swirling sadness surrounds my soul
muddy waters have drowned my heart
the flood of tears will retreat
the clouds of sorrow melt away
the waters will clear
I will drink from the river of life
“Where’s your wife?”
The grocery clerks, the drug store help, coffee shop baristas, deli servers, librarians, they all ask the same question. When I return now, alone, to the places we frequented together, they all expect to see the blind guy and his ever cheerful wife.
But she’s not there, so they ask,
“Where’s your wife?”
And I try to answer, tear up, reach out to hold her hand that isn’t there, start crying, because I’m asking the same question,
Where’s my wife?
Sorting through her things, my fingers find a shape I know.
a paper heart
A message from a far off place
I love you!
and there are more
she has left me a trail of hearts
with each new discovery
I hold her close
press her memory to my chest
because paper hearts are not enough
Don’t it always seem to go
that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone
Joni Mitchell, “Big Yellow Taxi”
As I listened to Joni sing about paving paradise, I realized I’ve recently lost two big things in my life.
Sex and fishing.
Fishing used to be my soul food, what I craved when life went sideways, dreams were slipping away, or I just needed a break from the human race. My typical fishing trip was an impetuous decision to get out of town, followed by tossing rod, clothes, and snacks into the car and heading out. I had some trusted spots and a mental list of obscure places on the map that had possibilities. I was often several miles down the road before a clear direction became obvious. Location really didn’t matter much, I just wanted to be standing alone in a stream, feeling the sun’s warmth on my face, filling my nostrils with the invigorating air of wildness, casting a fly towards some trophy fish fantasy.
One of the many blessings of our marriage is that my wife found fishing intoxicating too. I remember her excited squeals when she caught her first trout and her delighted giggles as she released it and watched it dart away. I remember looking past her at the backdrop of golden aspen leaves dancing in an azure sky, on a glorious fall day. I remember thinking this is as good as it gets.
Blindness ended such impetuous outings. In time, I found a guide who took the pair of us down a favorite river in his drift boat. It felt great to be on the water again, but I can’t pretend it was anything like before. Still, we enjoyed floating through a quiet world on a beautiful day, trying to wake fish who didn’t want to play. The tranquility was shattered when dementia struck and my wife’s mind melted down. She had to get out of the boat. Words could not calm her and the guide rowed us to shore.
We haven’t been fishing since.
Then there’s sex. We’ve been wonderful, passionate lovers, always open, always eager to please each other. With us, it just happens, a kiss, a touch, a fond embrace and love unfolds. But, recently, I noticed that, in spite of these triggers, nothing else was happening. The woman who once loved to play sexually was now a child who just wanted to be cared for. Dementia had stolen another part of the woman I love and the life we shared together.
My blindness has put such losses in perspective. I’d never expected to lose my sight and the experience was devastating. But I survived and, with the help of friends, learned to explore and appreciate all those things in life that can’t be seen. I also learned that things we treasure can disappear in an instant.
Do I miss sex? Heck yes, and I also miss my wife’s killer guacamole. But these things are not coming back so I need to be grateful for what we do have. She still loves to kiss and hug and she’s very good at it. She still makes my day on our walks when she rushes up to coo and smile at every baby we meet. She still holds my hand as we sit on our favorite bench on the beach and share the feelings of living in a beautiful world.
And fishing? Another tough goodbye, but the fly fishing rod that sat on a shelf by the door for three years waiting in vain to be taken away on another impetuous adventure is now in the hands of my new son-in-law who has a a matching passion. I expect some marvelous stories will be coming my way soon.
In case you’re a Joni Mitchell fan, here’s a link to “Big Yellow Taxi.”
Because my wife’s dementia is deteriorating slowly, there are times when I forget it is happening at all. then, she says something-
“Do you have a wife?”
We were making breakfast when this question came up. My heart froze.
“Do you have a wife” she asked again.
I hugged her close and whispered, “you are my wife. You will always be my wife.”
“Of course,” she answered, kissing my cheek.
I am drowning in sadness.