Dementia is a cruel and unyielding player in the mind-full game of life. Yet for many of us it’s elusive powers fragment our memories from a time of ‘who knows when’. However, for this eighty plus year old woman, its diagnosed presence leaves a thundering trail of compelling stories at a local diner.
Accustomed to life at the country club and being side by side with the man she loves, this elderly woman meets the challenges of dementia, of widowhood and of the loss her two children; one girl and one boy at the ages of twenty and twenty-one. Her cherished memories now consist of outings to a local diner and talk of others getting married. Well, others, yes, but her primary focus was me. Her weekly companion. A graduate student in her mid-twenties, single and quite without a boyfriend. The only dates I had were the edible kind: a preferred snack in-between classes, especially during exam week.
Joyously anticipating a study break, I leave for a dinner date at the local diner with my elderly friend. Sliding into the front seat of my bright orange Horizon we leave at once. The days previous sunny with a chance of clouds forecast was rapidly becoming stormy with a change of flooding. Racing into the restaurant only minutes before the thunderclouds boomed, we were seated at our favorite booth. Smelling the aroma of fresh brewed coffee and freshly prepared meals steaming on their way to hunger customers; we placed our orders. Like the weather, our conversation went from clear and calm to windy with a chance of unexpected. Our discussion went from small talk on the storm front to my choice in clothing. I mean this is not the Ritz, the country club or any such state of the arts dining establishment; just a well-loved, local diner. I was dressed for a casual, yet enjoyable evening with a cherished friend. Or, at least I thought I was. Instead I found myself being chastised, however politely, for wearing blue jeans and athletic shoes to my rehearsal dinner.
Rehearsal dinner! I didn’t even have a date for the weekend, the next weekend or even the weekend after that, let alone an actual boyfriend. It’s not like marriage would have been an option for a full-time graduate student working three part-time jobs. A social life or any life was already in question. Attempting to avoid the current, laser-focused topic of discussion, I decided it was a great time for a bathroom break. Excusing myself, I made my exit, hoping that, upon my return, the conversation would take a significant turn for the better.
Exiting the ladies room, I noticed empty tables were now filled and long lines of hungry guest standing in the entrance way. Outside winds howled. Rippling sounds of booming thunder and pounding rain echoed inside the diner.
Returning to our booth an overwhelming feeling of uneasiness passed through me. Looking across from me, my elderly friend possessed the type of smile which could either have generated enough power to light an entire city or gleefully devoured multiple, unsuspecting souls. A small, but steady stream of people began cloistering around us. A group of concerned faces and their harrowing stories followed.
“My father’s got creamed. He was driving home from work in a storm just like this one. Lightning hit and split the tree in front of him. After he crashed, tt took them almost four hours to pry him out. Lucky he’s still alive. Just got out of intensive care the other day. . . Oh, and, by the way, congratulations on your wedding,” says one customer.
“Almost the same thing happened to my Brother. The house was fine but the winds got him. Standing in the front door he heard a roar. It was worse than a night at the movies. The wind whipped up on solid oak and crashed it through the roof of the car. Totaled it before the insurance company did. Lucky for him he was inside before it happened . . . Hey, congratulations on your wedding,” says another.
“Just last week my daughter totaled her car. Her first accident. It came out of nowhere. One of those freak storms just popped up. Don’t know if it was wind or lightning but a tree crashed. She got pinned in a car for a couple of hours. Came out a bit cut up, but no internal bleeding . . . ” Extending his hand, he says, “Congratulations on your wedding.”
Sitting quietly, her folded hands resting on the table, my friend beams.
A restaurant manager, formally dressed, briskly, yet solemnly approaches our table. “Excuse me, Mam, are you the owner of a bright orange Horizon, license plate number . . . ?”
Confused, yet hesitantly, I answer; yes.
He continues, “I am sorry to report damages to your car.”
My mind begins spinning as fast as the gale force winds still howling outside . . . The images of other customer’s stories still whirling inside my head. Blurting out I ask, “What? Damages . . . ? What kind of damage? Is it still drivable? Was anyone hurt?”
He continues, “The wind blew down one of our signs and it hit your car. I have been in contact with our insurance company . . .” Oh yes, and congratulations on your wedding. I hope you get your dress on time.”
Still sitting in the booth across from me, my friend holds the knowing smile of a story well told.
Years later, following her death, I find myself standing alongside a dirt road wearing a
t-length wedding dress, holding a bouquet of flowers. Posing, surrounded by dappled light streaming in through the trees, a camera flashes. A camera flashes again. A trip down memory lane ensues. Looking up, smiling, I think of my friend. In a loud voice I cry out, “I got the dress!”
The photo shoot is now complete; another modeling job well done. Still standing beneath the leafy-shade of the trees, I question. I wonder. I wonder when and where I might meet the perfect bride’s groom.
Until next time . . . Let your Storyographer’s Journey Begin!