Escape

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Photo by Shirley Dilley

First Place Winner

This week I won a contest requesting a first chapter of a book.  The prompt was: If you decided to start writing a novel, what would the first pages look like? The following was my submission.  Should I continue and write a book?  Hmmm..!

***

This must be the wrong address. I need to get out of here.

Misty turned to hurry away out of the dark, deserted corridor. But, before she reached the alley entrance, she heard a familiar voice call out.

“Misty, here, right here.” The greeting was joined by her friend’s smile and raised hand, waving to signal her presence in the doorway. Emma invited her inside as if they were accustomed to meeting here frequently. Centuries of silence passed before they embraced as in the past. The childhood friend she remembered would be too proud to live in this shabby neighborhood. And with an outfit that matched the environment, no less. Misty camouflaged her face to cover the puzzlement over her friend’s new basement level lifestyle. She felt miles away from her comfort zone. Her familiar daily garb, a tailored, dark-colored business suit embracing a colorful silk shell, made her feel out-of-touch. Gucci shoes and handbag, along with perfectly accessorized jewelry felt like binding chains encircling her wrists and ankles. Her flawless coiffure, manicured nails, and make-up resembling an airbrushed celebrity photo, belonged on a billboard in this rundown neighborhood instead of a visitor coming to call.

“Uh, I can’t believe it’s been over five years since we’ve seen each other. How’ve you been?” Misty wanted to roll the last sentence back with her tongue like a charmed snake, realizing the answer was all too obvious.

Saving her college pal from an unimaginable amount of embarrassment, Emma skipped right on to her cheery answer. “Great, Misty. I’m so happy to see you. Glad you could break away from the studio to visit.”

“How long have you lived here in the city, Emma? Last I heard you were ‘Miss Hoity-Toity Society’ in Baltimore.” Her forced giggle would fool no one, but her friend laughed along with her as though they had been exchanging girlie jabs for a lifetime.

“Not long. A few weeks, I think. I was tired of the phony life, phony friends and paparazzi. I needed to get back to my passion for writing.”

“Is that what this is all about?” Misty did a half-turn sweeping her arm around to suggest the bleak apartment’s furnishings. “Gathering research or living your research, I should say.”

Heavens no. I’m a realist, remember? Not a fantasy writer.” Emma chuckled slightly with the words but her smile faded quickly along with the sentence’s volume. Her face now revealed the pain she tried desperately to mask from her friend.

“What is it? What’s wrong”?

“I didn’t bring you here to feel sorry for me, Misty. I just wanted someone to know where I am. And why, in case I disappear.”

“My God, Emma. What or who is so terrible to bring you to this?

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Apples, Pumpkins or Manure

Photo by Shirley Dilley

I just received notice I earned a 3rd place for this story in the Creative Writing Institute’s Short Story Contest.  I’m so excited.

Walter turned on the porch light as night approached his world. He crossed the room and settled in his antique, oak carved rocker near the front window. The bowl of candies he’d purchased at the grocery store was balanced on his lap. Cold air permeated the single pane glass making him shiver from the chill. Or was it from the memories?

I should have installed double paned storm windows to keep out the cold when I rebuilt my folks’ cabin.

Moving slowly with age, aching from raking the yard that afternoon, he placed a small, well-worn patchwork quilt over his lap.

The leaves were changing to their earthy cranberry and gold colors later than usual this year. The little goblins, witches, and pirates would probably stir up the piles of freshly raked leaves. He knew they didn’t mean to cause extra work. It was just the night’s excitement that kept them running and skipping down the street in search of treats.

Children, sidewalks, row houses. It was a different sight when he used to race through the cornfields to neighboring farmhouses. When he was a boy, he enjoyed the “tricks” as well as the “treats”. His favorite trick was the same every Halloween. He and his buddy Jacob, from down the road, filled a small potato sack with fresh manure they collected in the fields. They placed it on a farmer’s porch on the top step, making sure it was a different neighbor each year, of course. Before they knocked loudly on the door, they struck a match and lit up the sack. Jumping into the bushes at the end of the porch, it was difficult to remain hidden when shrieks of laughter exposed their location. Watching the neighbor stomp on the bag to extinguish the fire while fresh manure smeared his shoes was a young boy’s dream prank.

