The young man glances toward me after he makes a left turn into city traffic. He tells me everything is going to be all right. My shoulder will get repaired and I will be pitching baseball. The first octogenarian in the major leagues. He says it too many times. I can't tell whether he is trying to be funny or not.
I look out the window and watch moving traffic. I wonder if I ever drove a car or lived in a brick house with a flower garden in the yard. Right now all I remember is a sour, skinny someone coming into this small room where I stay.
"This medicine doesn't taste bad at all," she said. She should have added, 'compared to swallowing liquid bleach.' I don't know if she was trying to fool me or just get an addled old lady to toe the line. After all, the place I could call home if I wanted to, is large and unpleasant to every sense: hearing, smell, taste, touch, sight. Old folk, some much frailer than I am, fill small rooms like the one I occupy. Roommates come. And go.
The deep ache in my shoulder doesn't go away. No matter how many times my young escort says it will. Of course he doesn't say how and when that is going to happen. And he isn't talking to me right now. He tells the traffic light something about a torn rotator cuff.
"Not for one second do I believe she fell."
He finally turns to me. "It was Sadie, that new aide, wasn't it? She pulled your arm. She throws temper tantrums toddler-style, and gets by with it. That girl should be fired!"
I don't answer. He must have been telling traffic signals and passing trucks about how my shoulder got hurt, but he doesn't continue his rant or give details. Chances are no one would have believed me if I had said anything, even if this pulled-arm story is true. I have a difficult time keeping names in my memory -- or remembering much of anything for that matter. My thoughts feel like scattered puzzle pieces outside a crushed cardboard box -- with no way of getting the pieces back where they belong.
Right now the puzzle piece I see has a picture of a frowning aide on it. No name that fits and stays in place.
Then the young man turns to me with a softer, less irritated voice. "Grandma Callie, you know I'm Kevin, don't you?"
"I know you come to see me. And you make me smile." I want to lie, say of course I remember everything about you. But he could start asking questions I can't answer.
Kevin is the only face I recognize as someone who bothers to visit me -- on purpose. That much I know, even if I can't hold onto his name for long. Besides, this peculiar sadness comes to me and it doesn't have words. Just a sense. Something happened that I'm not sure I want to recall anyway. Something sad and big. Not big like an empty room. Big like a hole in the ground with an ugliness at the bottom.
"Thank you." I look at Kevin and want to say more. I have no idea where we are going until we reach a building even bigger than my so-called home. We are at a hospital.
He stays with me, fills out papers, pats my good arm, and tells me I will be as good as new, until this lady in what looks like dull green pajamas is ready to take me to the operating room.
I watch the tiny holes in the ceiling as I ride down a long hallway. Holes all the same size. All empty.
"You have naturally curly hair, don't you?" the lady asks.
"The pattern of ringlets is unusual. And you were a redhead or a blond. Your eyebrows. That's how I guess. The color shines through the gray."
Chances are, this lady is making conversation, trying to keep me from being nervous, and yet she has triggered a memory. I see my hair at the age of 25, as golden as the sun at midday. Then I see a man, his arm around me, but the image is interrupted because we have reached the operating room.
"Hi, I'm the anesthesiologist," a woman completely covered with green-pajama material says. "It's my job to make sure you sleep well while the doctor works."
"We definitely want you to be having pleasant dreams," a man who is likely the doctor says.
I close my eyes and float. I'm asleep. Even so, before long I hear the anesthesiologist holler, "No, stop!"
Then the faraway words. "Cardiac failure ... no code."
But my dream is too good. A man has his arm around me. I know who he is. My husband. Andrew. Tall. Dark as the bark of an ash tree. He draws me to him. I hear a baby cry, turn and pick him up from his crib. Our son, Michael. Yes ... yes. Kevin's father as an infant.
Another dream slips in. Earlier. Less pleasant. My parents. "Marry him and you will never see us again."
Locks changed on their door.
Andrew's death. Cancer. Unexpected. Our son, Michael. Complications from a bout of pneumonia.
Then our only son is buried next to his father. Ancient stone with a fresh death underneath.
The locks on my parents' door remain locked. And Kevin is a stranger to the family I knew since I'd been born.
"We are sorry about your loss," my mother says. No comforting arms offered. Not even a greeting card.
I feel myself slowly waking in what is probably the recovery room. But the anesthesiologist and the doctor, they told me to have pleasant dreams. Only the reappearance of my sweet Andrew had been pleasant.
Finally, I feel a gentle hand rouse me. "Wow! You must have been having some dream. You were kicking the sheets."
I look up to see a nurse wearing the brightest white scrubs I have ever seen.
"Not only that ..." I decide not to mention what I heard in the OR as I slept. It was just too strange.
"Well, there's a party waiting for you. So you'd better hurry."
"A party? How did Kevin arrange that in such a short period of time?"
"Oh, you don't know yet. Don't worry. Kevin will grieve. Long and hard. He's a good man. But those of us on this side will lead him to the insurance policy Andrew left for him. It's big enough for him to finish that engineering degree he's always wanted. And there's this girl. I think they are getting serious ..."
"Huh?" I check out at my shoulders. Both of them. No sign of a scar. No pain. "So, I really didn't make it through surgery."
"I guess that depends upon how you want to define 'didn't make it.' Could you tell me a story about your past if you wanted?"
"I could take all day and tell one tale after the other. I remember when Michael, Andrew, and I were looking through a family photo album, and he asked why we only had pictures of our darker-skinned family. I groaned, but Andrew's smile never stopped.
"'Well, son.' He scooped Michael into his arms. 'I'm sad they missed the roasted marshmallows at the picnic and Great Uncle Lou's band concert, too. But, it's like complaining you can't own the sky, when the blue over your head is so beautiful you can't take in any more wonder, so it doesn't matter.'"
I looked at the bright nurse as every memory fit back into place: the ugly ones that had seemed so close when ugly had described the pattern of my memory-vacant life. And the everyday, the difficult, the wonderful. The broken puzzle box reassembled. The picture pieces fit -- none missing.
"Then you made it, Callie. True, time doesn't matter anymore. Today. Tomorrow. Next week. They don't exist here. But come on now anyway. You have a whole group of family and friends waiting for you."