Here’s my final entry to the Urban Literary Magazine’s Short Story Contest!
The Lost Man
By Samantha A. Cole (Copyright Samantha A. Cole)
Staring out the window, his gaze focuses on absolutely nothing. Things which used to bring him joy, now barely register. The disease which has taken over his brain has robbed him of his memory, his passions, even the love of his life. Although his wife passed away several years ago, Alzheimer’s has taken her from him a second time. Now she is only a fleeting memory which confuses him more and more each time it darts through his mind.
Shuffling over to the recliner in the corner of the solarium, he sits and ignores the watchful eye of the facility’s caretakers. There are many others like him on this floor of the nursing home. People with blank stares, experiencing bouts of sadness or elation at times when their disease relents and gives them a moment of clarity—however long or brief it might be.
Seconds turn into minutes, minutes into hours and hours into days. No one can comprehend how lost he feels when nothing looks memorable to him. Imagine waking one morning, in a strange bed, in an unfamiliar room, yet the clothes in the dresser are your size, even if you don’t recognize them. The face in the mirror is the same as the man in a few family pictures scattered throughout the small room, although it has aged quite a bit since they were taken. Still, you can’t recall when and where the photos were taken or who the other people are. Then someone walks in and says, “Good morning, Mr. Fitzgibbons. How are you today?” You look around, trying to figure out who Mr. Fitzgibbons is, because it’s not you. Or is it? You’re the only one in the room. This is what he goes through almost every day, not that he remembers any of it. No, the disease has made sure each day is new and terrifying as he struggles to find some small item or recollection with which he can connect to his past.
Music floats over from the radio on the other side of the room. The staff has it tuned to an oldies station—not the music from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, but even earlier. The good old days. When life was simpler and carefree. One song ends and another song begins as the first few notes niggle at the far reaches of his mind. As he closes his eyes, letting the tune flow through him, a vision appears before him. Moments from long ago flash by as if they were happening all over again. A baby blue, Ford Fairlane. A pretty brunette, with gentle, brown eyes sitting next to him at a drive-in movie. They share a bucket of popcorn and a bottle of Coca Cola, more interested in each other than what is playing out on the screen in front of them. The evening ends on the front porch of her home as he kisses her for the first time, and swears it won’t be the last.
As their high school football team’s star quarterback and head cheerleader, they are elected king and queen of the prom. Life after graduation is new and exciting, but even the distance of separate colleges can’t damper their love. He majors in business administration and she studies to become a teacher. A few months after getting their degrees and then jobs in their respective fields, he proposes.
Fast forward a year—that same pretty woman, dressed in white, is walking through a church on her father’s arm. In her hands is a bouquet of flowers, but they pale in comparison to the stunning beauty carrying them. As they stand before God, a priest blesses the young couple’s union and proclaims to the crowd gathered that they are now man and wife. Rice is thrown, and the clatter of tin cans follow them as they leave on their honeymoon with the rest of their lives spread before them.
Hard work interspaced with loving times is in their future. Anxious pacing in a hospital waiting room, anticipating the announcement of a healthy boy or girl, is a scene which will be played and then repeated three more times over a six year period. Their home in the suburbs is filled with children, laughing and playing. Summer vacations are spent either at the Jersey shore or camping in the Catskill Mountains. Holidays are always big affairs, with everything from him pretending to be Santa to Easter egg hunts and Thanksgiving feasts which could feed an army. Birthdays, anniversaries, and celebrations of every kind are always done in as big a way as they could afford. All of this, and the occasional argument or two thrown in to spice things up, become the norm of their lives.
Then one morning, he wakes to find she has left him, not by choice, but because her time had come. Almost overwhelmed by his grief and the scent of the flowers filling the funeral home, he stands over her casket, committing her weathered face to memory. Little did he know the treasured image would soon fade into oblivion.
Within a year, he is complaining to his children that someone has been coming into his home and hiding things on him. His keys and wallet are constantly missing, only to be found in odd places such as the freezer or in a jacket he swears he hasn’t worn in years. The utility companies begin to harass him, refusing to acknowledge he has paid his bills, just like he’d done for years. How dare they say they never receive the checks he vaguely remembers writing.
One day his children and grandchildren call him throughout the morning and afternoon to wish him a happy birthday. He hadn’t have the heart to tell them they had all gotten the date wrong. Hadn’t they? When did he start having a hard time remembering their names? They visited often, weekly in fact, but each time it was getting more difficult to put a name to a face.
Slowly, but all too quickly, his mind begins to betray him. He can no longer recall people, events, and things which had always held a huge importance in his life. There are days he feels like a child in kindergarten who doesn’t yet know that two plus two is four, making it impossible to balance a checkbook. One moment, he believes Kennedy is still president, then the next, he can’t even recall his own name. Was this what it was like to waste away? To cease to exist within one’s own mind?
As the three minute song ends, the brief recollection of a lifetime of memories dwindles away. He slowly opens his eyes and at first he is unsure of what he is seeing, but as the seconds tick by, his foggy mind gradually clears. The room he’d been sitting in moments before is gone and in its place is nothing but a warm white light that is almost blinding. It dims slightly and a shadow appears. He tries to focus on the figure advancing toward him, and suddenly he recognizes the pretty brunette with gentle brown eyes and an affectionate smile. She beckons to him, and without hesitation, he rises and takes several steps until he is standing in front of her. Reaching up, he gently caresses her cheek with the back of his hand while their love, and a lifetime of memories flood his mind and heart. As his mortal body takes its last breath, he realizes he is no longer lost, instead, he is finally going home.