The doorbell rang, disturbing Walter’s daydream. A tiara-topped princess and a baseball player stood on the porch with their mom waving from the sidewalk. “Trick or treat”, the two little ones said in unison. He bent down holding his bowl of candies within the reach of the small children. “Thank you, Mister.” He closed the door and walked slowly back to his rocker, waiting for the next group of revelers.

I wonder if they have “Apple Bobbing” or “Pumpkin Carving” contests” anymore. It seems to be all about the candy.

That frightening Halloween night, many years ago, Walter’s dad was reading the newspaper near the fireplace. His mom was baking oatmeal raisin cookies and wrapping them in wax paper tied with red ribbons. The pink ruffled apron barely covered her expanding tummy. His new little brother or sister would be here by Christmas. When Jacob came to the door, Walter gave his mom and dad each a hug and grabbed his jacket and cap. He and Jacob raced through the cornfields toward Old George’s farm house. They stopped in the field to pick up some fresh manure.

The prank was successful. Old George was removing his smelly boots on the porch when Jacob and Walter ran for home.

“Look at the smoke, Walter.”

“Where?”

“Over by your house, I think.”

Flames, mingled with smoke, towered above the cornfields. Walter sprinted for home with Jacob close behind. They slowed at the gate. They house was totally enveloped in flames. Firefighters were fighting the blaze, helplessly.

The firemen drove Walter into town and called his grandparents. He collapsed into their arms when they arrived at the station.

“They’re all gone, Grandpa. Mama, Dad and our new baby. I couldn’t do anythin’ to help ‘em.

The fireman tol’ me it happened so fast, no one could’ve done anythin’ to help. The breeze tonight was strong and fanned those flames purty quick.”

“But how? What do ya think happened, Grandpa? How’d it start?” Walter asked in between his sobs.

“Well, son, the fireman said it appears your dad was tryin’ to stomp out a fire. Happened at the front door. His pant leg must’a caught on fire. Your mom most likely went to help. She caught fire, too. Must’a been some of those no-account kids from down in the holler who’ve been settin’ those porch fires ever’ Halloween for the past couple years.

*

Walter’s doorbell rang again. His troubled mind returned to the present. He opened the door and smiled at the miniature clown and cheerleader.

“Trick or treat.”

“Have some candy, little ones. Take a few. You have fun tonight but only treats. No tricks, you hear?”

Photo by Shirley Dilley

ABC Misery

Photo by Shirley Dilley

Just heard that this story got an “Honorable Mention” in the same contest that my “Apples, Pumpkins, and Manure” got 3rd place. It was the Creative Writing Institute’s short story contest. Hooray.  I’m on a roll.

“A” is for miss perfect Allysa, “B” is for my boyfriend she stole, and “C” is for the good cry I really need right now.

Kayla pretended to take notes but wrote this nonsense while passing time until the end of the class period.

Why did I sign up for this class, anyway? Boring isn’t a strong enough description for it. And if Mr. Nerd,doesn’t stop staring at my legs, I’m going to jam my pen into his right eyeball.

The bell rang ending her torture. The nerd bolted from his desk and collided with her. Kayla’s backpack flew up in the air and landed on the floor, scattering the contents. They both bent to pick up her books simultaneously and bumped heads.

“Watch where you‘re going! Jeeze!” This nightmare would never end.

“Sorry, so sorry. Let me help.”

“Just move. I’ll get them myself.”

She retrieved her books and sprinted for the exit. He hurried to keep up.

“Did I hurt you when I bumped your head?”

Kayla sped up her pace, ignoring the question as much as the person.

“Hey, could you slow down and talk for a minute?”

“I don’t want to hear anything you have to say and I sure don’t have anything to say to you. Just stop following me. Gahd!

*

As she crossed the campus green, she heard the screech of brakes; then a sickening thud followed by screams. She ran back to see what happened and sidled her way through the forming crowd. Lying in the street, bleeding and broken, was the nerd. “Oh my God. Somebody call an ambulance. Is he alive? Is he breathing?”

Minutes later, an ambulance arrived with siren wailing. The EMT’s quickly assessed his condition and loaded him into the ambulance.

Shaken and feeling more than a little guilty, Kayla asked a few people in the crowd if they knew who he was. One kid said his first name was Noah.

“I’m not sure of his last name but I think it’s something like Benson or Benton.”

*

After her next class, she drove to the hospital and hurried to the information desk. Kayla pushed her way forward, ignoring the woman in front of her speaking with the receptionist.

