The first thing you notice is her nose. It is large and pronounced, yet somehow suits her face perfectly. She is an attractive woman. No question about it. Unmistakably Italian. With that dark olive skin that tans black in the summer. Her thick wavy hair is cut short. Her posture, the way she sits cross-legged on the bed, all appear youthful, yet she reveals herself to be an older woman. Probably about sixty or so. She is haunted by too many memories. Wracked by so much pain.
She forgets things. You immediately recognize the lostness in her eyes. She can be speaking to you one minute and then, suddenly, you can tell, she has no idea who you are or where she is or why a half-eaten shelf stable microwavable dinner is sitting cold on the table in front of her. The room is cluttered with leftover food and trash. You try to clean up. It is difficult to discern the trash from her treasure. Her things are packed in a half-dozen tattered garbage bags you know she has dug through a hundred times.
The entire second floor of the motel reeks of marijuana. Not her room. Her chemical of choice is vodka. The cheap stuff. Bottles is various stages of consumption are everywhere. Hidden in plain sight amidst paper cups and pretzels. You have come with fruit and lunchmeat. Bananas. Strawberries. Ham sliced thin, the way she likes it. She has told you this. That she remembers. Along with how much she misses the dog she hasn’t seen since she was picked up by the police the first time.
She takes another long drink of vodka. The alcohol makes her crazed and weepy. She does not care. She speaks of it as her medicine. It helps her forget her fear. At least sometimes. Sort of. Every time I go, I tell her it is going to be okay. The disability money is going to come through any day now. Her social worker is lining up an assisted living apartment. The facility allows pets. She’ll be able to get her dog back. She never believes me. She calls me a liar.
I put away the groceries. In the small refrigerator. Stacked neatly on the dresser. The colorful organized stacks look out of place in the madness. We talk briefly about the familiar 80’s comedy that’s playing on the TV. She saw this movie before. She remembers. But she has forgotten where she is again. Who I am. I remind her that the small red discs in the netted sacks are cheese, that the strawberries are ripe and sweet. I wonder if she’ll ever eat any of it. Or just throw it away.
She knows, instinctively, that I am about to leave. For a long moment she is alive and grateful and sane. Her arms open wide, inviting me into an embrace reserved for family and loved ones. She thanks me for coming, for the food, for everything. I have done so little. Her pain is palpable. I know as soon as I leave she will sob and rage and give up again. She will drink her vodka dry. Go out for more. Somehow find her way back. There is no stopping her.
I hug her long and hard. I tell her again it is going to be okay. She doesn’t believe me, but she smiles. I can’t wait to get outside. Into the air. The sunshine. Her life has become too broken and sad and desperate for me to breathe. I move toward escape. My car is waiting. If only she could grasp hold of hope. But she will forget. She will wonder about the strawberries, where they came from. And she will drink. Vodka is the only thing she’s sure of.