I stand in the kitchen and read the final lines of a note posted to the fridge:
Remember, the movers are coming tomorrow!
I’ve been waiting for her longer than I can remember. Lydia left hours ago to get more boxes. I kill time just walking around our old house, exploring the memories that seem to light up each room. I can still see Lily when she was just an adorably clumsy toddler, stumbling through the path that led all the way around the house. She loved making those laps around and around, and found it infinitely hilarious that no matter how fast she ran, she could never outrun the house itself.
I always felt that way too, always felt I’d never leave this place. I figured I’d die here. But it’s time to say goodbye. It’s too big for us now. Lily has twin toddlers of her own. Chris is in California doing whatever it is a “designer” does. And even if Lily was still a little girl, she’d find her favorite route clogged with boxes marked “Kitchen,” “Bedroom,” “Goodwill” and “Keepsakes.”
This house is so full of memories and joy and love in one way, but in another it feels more empty than anything else. The years of play, the family dinners, the Christmases have all soaked into the carpet and wood-paneled walls. But now, there’s just too much contrast: the bigness … and the emptiness of it. All the photos … and how dated they all are now. The memories … and how few of them we’ve made recently. It’s all hitting me harder than I expected. Kind of knocked the emotional wind out of me.
It reminds me of a song I know by heart, Tom Waits’ Somewhere. I sit down at the piano, humming the first lines. There’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us, while my fingers try to find their positions for the opening passage. But one bar into the descending notes, it sounds like utter garbage. This piano is all off. Must need a tuning.
I’ll have to remember to do that. Doesn’t make much sense to tune a piano before a move. Soon enough life will settle down again. We can have the kids over, do holidays like we used to, instill some new warmth into the new walls. Maybe even sing around the piano again.
I hear a car pull up outside and look through the antique plate glass front window. It’s Lydia, but not her car. Strange. God she’s beautiful. Every time I see her, it somehow feels new. 50 years later and I’m still as in love with this woman as I was on our wedding day. In my eyes, she’s hardly aged a year.
She walks up the old red brick steps to the porch, arms full of flattened boxes. I rush out, take the boxes and give her a kiss on the cheek.
“Thanks, honey,” I say.
“Sure,” she says, a little reluctantly.
I’m a little surprised when she turns to go back to the car. Did I do something wrong? Is she mad at me? Lydia is usually so warm and lovely and affectionate. She comes back from the car with packing tape and a fresh marker.
“Okay, this should keep you going for a while,” she says, making her way inside. She looks around at the disheveled room, the piles of miscellany, the stacks of boxes. “Wow. Haven’t made much progress, huh?” she says with a sigh.
“Sorry, hon, I got a little distracted. Are you … mad about something?”
“What? No. No, Everything’s cool. Look, I need to run to meet the realtor, I’ll be back later tonight. Will you be okay? Maybe make get some more stuff packed?”
“Oh… You can’t stay? Yeah, I’m sure I’ll be fine.” With that the boxes slip from my hands and crash to the floor. I have no idea how it even happened. I’m embarrassed. With a sigh, Lydia picks them up and places them neatly on the old sofa, with the packing tape and marker on top.
“Okay, I’ll see you tonight. Don’t forget to take your meds.” And with that she’s out the door, faster than should be possible for a woman her age. But she was always fitter, lither and more beautiful than her contemporaries.
Before I do more packing, I allow myself a moment to relax. Per Lydia’s instructions, I take my meds and I sit back in my chair, the same one I’ve loved for decades. But something’s off. It’s as if the arms are narrower, or I don’t sink in the way I used to. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I look at it skeptically. It looks like the same chair. Same color, same everything. But this obviously isn’t my chair. Lydia must have moved it. It’s going to be a beast to get this house packed, but I’ll get it done. After a quick nap.
We’re in the new place now. I’m surprised. Honestly, it isn’t bad. All the furniture is in, most of the boxes are unpacked and I can probably get the rest done this evening. In some ways this house is just like our old one. It’s smaller, for sure, but I think I’ll be okay here. Lydia is supposed to be here soon. If I can get the rest of the boxes unpacked, that’ll be a really nice surprise for her.
The sun is down, the cicadas are singing and Lydia should be here any minute. Better still, I got everything unpacked. I look out the antique plate glass window, positively beaming with pride and allowing myself to dream of the years ahead. Just me and my Lydia, rocking on the red brick front porch, getting even older together. She’s going to be thrilled that all the unpacking is done and we can start actually living here.
Headlights are coming down Elm street. It’s Lydia. She’s in that strange car again though. I forgot to ask her about that. I walk out to the front porch, my arms wide with a huge grin on my face.
“Welcome home, honey!” I say. “I got it all done!”
"You did!? No way!” She all but sprints up the steps past me and into the house.
I follow her inside, hands on my hips as I admire the scene. A place for everything and everything in its place. I even took the boxes to our old dumpster out back. I look at Lydia, excited to see her reaction.
“Dad. What. The. FUCK!?”
My mind reels. What? “Lydia, I’ve never heard you use that word in––”
“––Lily, dad. It’s LILY.” She lets out an immense sigh. “Look, dad. I’ve tried to be patient, I’ve tried to be understanding, I know the doctor told me not to confront you or correct you but I can’t take it anymore. How many times do we have to go over this?
I’m dumbstruck. I can tell she’s waiting for a reaction, but I have, just, nothing.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have blown up like that, but the movers are coming in the morning. You’re going to Magnolia Memory Care. But now the entire house is unpacked so I don’t know what we’re going to do. And where are the boxes?”
I stare at her. I hear words. I hear them in order, and I know they mean something, but they don’t fit together. Something here is familiar, something I need to understand, but I can’t place it. It’s like when you sleep in a hotel or an unfamiliar place, wake in the middle of the night, look at the room around you and have no idea what you’re looking at. Then it clicks: “Oh yeah, hotel.” But I can’t make it click.
“Dad. Dad! DAD!”
My mind is sloshing around. I look into this woman’s eyes. Who is she? Tears begin streaming from my eyes and before I know it, I’m sobbing. But I can’t remember why.
“I’m sorry. I can’t take this right now. I need to go before I say something I shouldn’t,” she says, adding “Not that you’d remember” under hear breath. “Just, just read the note again.”
I look at the woman blankly. She takes my hand and leads me through the kitchen to the refrigerator, where a note hangs on the fridge.
“I love you, Dad. I’m gonna go get this move rescheduled. Good night.”
The note is familiar, like a distant memory. It’s my handwriting, but somehow scratchier and sloppier. The woman leaves. I remember her from somewhere but can’t quite place it. I take the note from the fridge and sit down at the table. It’s dark outside and I don’t know where any light switches are in this foreign room, but I find a lamp to read by.
This is a note to you from, well, you. Lily is helping me write this. There’s no easy way to say it. You have Alzheimer’s. And it’s getting worse, so bad that you forget you have it. You’re forgetting other things too, like that Chris hasn’t spoken to the family since your falling out years ago … and that Lily doesn’t have twin toddlers – she has twin sons who have their own toddlers. The hardest part is that you – I – keep forgetting Lydia died last year. I’m sorry…
Lydia… died? Alzheimer’s? How can this be? Another note is appended to the bottom
Remember, the movers are coming tomorrow!
L… Lily! Not Lydia.
Where is Lydia, anyway?
I’ve been waiting for her longer than I can remember. Lydia left hours ago to get more boxes. I put the note back on the fridge and walk around our old house, each room seemingly alive with memories.