You sat with your head thrown back, wheezing, snoring, mouth and eyes wide open. I had assumed my usual prone position on the couch next to you, my legs thrown over your lap. Your warm hand rested on my belly, twitching occasionally in your half sleep. A Neil Young documentary shrilled in the background on this cold, rainy June afternoon. I wanted to turn him off; the sound was grating to my ears but you had obviously been enjoying the music before you fell into your semi-conscious state. It used to be frightening to witness these episodes of withdrawal of consciousness but I am used to them now.
I covered your hand with my own and ran my fingers up and down yours. It is one part of your body that hasn't changed in all the years I've known you, unlike my own hands which have swelled, bent and stiffened with arthritis. Ugly hands. Yours remain strong despite the weaknesses elsewhere in your body. I can still count on you to open a stubborn jar when my hands just refuse to work.
My wandering fingers stopped at your ring finger. Mysteriously your wedding band has been replaced with an ancient high school ring, a big heavy thing that looks as though it could do serious damage to someone's face if you wanted to. I sat up to inspect your right hand. There was the gold band along with your iron engineering ring presented to you upon graduation so many years ago. Was there any reason for the switch, I wondered? No point trying to overthink this, my quick conclusion.
These rings represent significant events in your life: your happy high school experience in the United States, stationed in Norfolk, Virginia where fine friends were made and are still present in your life, albeit remotely; your struggle through university and finally getting that coveted degree, a goal that had been more your parents' than your own; marriage and children - I hope a happy fulfilling experience for you if somewhat stressful and busy with four boisterous children. Of our thirty-four years together you have been sick now for over twenty.
You have slipped into the distant past, your memories of those times still sharp and clear when you can articulate them. Your present is a return to childlike things, your needs must be guessed and intuited. Your relationship to me is like that of an infant to his mother, your need for me to be near growing day by day.
This week you were twice troubled and confused by my absence. Could it be the massive changes I have brought about in our basement, converting a grey, dingy space into a miraculous realm of light, order and joy? My heart leaps with happiness whenever I descend the stairs but for you it is all confusion. Your work bench is gone. The clutter has been swept away. Your unused sports gear has been greatly reduced. My way of creating change when static life is our reality.
You wandered downstairs one day by yourself while I was out, leaving your caregiver upstairs. The workmen, my friends, reported that you mumbled you needed to go home. You needed me. I was out for a couple of hours but you had forgotten. You had also forgotten about your home - our home - a place of safety and calm for you. Your behaviour reminded me of your singular goal of returning home, of finding me whenever you were hospitalized, in a foreign environment. When thwarted you would become violent, prompting staff always to summon me to bring calm.
Another day I came home to an empty house, a rare treat. Two sets of shoes were gone so I assumed you were both out in the yard. Confident you were safe, I busied myself in the basement arranging things in the new spaces. Half an hour later you returned. You had apparently bolted down the road to a neighbour's house then to another in search of me, F. valiantly following you wherever you wanted to go. She reported that you were remarkably focused and stable, hardly falling until you reached home and saw that I had returned. Your occasional sparks of grit and determination are awe-inspiring, a mystery.
I feel as though an umbilical cord now joins us. It seems as though our house no longer fully provides you with the safety and security you so desperately need. I am becoming your only home.
*The Babe in the Womb, Leonardo da Vinci, 1511