The memories come in snips and snaps, fits and starts. There in the fog emerges crystal clear, laser sharp images that built her life. When she tries to form the words to tell those around her how she feels or what she remembers, she fails. The sounds that come out don’t match the thoughts in her head, and the frustration overwhelms her. Yet it fades just as quickly. Such is the nature of her disease.
The surprising strength in the frail arms of a beloved grandmother. She had cried so many tears onto the worn cotton print of her grandmother’s every day house dress. A floral print. Mostly pink. She can see the little swirl of green stem so clearly it makes her heart ache for a long ago moment, and she longs for that embrace again.
Losing her mother had been a shock to say the least. She knew that there had been a train, an accident, but she couldn’t make sense of the loss. The emptiness that settled in her chest—and stayed with her for the rest of her life—abated when her grandmother hugged her.
After her grandmother died, Barbara’s life became chaotic as she bounced from one guardian to another to a children’s home. Those days she doesn’t remember as much about now, but she thinks that it felt like the way her mind feels now. Security is a fleeting thing, just when she grasps onto on strand of memory to help ground herself, it slithers from her fingers, sending her into another freefall.
She landed on her feet, though, back in those days, her skin thicker than a rhinoceros. Letting anyone penetrate the walls she had created wasn’t something that she was interested in doing when she met Sam. He likes to tell her the story of their first meeting now, and she’s not sure if the memories of that moment are her own, or if they are all his, placed in her brain by his words.
The way he tells it, she was decked out in her majorette uniform. That she remembers, the shiny, satiny white fabric that fit like a glove over her petite frame. The red and gold braid that edged the uniform. The cold metal of her baton as she clasped it in her own.
He had just gotten back from a tour of duty in Korea, and he was set to finish high school. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t picture him in the world of high school hallways and slamming locker doors. But he was there, and he saw her. According to him, he knew instantly that she was the girl he was going to marry.
Barb knows that the feeling wasn’t mutual because she was hard to love. If someone did get past the barriers she had erected, then they got her heart, but if not…well, she could stonewall with the best of them. In the deepest recesses of her soul she knows that those choices were made out of fear, an emotion that chased her all her life.
Sam was persistent, though, and somehow he wormed his way through all of her very best defenses. In some ways he saved her, she thinks, from a life of solitude. Because of his insistent love, they built a life together, and she allowed herself to have a family of her own—three girls and a boy. Over the years, she still found it hard to let others in. Maybe it was her fatal flaw because now she’s trapped in her own mind and body. And yet, she’s still surrounded by the family that they created. Sam. Her children. Her grandchildren. Her animals.
The first stray she adopted was shortly after the death of her mother. A calico colored barn cat that seemed to understand her deep, intense pain. From the moment the cat wound around her ankles in a show of affection, Barb knew that if she loved an animal, it would always love her back.
Her home became a haven for cats and dogs who no one else wanted. Strays, sort of like how she saw herself as a child. She fulfilled for them what her grandmother had done for her. Even when she found herself in work, animals were always her passion. They gave her life a higher sense of meaning, and even now as other details fade, she can remember their names. The dogs: Jenny, Barney, Toto, Pepper, Buffy, Seamus, Golda, Cookie, Clancey. She can remember the cats’ names, too, but there were so many (over fifty? Maybe more in her lifetime.) that she finds the names drift through her mind with a different kitty face. Still, she clings to these memories tightly.
She’s afraid that if she doesn’t remember and the memories fade into oblivion, then no one else will remember either. And she’ll disappear forever.
She was wrong, of course. Her family would never forget her. She had helped shape each of her children, her grandchildren, and even without knowing them, her great-grandchildren. They carry on a love of the Chicago Bulls, animals, and each other.
Second Author's Note: I fictionalized part of my grandmother's life in a book called Adopting Jenny. Some of the proceeds from the book's sales initially went to an animal charity that helped low income people pay vet bills. If you would like to see the book, here is the link: http://www.amazon.com/Adopting-Jenny-Liz-Botts-ebook/dp/B009LKHEMC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1445363110&sr=8-1&keywords=Adopting+Jenny+by+Liz+Botts