“I was there when Noah Benson was hit. How is he? Will he be okay?”

The frantic woman turned to face her.

“Do you know Noah?”

“No, I mean, well; he’s in one of my classes. We aren’t really friends. We just came out of class a few minutes before and I’d already crossed the street. But I turned back to look when I heard the brakes squealing.”

“Come with me, dear. What’s your name?”

“Kayla.”

“I’m Noah’s mother, Carol Bentson. Noah’s in surgery, but I’m supposed to wait in the Intensive Care waiting room. Was he conscious when they put him in the ambulance? He didn’t deliberately walk in front of the car, did he?”

Kayla was shocked by the last question. “I don’t know. I didn’t see what happened. Why do you think he’d do that?”

Her eyes settled on Carol’s trembling hands. They were gripped tightly, subconsciously willing them to be still.

“He’s been so depressed lately. Seven months ago, he was driving his kid sister to her friend’s house when a drunk driver ran a red light. Josie was killed instantly. Noah blames himself for her death no matter how many times I tell him he isn’t responsible. He feels if he hadn’t delayed leaving to see the end of the hockey match, he wouldn’t have been at that corner when the drunk ran the light. I’ve been worried sick about him. He doesn’t sleep, eats barely enough to stay alive and has lost so much weight. He was always a good student and now I have to prod him to go to class. Nothing seems to interest him.”

Kayla felt guilty. This courageous woman lost her daughter such a short time ago. And now, she could possibly lose her son.

Why was I so mean to Noah? All he did was look at me. Because I was having a rotten day, I didn’t have to treat him like garbage.

Tears slid down her cheeks.

The surgeon approached Mrs. Bentson. Kayla turned to walk away to provide privacy, but Carol held tightly to her arm.

“Noah has no head trauma or internal injuries, Mrs. Bentson, which is the good news. However, he has a cracked pelvis and both femurs in his legs are broken. He will have a lengthy recovery period, I’m afraid.”

“Is he awake? Can I see him?”

“He’s still in recovery but when he’s transferred to Intensive Care, you can have a short visit.”

Carol insisted Kayla join her when she went to see her son, but Kayla felt Noah might be confused if he saw her there.

“I’ll wait with you, Carol, but I’ll leave when you go in to see Noah. I’ll be back tomorrow. He may feel like having visitors then.”

*

“Hello.” Kayla peeked, sheepishly, around the doorway of Noah’s hospital room.

“Hi. My mom told me you were here at the hospital with her yesterday. Why?”

“When you were hit by the car, I felt guilty about being so rude to you in class. I wanted to see if you would be okay.”

“No need. It wasn’t your fault; the driver was busy texting his girlfriend instead of looking where he was going.”

“I heard, but I still feel bad. I don’t usually treat people that way and wanted to apologize. Are you in a lot of pain?”

“I sure don’t feel great, but they keep shooting me full of pain medicine. I know what they mean about feeling like a pin cushion.”

Both laughed and began to relax.

*

Kayla collected Noah’s school assignments and delivered them to him each day. When he was transferred to the rehab center, she often brought a picnic lunch and wheeled him outside to enjoy the sunshine. As their friendship grew, she observed that Noah was beginning to take pride in his appearance again. His dark hair was growing longer and fell in waves over his collar. She thought his slate blue eyes had more sparkle to them.

I wonder why I didn’t notice he’s really a handsome guy.

It was nearing the time for Noah to be discharged from the rehab center and Kayla wanted to ask him about his sister’s accident.

“Noah, your mom said you’d been depressed about Josie’s death.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“She asked me if you had intentionally walked in front of the car. Did you?”

“No, for God’s sake, no. I was trying to catch up with you. I wanted to get to know you and wasn’t watching where I was going.”

Kayla still felt somehow responsible.

“I thought my rudeness pushed you over the edge in your depression. I felt terrible thinking you were injured because of me.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Kayla.”

“Then why do you blame yourself for your sister’s death?”

“That’s not the same thing.”

“How is it different? You think you’re responsible because you were driving. You didn’t run the red light; you didn’t smash into the passenger side of your car. You have to admit you didn’t kill Josie. Let go of your guilt feelings. I’m sure she would hate to know you stopped living when she died.”

