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The Lost Things MAG
Looking up, I realized that what I had thought were leaves were small birds.
I laughed. The nurse’s head shot up; I thought she was going to make a bustling beeline toward the window, but Maurice conveniently shuffled into her path, cutting her off before she could reach me.
With the nurse thus occupied, I pushed myself closer to the window and slid it open, letting the cool, fresh air flow over my fingers and forearm. The birds murmured to no one in particular, and I let this music drown out the sounds of the assisted-living facility, burying my fingers in the wind.
When you’ve lived as long as I have, you begin to forget things.
The small things are lost first. Names and appointments escape you, like socks, loose change, earrings. This is a mildly irritating phase, but nothing that you haven’t experienced in decades past. The only difference is the frequency of the forgetting, and the significance of the things forgotten.
Strangely, the things you do remember are not important at all: the model of the car that cut you off on the freeway one day, the batting averages of the Red Sox for 1976, the flowered apron your mother wore as she made you breakfast. These somehow stay, as though encrypted with some hidden importance, as though these are the only things your psyche cares to keep.
Occasionally, there’s a glimpse. Of the past, of the lost things. It is then that you should pay attention, because there’s no telling when you’ll see them again.
My daughter Lina came this afternoon, a reminder that it’s the second Sunday of the month. Before Allison died in the car crash, she had been the oldest, and thereby the one burdened with the responsibility and guilt of caring for me; now, the role of Second Sunday Family Visitor falls to Lina.
She burst into the room in typical fashion, handbag swinging over one elbow, phone hastily tucked into some pocket, heels clacking her greeting. We hugged hurriedly. I told her she was too thin; she adamantly defended her voodoo vegan diet, which, to my understanding, consisted of parsley and Nutella; she asked how my new medication was working; I asked how things were going with Jack or Mark or whatever his name is, and the kids; she talked about the family; I talked about my health; she glanced at her watch; I feigned fatigue; she gratefully fled the scene. The wind sucked the curtains into their frame.
I rolled to the bed and tipped my chair back, so that I was resting on the emergency stops; reaching under the mattress, I felt around until I found what I was looking for – the sunflower seed bag. I pulled it out and hastily stuffed it under my shirt, yanking my chair back to its regular position just as the nurse bustled in.
“Good afternoon, Grace,” she beamed, setting out my medication. Fun cups of blue, red, pink and yellow-striped candy pills – such variety, such choice – all were laid out before me. A world of medical miracles. I chose the smallest (the blue) to start. Once I had swallowed the last of my pills, the nurse wheeled me out into the hall to join the others.
I should say that we have quite a motley crew here at Montevielle. Jim used to be a Major League pitcher until he was drafted; Moritz was an architect who helped construct the building in which Warhol’s “factory” was created, though he never imagined it would turn out the way it did. Helen was once renowned for her musical abilities (she played piano at the Kennedys’ wedding); Maurice was a war correspondent during Vietnam. Then there are the great-grandmothers and fathers, and great-great-grandmothers and fathers, whose histories are filled, it seems, with the raising of children and grandchildren, whose lives were spent giving life to others.
And then there’s Jorge.
The oldest member of our assisted-living community, Jorge is a bald angel, sent by fortune from the Baptist pulpit to the soup kitchens of Oakland and finally to Montevielle by a kind-hearted social worker. Since his arrival, he has settled into the table in the back of the room like a great spider, building his web of trust with the residents, his thick fingers linked loosely over his great, tweed-covered belly, waiting for us to seek him out. The nurses, those oblivious dears, do not realize the power this man holds; they do not realize half of what occurs in this facility.
His talents reputedly extend from the mystical to the practical; he has soothed nightmares, healed relationships, eased aches and pains unaffected by pills and treatments. It only takes a minute or two; he simply talks to the afflicted in his deep, gravelly voice. Through the tone and resonance of each syllable, it’s immediately clear that
his is a voice that holds answers.
The bag of sunflower seeds was nestled against my stomach. His fees are fair but strange; one proffered bag of sunflower seeds reaps one favor (or “mission,” as he calls them). I had had to smuggle the seeds from the nurse’s purse three days ago in the park. (Louis had helpfully feigned a coughing fit.) Now, as I saw Myrtle hobble off to a cribbage match, I saw my chance.
Approaching him, I realized just how large he was. Even in his wheelchair, he towered over me. I unearthed the sunflower seeds and held them out. He accepted the offering, tucking it in his breast pocket. He stroked his moustache, and looked at me. “What can I do for you?” he drawled.
I swallowed, and glanced out the window. “I want to remember,” I said quietly. “My memory is getting worse by the day … and I have a lot of life to remember.”
It was hard to tell what he was thinking.
“Well, all right then,” he said finally. “Let’s get started.”
Outside, I heard a sudden rush of wings, and knew that the tree was bare. I smiled, closed my eyes, and watched.