marked trails, bad forest grabs, good forest centers, bad forest devours, good forest brings you back again in a better mood, bad forest holds on as you hack and hack

my grandfather attacked my mother, his only child, the one whom he adored – I was out of the house when it happened, Pop was lost inside the house in a state of mind he’d never been in before

Alzheimer’s says, turn this way, now put your hands around your child’s throat

I returned just as my grandfather was being taken away; Pop gave me a look as he walked by, he was an animal, one leg in a snare

it’s four months, it’s an opportunity for my husband, for me, it’s a steel-toothed trap waiting to snap

my grandmother put Pop in a nursing home; before he attacked my mom, I was sure that what had been would always be, he would tell me the story, buy me turquoise rings, hold me as we watched the frantic graceful dance of bats in the nursing home

let’s be honest, he smelled – what happened to the man, the one who had starred in his own fairy tale, so lost he had been found, the one with Brylcreemed hair and polyester pants, but secretly he turned into a werewolf, age was his moon, leaving him violent – howling

he is the story I tell myself when I need to remember the real world is a hard place – sometimes lost is lost – the wound from the slip of the paring knife is gaping, obvious – not so with Alzheimer’s or depression

a woman who was a second mother to me lost her husband – she could remember to urge everyone to eat, but she had to be reminded that her husband of 60 years was the one in the casket

I have never missed a day of work because of my depression

my mother doesn’t know I have it

what to do with this where that feels emotionally perilous, cognitively unnavigable – I do not want my husband to go, who will ride to my rescue, I can not depend on him, I must become a cartographer – even the scariest forest has a terrain, swamp, crevasse, the gentlest rise – I must study this topography with intention and courage and map it

this is what it’s like here

Betsy Johnson’s work has appeared in Boulevard, Alaska Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, and Crab Orchard Review. She also has a podcast of mini-meditations called A Hit of Hope (ahitofhope.com), for when life gives you too much sh!t, and not enough shovel.

STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Sabarish Raghupathy

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