Noah hung his head. Tears flooded his cheeks. Kayla put her arms around him and held him while he released sorrow he’d never allowed to surface. When he started to relax, she placed a very tender kiss on his cheek and told him she’d see him the following day.

*

Noah was sitting outside when Kayla arrived the next afternoon. He looked peaceful and greeted her with a big smile.

She returned the smile and walked over to place the daily schoolwork on his lap. His wheelchair moved slightly and the papers slipped off his lap to the sidewalk. Kayla bent to pick them up at the same time Noah leaned over to retrieve them. They bumped heads. Again.

Both started to laugh out loud.

“Isn’t this how it all began?” Kayla joked.

Noah took her hand, pulled her close to kiss her and said,

“No, this is where it all begins”.

Raggie

Photo by Shirley Dilley

I was just sent a nice certificate for the award of Honorable Mention for this short story in the Missouri Writer’s Guild Fiction for Children Contest.  I am thrilled.  All winners are listed on the Guild’s homepage at http://www.missouriwritersguild.org.

 It all started cuz a Mama. She allus wants everthin’ to be what she calls “squeaky clean”.

My cat Raggie an’ me wuz playin’ up in the attic hidin’ out cuz Raggie dint much like to get warshed an’ he knew that’s what Mama planned for him today.  We had the window open an’ was sittin’ on the sill jus’ talkin’.

We heard Mama hollerin’ “Jenny, bring Raggie down here so’s I can give him a good warshin’. He’s filthy.” I jumped when I hear’d her holler an’ nex’ thin’ I saw was Raggie fallin’ out the window.  I ran down the attic steps fast as I could an’ when I got outside to Raggie, he looked real dead. Jus’ layin’ there lookin’ up wid his eyes starin’.

*

Raggie was my bestest fren’ so’s I thought I should give him a fancy funeral.  I dug a hole down by the crick unner the walnut tree. That’s where we allus climb to hide out from doin’ chores. I sneaked back in the house to get a shoe box outta Mama’s closet an’ one a her tea towels.  I raced back to the tree an’ wrapped Raggie in the towel. Then I put him in the box.

He dint fit real good.  So’s I used one a my shoestrin’s tied ‘roun’ the box to keep the lid on.  I put the box in the hole an’ pushed dirt o’er it.

Then I went down to the crick an’ picked up some rocks to put on top a Raggie’s grave.  On a western radio show, I heard the cowboys do that to keep wild critters from diggin’ up dead thin’s.

I pulled two sticks from the tree an’ used my other shoestrin’ to tie ‘em like a cross. When I put it on the grave, it looked real good. Shore did.

I membered goin’ to Grammy’s funeral an’ they said some grown-up words afore singing a purty song.  I din’t know any a those fancy words so’s I jus’ said my Jack an’ Jill pome that I knows all the way to the end. Put my head down an’ said “Amen”.

I sang the ABC song cuz I knows it real good. Said Amen again when I was done singin’.

*

When I went home for lunch, Mama ast me where Raggie was.  I tole her I dint know but I’d look for ‘im.

I got to thinkin’. Maybe I shouldna buried Raggie so quick. What if’n he aint daid? I’m gonna go dig him up to see if’n he’s still alive.  I ran outside slammin’ the screen door on the way.  When I got to the tree wid the cross unner it, I threw the rocks an’ cross off an’ dug up the dirt.  I grabbed the box an’ ran to the house.

Mama was in the kitchen doin’ dishes when I ‘mos ran into her.  I tore off the shoestring an’ opened the box to see if Mama could make Raggie alive agin.

“Jenny, why do you have my good tea towel wrapped around Raggie?  I told you I wanted to warsh your hand puppet today.”

It all started cuz a Mama. She allus wants everthin’ to be what she calls ‘squeaky clean’.

My cat Raggie an’ me wuz playin’ up in the attic hidin’ out cuz Raggie dint much like to get warshed an’ he knew that’s what Mama planned for him today. We had the window open an’ was sittin’ on the sill jus’ talkin’. We heard Mama hollerin’.

“Jenny, bring Raggie down here so’s I can give him a good ‘warshin’. He’s filthy.”

I jumped when I hear’d her holler an’ nex’ thin’ I saw was Raggie fallin’ out the window. I ran down the attic steps fast as I could an’ when I got outside to Raggie, he looked real dead. Jus’ layin’ there lookin’ up wid his eyes starin’.

