by Julia D’Arcy
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Most things unfold gradually, and at times the unfolding is beautiful, like that of a flower bud. At other times, it just hurts. Watching you slowly slip away from us is like saying goodbye to you every day. The pain never ends. Not that I would want it to.
There are so many things I would say to you if you could understand. I say them anyway, holding onto the tiniest sliver of hope that one day everything will click again, that the broken puzzle piece will repair, itself and you’ll be yourself once more, cracking jokes constantly and telling me a war story for the thousandth time.
I’d rather hear the story about nana making a blueberry pie. Nana was trying to impress your parents the first time she met them and tried to make the perfect pie, only to forget the sugar. Your words paint the priceless expression on your father’s face as he took the first bitter bite. The story always left everyone in hysterics.
Why is it that some things stick with us like that? The simplest story becomes a staple for conversation and a filler of silences, told for half a century without becoming tiresome. Other things pass us by like autumn leaves in the wind, never to be thought or spoken of again.
Most things are autumn leaves for you these days.
I can’t quite remember when it started. There was no distinct first time. Not like the first time a baby walks, the first day of summer, or the first sentence a child reads. It occurred slowly with no clear beginning. It just all happened. One day you were your regular self. And then you couldn’t remember certain details or facts. And then you had episodes. Fits of rage and confusion. They were after you. The nurses were cops, foreign soldiers, or some other enemy. And now, well, now I’m not sure if you even know who I am. On the good days I am the girl with the car; you ask, “Can you take me out of here?” On the bad days–I don’t know who I am on the bad days.
I don’t remember a beginning, but I do remember the first day I visited you in the hospital. You’d been there before, hip and knee surgeries mostly, but this time was different, somehow. I could feel it when I walked into your room. We talked about the simple things at first: the weather, the view from your window, how I was doing at school. You struggled for words, while I did most of the talking. And then I found the light switch. The war. I don’t remember how or why I brought it up but bam, there it was, the key to conversation. Once you started going I couldn’t stop you, and I loved every second of it. Somewhere in your mind, you found the pieces of memories and stuck them together. I felt bad when I had to leave but I feel worse now that I know that was the best day there would be left.
If I listen close enough, I can hear you telling my favorite war story. You and your buddies were nearing an island and, being the curious guy you still are, you wanted to see the islanders. There was just one problem, there weren’t enough binoculars to go around. That, however would never stop you. You quickly realized that you could use the scope on your gun to better see. You failed to realize that this would alarm the villagers and send them into a panic.
I’m not really sure why that one’s my favorite, but it always made me laugh uncontrollably. Maybe it’s because while other people only see the harm and pain in war, you found the humor. You never have once told me a sad war story. Even the ones in which people die contain humor. You’d get that look in your eye and say flatly, “he died,” before glossing it over with humor or moving on to the next story, never dwelling too long on the sadness none of us wants to focus on.
Now, you’re in a constant state of confusion. I wonder what year you’re in. Sometimes it’s in the 1940’s and other times the present. I wish I knew who you think I am. You’ve lost a lot, but the one thing you hardly ever lose is your attitude. Sure, sometimes you get frustrated, but who wouldn’t if they were told everything they thought was true is wrong? Most of the time you’re the same cheery, gleeful guy I’ve known since I was born. The one who played Barbies with me on the living room floor, the one who built me a swing set, and taught me to swim. The one who has something to give everyone, even if it’s just a good laugh.
No, there was no distinct beginning or a list of firsts to this period in your life. But there will be a long list of lasts. I see them beginning and I’d give anything to put them on pause, but I know in the end you’ll be happier and freed of your pain. It started with the last day you were aware of what was happening. Then, there was the last day you got out of bed. And, today, today you stopped speaking in full sentences.
As I sit by your side on these days I’m thankful that you taught me your sense of humor. Even in these dark days that connect our family, we laugh. Because how could we make it through if we weren’t laughing with you as you “sew” the ripped thread on your blanket or only say “Hi!” to Amy and ignore everyone else? (I always knew she was the favorite.) Even on these dark days as the green leaves turn orange and red and slowly fall to the ground, you still provide us a ray of sunshine.
You always will.
Editor’s Note: William Edward Tormey Jr. passed away on October second 2014 at the age of 91.
Julia D’Arcy studies Communication Sciences and Disorders at Worcester State University in Worcester, Mass., and is working toward a masters in Speech Pathology. She enjoys reading, writing, and the beach.