While The Past Lives, The Future Dies
Each day begins as the one before it, with only one guarantee: that it will end. It could end as the one before, or it could end for good. Either way, it would end. He welcomed the end, be it one or the other. It was the intermediate time, that time between waking and sleeping that he dreaded. But to be honest, he did enjoy it, just a bit. For during those hours he lived in another life, one long gone.
He suffered from Alzheimer's and it was a brutal life; one filled with uncertainty, fear, and memories. In his most lucid moments he understood that not everything he "remembered" was in fact true; real. He thought that perhaps most were but he had no way to be sure. For the most part he simply allowed the memories to overtake him and sweep him away.
In the Spring of his life he had been an active boy, then young man. The woods and streams beckoned to him in a manner that he did not pretend to understand. While other boys chased fly balls, played catch or shot hoops he was deep beneath the trees in the forest near where he grew up. Some days he would scarcely be at home while the sun was in the sky, often leaving as the darkness fled the coming light and returning home as it made its return. Those Spring and Summer days were filled with such life! School slowed him down a bit, but not much.
In this memory, he was young; perhaps ten years old. He was beneath the overhanging limbs of a tall tree, seated quietly. Waiting; patiently waiting for something that he knew was coming but was unsure as to what it might be. He looked down and found a stick bent into the shape of a bow with a bit of string and a smaller stick sharpened on one end lying across the bow. In the here and now he realized he was remembering a time in his woods where he hunted rabbits; although there were few enough rabbits to be found here.
The shadows were deep here beneath the limbs but the sun shone brightly outside of the protective cover of his tree. Moving only his eyes, he looked around for the telltale signs that would show him his prey.
A quick movement to his right and he saw a cottontail rabbit moving from cover a little ways away. Moving slowly, he drew back his homemade bow, aimed and let the arrow fly. His aim was poor and he watched as the rabbit scampered away, diving back into the shadows of its tree.
He stood and made his way to where his poor arrow lay upon the ground, bent over and picked it up. He noticed that the tip was no longer intact, as the contact with the stony ground had broken it off. No matter; he could sharpen it once more on the smooth sandstone rock he had back at home. Turning, he began to make his way there.
With a start, he found himself seated in a room, windows open and a gentle breeze flowing in. The sun shone brightly, but not so brightly as a moment before. He glanced around in a mild panic, breathing heavily as he desperately attempted to grasp where he was and why he was there. Then, a gentle hand appeared on his shoulder and a voice broke through his panic.
"Sam, it's okay, you're here and you're safe."
Sam turned to see an older lady seated beside him, her hand the one on his shoulder. "Hello. Do I know you?"
The elderly woman smiled a gentle smile and replied, Yes, Sam you do. My name is May, and I live in this building too. "
Sam considered this for a moment, a memory nibbling at his consciousness like a minnow nibbles at dead skin when one sits quietly in a creek and they make their way up to you, tickling your legs with their nibbles. Finally he said "Was I having another memory? If I was, how long was I gone this time?"
She smiled again, but this time it was more of a sad smile. "Yes you were enjoying one of your memories, but you weren't gone too long. Maybe an hour or so. Tell me: can you remember what it was?"
Hard as he tried, there was nothing there but a wisp, a nothing. It frustrated him to know that only moments before he had been reliving a memory but had nothing to show for it now. But, he also recognized that this was just how it was. And he was glad, in a strange way; glad that he still knew enough that he knew he had this memory. The time was coming when he wouldn't even have that, they told him. He would lapse into a memory one day and never return.
Taking a deep breath, Sam tried to relax once more. He stared out the window, searching for something that wasn't there: his future. All he could remember was that he was here, and that a moment ago he had been somewhere else, somewhere happy. Looking around his room, he saw a few pictures, a knick-knack or two and little else. Nothing much to show for almost eighty years of life. The days passed by, filled with staring out this window and remembering what he could. For the most part, that consisted of childhood memories. Somewhere deep inside he knew there should be more than that; more than a few memories of a time so long ago. There had to be something from the years between the youth he recalled and the present he hated.The intervening sixty or seventy years should amount to more than the wisp that was in his most lucid moments. And anger set in once more although he did not know it had happened before. He rose unsteadily from his chair, knocking it over and almost falling as he did so.
May was there in an instant, offering a steadying hand to him. In his current state he failed to recognize her and brushed her aside impatiently. In a shuffling gate he headed towards the door, intent on going somewhere; anywhere. The staff beat him to the door and gently corralled him, directing him back to his seat. Soothing sounds from them infuriated him even more, but in a few moments, he was elsewhere once more, seated in the chair and looking out the window and another memory took hold.
He was in a chapel, dressed up in his Sunday finest. It was Spring, and the windows were open wide. A scent of lilacs drifted into the room on the gentle breeze, and something else; honeysuckle maybe? He turned and looked to his side and saw a young woman there, standing quietly beside him in a nice flowered dress. He noticed she was trembling, biting her lip just a bit. He realized she was nervous for some reason. He looked forward once more and saw what could only be a preacher standing before them, smiling. With a start her realized he was getting married. Looking back at the woman who was little more than a girl he desperately tried to recognize her. She must have sensed his gaze for she turned and looked at him, eye to eye, an uneasy smile playing at the corners of her mouth. He tried his best, but could not place who she was. Why was he standing here getting married to someone he didn't even know?
As he stood dumbfounded, confused she opened her mouth and whispered "Sam? Sam, what are you looking at? You look like you don't know me. It's me, May. It's May, Sam. May."
The voice took him back to the present where a much older version of the May he had just seen and not recognized sat beside him, her cool hand holding his as he shook violently. But it was the same smile he saw and as he understood what had occurred he broke down into tears, sobbing gently on the shoulder of this woman he knew, but didn't know.
But even this episode did not last. In another few minutes he was up, walking towards the doorway asking "May, must be dinner time by now. Won't you do me the honor of sitting with me at my table tonight? I could use your company, I think."
The woman, May, stood and nodded as she walked beside Sam. Inside her heart was close to breaking but she could never let this emotion show, not to Sam. This was her own private grief, one she shared with no one. As they walked. she thought (not for the first time) how unfair it was for a person to be trapped in their past while their present passes them by, and they have no future to speak of beyond reliving their past, time after time. Sometimes for years, sometimes even decades. The past became the present, and the future had no opportunity to become the present, let alone the past.