Raggie was my bestest fren’ so’s I thought I should give him a fancy funeral. I dug a hole down by the crick unner the walnut tree. That’s where we allus climb to hide out from doin’ chores. I sneaked back in the house to get a shoebox outta Mama’s closet an’ one a her tea towels. Then I raced back to the tree an’ wrapped Raggie in the towel. I put him in the box real gentle-like, but he dint fit real good. So’s I used one a my shoestrin’s tied ‘roun’ the box to keep the lid on. I put the box in the hole an’ pushed dirt o’er it. Down at the crick, I picked up some rocks to put on top a Raggie’s grave. I hear’d on a radio show that cowboys do that to keep wild critters from diggin’ up dead thin’s. I pulled two sticks from the tree an’ used my other shoestrin’ to tie ‘em like a cross. When I put it on the grave, it looked real good. Shore did. At Grammy’s funeral, they said some grown-up words afore singin’ a purty song. I dint know any a those fancy words so’s I jus’ said my Jack an’ Jill pome that I knows all the way to the end. Put my head down, too, an’ said “Amen”. I sang the ABC song cuz I knows it real good. Said Amen again when I was done singin’.

When I went home for lunch, Mama ast me where Raggie was. I tole her I dint know but I’d look for ‘im.

I got to thinkin’. Maybe I shouldna buried Raggie so quick. What if’n he aint daid? I figgered I best go dig him up to see if’n he’s still alive. Slammin’ the screen door on the way, I ran down to the crick. When I got to the tree wid the cross unner it, I threw the rocks an’ cross off, dug up the dirt, ‘n grabbed the box. Mama was in the kitchen doin’ dishes when I ‘mos ran into her flyin’ through the door. I tore off the shoestrin’ an’ opened the box to see if Mama could make Raggie alive agin.

“Jenny, why do you have my good tea towel wrapped around Raggie? I told you I wanted to warsh your puppet today.”

A Life Well Loved

L to R. My daughter Nancy, her daughter Erin, me

This story was just published in the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul “Hope and Miracles” book. 

It would never be the choice for me. The medical and religious communities felt it was the right thing to do, but their string of reasons made me even more resolute in my decision.

“Your thyroid cancer has spread to ten lymph nodes.”

The surgeon appeared stricken. His pained facial expression looked like he was delivering news to himself rather than the patient sitting in front of him.

“You will need a radical neck resection placing you under anesthesia for seven or eight hours. The four month fetus you’re carrying could be severely deprived of oxygen during that time so a therapeutic abortion is recommended. Otherwise, you could be delivering a child with multiple deformities or health problems.”

Spreading cancer, abortion, deformities. This can’t be happening. Why me? Why these horrible things for my child? Spinning out of control, my mind spun like a runaway carousel. Quietly, I begged to be let off the ride so my life could settle back to a normal pace.

The doctor exited the examining room leaving me with disturbing thoughts for companionship. My husband joined me moments later to assure me any decision I made, he would support.

A nurse practitioner entered the room along with my parish priest and began a litany of reasons why the therapeutic abortion was being recommended.

“Whenever there is a pregnancy involved, cancers spread more rapidly.”

“You will need radiation immediately after surgery and it shouldn’t be delayed for the four or five months until your baby is delivered.”

“You’re only twenty-four years old with four other children at home under the age of five. Who will raise them if you’re gone?”

My parish priest, Father Bill, stepped gingerly into the conversation with tears in his eyes. “Shirley, if you’re worried how the church feels in this situation, don’t be concerned. The church makes exceptions when a mother’s life is jeopardized and this is certainly justified.”

I listened and went over each argument carefully in my mind. I believe in a good and loving God, not a cruel, punishing God. I’d put him in charge of my health and my family. Believing this was best, I decided to carry my much-loved child to term, no matter the consequences. He or she deserved all the love and opportunity I’d been given by my mother.

“Schedule the neck surgery.” I said to the nurse practitioner. “I’m keeping my baby.”

My husband and Father Bill looked at each other with concern, but both knew I must be the one to make the decision.

After the surgery, the surgeons and obstetricians were surprised my pregnancy continued without problems. A beautiful baby girl, Nancy Ruth, was delivered and placed in my arms five months later.

Before we left the hospital, the pediatrician came in to tell us the status of our daughter. He explained she appeared in good health, no deformities of any kind. But there was a problem. My breathing stopped and I felt sure my heart must have discontinued beating also.

