“Tom, NO, that’s the kitty food!” I quickly grabbed the can from my husband’s hands before he could take another bite. “Honey, that is canned cat food, we don’t eat that,” I said to him while scraping the canned bits into the sink. He looked at me with a grasping look and shuffled out of the kitchen and back into the den. After the ca…n was free of all remaining turkey giblets, I wearily hung my head, arms stretched over to the side of the sink as I gripped the porcelain edge. I cried. The faucet spewed out clear water as my tears mixed in, slowly disappearing down the drain. Sometimes, I now wonder how long I can keep this up… this blunt unhappy circus that has taken over.
I join my confused husband of 63 years in the tiny TV room, the only one we fully heat due to the monthly nemesis known as NIPSCO. I watch as Tom sits in the overstuffed lazy boy chair staring at the box that flashes nonsensical images and jumbled words. I plop into my matching chair and look over to my love, my man, my one and only. I give him a slight smile and ask him how he’s feeling. He returns the glance, only his is filled with the now normal ‘I don’t know you’ look.
There are times I just want to shake that dreadful disease out of his brain and at the same time relieve some of my own built up stress. I resist the urge and I kneel in front of him even though my knees beg me not to. “Hon, it’s me, Donna, your wife…remember”? He shakes his head no and turns away so I don’t see his lip quiver in frustration. I take his now ancient hand into my own, putting it up to my cheek. I tightly close my watered eyes as I feel the fading warmth of his skin against mine.
I let myself float back to a happier moment. I am 17 years old, walking along the beach of Lake Michigan in the summer of ‘51. I am holding the hand of my boyfriend, Tommy. We talk about school, playfully kicking sand at each other. We stroll ankle-deep into the inviting blue water. I have my head on his shoulder as his strong farm boy arm wraps around my waist. We walk for a little while in silence, enjoying our togetherness. The setting sun silhouettes us with a backdrop of orange as seagulls circle high above, swooping down once in a while screeching for food.
Tommy hands me a small brown paper bag from the local drug store, asking me if I want some candy that he brought along. I’m enjoying his presence and the world around me and I politely say no, pushing his hand away. He insists that I take some of the ‘special treats’ he picked out just for me. I stop as warm water invites me to put my hand inside this wrinkled bag. “Where is the candy?” I wonder. Instead, I pull out a tiny blue velvet box. I turn it over and over in my hands, not sure what it is I’m looking at. I look at Tommy, he is on his knees in front of me with jet black hair blowing in the summer breeze. A smile breaks from ear to ear, his eyes twinkling in the sun. I put my hand to my mouth as I hear those Cinderella words that little girls dream about, “Will you marry me?” Time pauses, but for a moment.
I’m still standing there, not moving except for the tears that are now running down my cheeks. Tommy gets up from the sand and takes the box from my clutched fingers and opens it. He puts the box back into my now shaking hands and there it was! My promise that I will wear for the next 63 years! A tiny gold ring with a small diamond chip that was so small you almost had to squint to see it. In my heart, it is the most beautiful, biggest rock I had ever seen! He took it out, slipped it onto my finger and asked me again, nose to nose, in a whisper that only my heart could hear. “Will you marry me?” I shook my head YES, over and over, as my tears are now joined with a muffled cry into his firm shoulder. I hugged my Tommy, gently kissing him. I recall on the way back to my parent’s house, I sat on his lap as he was trying to drive my father’s 1949 Dodge. My legs were on the passenger seat kicking as I smooched his sunburned face over and over. I still don’t know how we made it home!
The memory of my engagement is so fresh that my aching heart can still smell the water and feel his touch. I open my eyes and look at my present life and see Tom struggling with his confusion. He gets up and goes back to the kitchen looking for the snack he has already eaten minutes ago. He picks up another can of cat food and opens the silverware drawer looking for the opener. I once again take the can out of his hands, reminding myself to hide it another cabinet. I get out some cookies and hand the plate to him. My Tommy is a toddler. My devotion and commitment to my beloved Tom is not. I love my Husband of 6 decades, I am waiting… needing him to come back home to me.