From the start, she was not my favorite. I never did anything well enough to please her and she even slugged me in the face to prove it a couple of times. She was stubborn and orderly and her dementia was triumphing over her. Every morning before entering her room, I would stand outside her door, give myself a pep talk, swallow my stress, consciously breathe in and then out again…one more time, then I’d open the door.
Every morning was the same. “Just get through it, just get through it, just get through it.”
Then one morning, after my familiar routine, I opened the door to find her dressed already, sitting on her couch as she focused on a small piece of paper in her hand. Her uncommonly contented mood confused me. I cautiously approached her with, “Good morning, what are you reading?” She replied, “After school, my mom always has cookies waiting for us.” “Do you like cookies?” I tried not to let my heart get too excited. Cookies is a topic I know quite a lot about. My heart quickened only slightly. “Oh God yes!” was her incredulous response. I pursed my lips to try to hold back a small laugh. I understood her sentiments exactly. “What kinds of cookies did your mom bake for you?” “Every kind.” “Would you like a cookie now?”
I know what you are thinking reader, isn’t it morning? Yes, yes it is but it is never too early for cookies.
I never saw her eyes as I saw them then. Suddenly, a window opened and I was invited inside for a moment. So for the next 15 minutes, we ate cookies together and had the same conversation as described above 10 times over, but it didn’t seem to get old for me and for her, every time was the first time. I don’t think I’d mind that, having a pleasing conversation for the first time ten times in a row.
Every morning after that, I skipped the former routine and flitted right into her room without so much as a pause. I thought, if cookies can charm her, perhaps music can as well. I lead her into her bathroom to help her clean up for the day and I tried to come up with a song that she might know. So of course, I went through songs in my head by Billie Holiday, a close friend of mine (you’ll see I’m telling the truth). “Do you know the song “I’ll Be Seeing You?” I asked. She said no, but I hoped I could help her recall a former time. I started to sing. “I’ll be seeing you/In all the old familiar places/That this heart of mine embraces/All day through/In that small cafe/The park across the way/The children’s carousel/The chestnut trees/The wishing wells…” Then suddenly as I was about to continue she made the solo a duet. “I’ll be seeing you/In every lovely summer’s day/In everything that’s light and gay/I’ll always think of you that way/I’ll find you in the morning sun/And when the night is new/I’ll be looking at the moon/But I’ll be seeing you.” I think that even Billie Holiday would have been impressed with our vocals. It was beautiful, in the truest sense of the word.
When I had finished in the bathroom, I went to her bedroom to make her bed. It was not but 1 minute before her tenuous voice reached my ears, repeating over and over, “I’ll be seeing you, I’ll be seeing you, I’ll be seeing you.” I loved her. Right then and there.
I couldn’t resist imagining that there was someone whom she hadn’t seen in a long time, who could be the recipient of her words, someone from a life gone by, someone perhaps who had the same memories as her, who finds her in the morning sun. Perhaps.
But whether or not there was a person like this, I somehow found her, the real her, the one who had been lost for too long. She ended up being a lot like me. A cookie lover, a close friend, and a true romantic.
Days still passed when she would hit me or snarl in my direction, but somehow, it wasn’t so bad anymore. I knew what she really was and I’ll always think of her that way.