“Her cries are shrill and piercing and she stays tightly curled in the fetal position. These are generally definitive signs of spastic cerebral palsy. There is no cure for this condition and the child will probably need lifetime care. It affects the nervous system, brain, and muscles. Every facet of her life may be affected. Learning, eating, walking, talking.”

The doctor’s manner was detached and I felt he wanted to break the news and hurry from the room so he wouldn’t have to deal with devastated parents.

“What caused this?

How did it happen?

Are you sure?

Are there any tests we can run to be positive?”

I had a thousand questions and refused to let him get away until he answered all of them.

“No one knows for sure how it happens. Generally something goes wrong in the womb. Lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain possibly.”

The very second he put a period on that sentence, the guilt train arrived in my brain.

How could I have been so selfish? What kind of life have I subjected this child?

Over the next several weeks, I held and cuddled my baby, trying to assure her how much she was loved, how I would always take care of her and mostly, how sorry I was for being responsible for her condition. Guilt never left my mind.

When Nancy cried, it sounded like a shrieking noise. Her arms stayed pulled in close to her sides, little fists balled up continually. Diapering her was difficult. You needed to pry open her little knees just to get the diaper on and secured.

One morning, after her bottle, I placed my sleeping baby on her side in the crib. She was lying in her constant tight fetal position. When I didn’t hear her cries for attention after a couple hours, I tiptoed into the bedroom to check on her. She was lying on her back, with her arms and hands open. Her legs were spread-eagled like a little frog. I was in a panic. My little girl must have died. When I grabbed her, and pulled her up to my chest, I realized she was smiling at me. Her little fingers curled around mine for the first time. A faucet of tears exploded from my eyes and I prayed this was not just a momentary change, but a permanent one.

A trip to the pediatrician gave few clues as to why this could have occurred. He was astounded. It was suggested the replacement thyroid I need to take daily, crossed the placental barrier causing hyperthyroidism in my child, possibly explaining her spasticity. Not wanting me to expect too much, he advised there might still be problems and this could just be a temporary remission or anomaly.

I knew better. My child was healed and God performed a miracle.

This special baby is now a special woman. She is a military veteran and has a college degree. Daily she works as a vice-president for a large financial conglomerate. Her grown son and teenage daughter are worthy of pride. She is a devoted wife, mother, daughter, sibling, citizen and devout in her faith.

God helps with our difficult decisions. Ask Him.

My Mind Is Slowly Going

Photo by Shirley Dilley

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Counselors at the center suggested keeping a diary, but how do I begin writing a story such as this? “A written record of your wife’s progress” is how they phrased it. As a daily participant in her life, I would describe it as a downward spiral journey to non-involvement. “Keep notes on words, people, pictures, or activities that help with her orientation,” they said. “Do any sounds or smells help? What triggers her disconnection to the here and now?” If there are patterns in this process, they are certainly a mystery to me.  I’m an author of several published novels, so this should be an easy assignment. However. I find myself with a story that has a beginning, a middle that is torturous, and an ending that I fear will never arrive. There will, definitely, be no sequel to this dreadful novel. The doctors ask me to detail events such as, “What were the first changes and when did you notice them?” I don’t care to remember.  I just want to know how I ended up in this nightmare. A short time ago, we laughed together about forgetting where we left the car keys. Not remembering the name of a neighbor became common. We felt it was part of the aging process and couldn’t have imagined the horrors ahead. Estelle and I have never been a happy couple.  We’ve fought our entire married life. Many times I planned to leave her. I even consulted an attorney, but when she began to exhibit this disturbing behavior, I procrastinated. I’m no saint or hero, not even close. But I couldn’t just walk away when she was in this fearful state. I wish I had.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

It all started innocently. Forgetting appointments, losing objects, inability to write numbers correctly on a check. One afternoon, I received a call from a patrolman, informing me Estelle was observed wandering around lost and confused at the Greyhound bus terminal.  I took a cab and arrived to retrieve her from the police station, she denied it all while berating the police officer. She was belligerent when I asked for the car keys and refused to return them.  I tried to escort her to the car, but she couldn’t remember where she parked it. The patrolman located it after I provided the make of car, model, color and tag number. On several occasions, she withdrew large amounts of cash from our bank account, but didn’t know where she left it. She accused me of stealing the money from her to hide in a private account. I never thought about that before, but decided it would be a good idea since she was emptying the account during her “spells.” When she realized our joint account was closed, I was the victim again of one of her villainous rages. Her moods switched rapidly from crying jags to screaming tantrums.  As the disease progressed, her rage elevated to an awesome peak and then dipped to the “valley of no response.” Compassion is difficult to feel at this stage. Estelle was never an easy person to live with and now she is impossible. It’s much easier to feel sympathy for those who were driven to murder the shrews they were chained to by a legal document.

Saturday, February 22, 2003

The fighting and screaming continued for the remainder of the week. I should regret calling her “a crazy bitch” when she consistently refused to consult a doctor, but I don’t. She’s always been unreasonable and difficult to convince of anything. Her only defense seemed to be that I was just a mean person and hated her. Well, she got half of that right., anyway.  She finally agreed to see our family physician, Dr. Benson.  According to Estelle, the visit would prove once and for all that she was not crazy and that I was just malicious. During that initial appointment, we shared events that had been happening for several weeks. Estelle finally admitted she has trouble remembering where she is, who she is, or what she’s doing on some days.  After listening to both of us, the doctor explained she was suffering from dementia, the beginning stage of Alzheimer’s disease and it would only worsen. He wrote a prescription for a medication that can sometimes slow the disease’s symptoms. Dr. Benson’s nurse enrolled us in a weekly Alzheimer’s Support Group and encouraged us to participate fully. We both cried on the way home. We stayed up late that night talking about how her life was changing and what she wanted to accomplish during the time before her mind shut down to any stimulation or reactions. Estelle stated repeatedly, “My mind is slowly going; my mind is slowly going.”  I remember thinking that her mind was already gone and I wish she was, too.

Monday, April 7, 2003

So much was happening that I gave up writing in this tale of hell documenting facts and observations for the people at the support group. None of this will help the situation. Now I’m writing to preserve MY sanity and blow off some of my anger before I explode. We attended their useless meetings, made photo collages, taped audio conversations with friends and family, and wrote important information and dates on calendars. I worked diligently with these tools like a teacher helping first graders with flash cards.  Nothing seemed to help Estelle practice some form of normalcy. She turns the stove on with no pots to cook and leaves faucets running constantly.  I found an iron in the freezer today. Last night, I rolled over on a head of lettuce tucked under my pillow. She needs continuous monitoring. I can’t ask friends to stay with her while I get away for an occasional break from this “House of Horrors.” No one would want the responsibility.  Even a quick trip to the grocery store is out of the question.  Taking her with me is not an option, either. Her behavior is too unpredictable and irrational.  I find myself fixing non-meals of crackers, cold beans from a can, half rotted fruit, anything to keep from having to leave Estelle unsupervised for a moment. Now my health is suffering from the stress, poor nutrition, lack of sleep, and exercise. Heartburn and stomach pains are constant companions. Our physician and friends are worried. They feel she’ll probably outlive me. They ask who will take care of her. I don’t know and don’t care. Like Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, “Frankly, Estelle, I don’t give a damn.”

Thursday, May 1, 2003

We’ve entered a new phase. I can’t hold her attention even for a second. Each day is spent with Estelle staring at a wall and humming the same tune over and over and over again. God, I hate that sound.  She sleeps sporadically during the day, sometimes only minutes at a time. She wanders aimlessly throughout the house at night, making rest impossible for me.  I used to sleep, but I’ll never be able to do that again with any regularity. When I woke this morning, Estelle was gone and the front door was standing open. The neighbors and I searched everywhere for her. Around noon, a patrolman brought her back to the door. He said he found her on the swings at a local park, wearing no clothes.  The identification bracelet on her wrist helped him discover where she belonged. Putting that bracelet on her was a suggestion from the support group. I should engrave a different name and address on it, so they can drop her on someone else’s doorstep next time.  Sometimes I shake her to listen to me and say the most shocking and horrible things to her just to look for a response. Any kind of response. Once or twice, I noticed a raised eyebrow or a frown, but not even a murmur or facial jerk to a pinch or slight slap.  I don’t know when I last saw her smile, heard her laugh, or even cry. Is there anyone left at home inside her shell? I do feel sadness for her that she has no life left to enjoy, but her entire being disgusts me.  I want her gone and out of my life. I deliberately leave the doors unlocked, hoping she will wander away, get lost or killed by a car in traffic. My thoughts are horrible, I know, but why am I being punished this way?

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Estelle’s finally entered the “no-return-to-sanity” door and dragging me right across the threshold with her.  She needs total care with eating, grooming, oral hygiene, and bathroom visits..  I have zero time for myself and no one to share a happy moment. What is a happy moment, anyway?  Surely, I’ve had some in my life. I can’t even watch television or listen to music as a diversion.  The support group said these might calm or engage Estelle. Well, they don’t. When I turn the TV or stereo on, Estelle turns the volume knob back and forth from high to low or low to high rapidly and continuously.  If her hand goes first to the channel or station selector, she changes from one to the next rapidly and continuously. No use trying to read.  I can’t concentrate knowing I need to watch her every movement.  I never know where she will go in the house or what she will do. There are days I feel like dying. There are even more days when I wish she would die. This morning I saw her lift a bottle of bleach to her mouth. Why did I stop her?  No one would blame me after everything she’s put me through. Maybe I should feel guilty for cheating on her before, but I don’t. Look what I’m stuck with now. I feel so ill lately I can barely function. I shouldn’t admit this and put it in writing, but I’ve deliberately left her in soiled underwear or omitted some of her meals on occasion.  She doesn’t know, care, or remember and I’m furious with her for ruining my life. I hate the hell she’s trapped in now, but why must I dwell in it with her?

Monday, June 2, 2003

Dear, dear diary, of my departed Joe,

So glad I brought his journal with me. It fit nicely in the suitcase I stored at the Greyhound Bus Terminal along with the clothes, cash, wig, new passport and ID I’d been saving for this very moment.

It’s only appropriate to give an author credit for his novel, so I’ve pasted the news clipping of his obituary below and will finish the book for him.

“Joseph Westerfall – Age 76 – Died 05/28/2003

Survived by his spouse, Estelle.

Mrs. Westerfall suffers from dementia and was missing at the time her husband’s body was found.

Anyone with knowledge of her whereabouts should contact the local sheriff.”

Wow! Now it’s my turn to write.  I could hardly wait to read everything Joe wrote.  What a joy to know how terribly he suffered.  Hahahahaha

I thought the old goat would never kick the bucket.  The small doses of arsenic in his food and toothpaste took forever to do the deed. No one will ever suspect foul play. Caring for his tragic wife, surely, drove the poor man to his grave.

Maybe I’ll wait a few years to publish this, changing names to protect lucky me, of course.

Let’s see, Joe told me once that writing should be all about atmosphere and the senses.   Okay, I can do that.

  •       Lounge chair under an umbrella by the pool—–check.
  •       Strawberry margaritas non-stop—–check.
  •       Pool toy-boy rubbing my back and neck—–check.

My new life here in the Caribbean will be the book’s final chapter and epilogue. I’ll fill it with vivid descriptions of fresh air, a clean body and clothes, good food, and FREEDOM! No more humming, staring and pretending to be demented.

Joe thought I didn’t know about his whoring around or plans to divorce me.  That bastard didn’t fool me.  Who’s the fool now, Joe?

Now Is The Time

I wrote this poem in the pantoum format.  I hope you enjoy it. It earned a second place in the poetry category in the 2008 Writers-Editors Network 28th Annual International Writing Competition.

Me with my grandson Dave-one of the "Good Men"

Now is the time for all good men

Stand up: make your voice heard

Refuse to be led like sheep

Display your honest performance at every curtain’s opening.

 

Stand up: make your voice heard

When all around are afraid to show beliefs in actions and words

Display your honest performance at every curtain’s opening

Don’t play the role that plays it safe.

 

When all around are afraid to show beliefs in actions and words

You must excite others with your views

Don’t play the role that plays it safe

Apathy and cowardice are blood brothers.

 

You must excite others with your views

Think huge thoughts; believe strongly; verbalize liberally

Apathy and cowardice are blood brothers

Your ideas are just as valuable as the louder voice

 

Think huge thoughts; believe strongly; verbalize liberally

Welcome debate, criticism or disagreement

Your ideas are just as valuable as the louder voice

Never retreat from your credo to maintain harmony

 

Welcome debate, criticism or disagreement

Refuse to be led like sheep

Never retreat from your credo to maintain harmony

Now is the time for all good men.