The Long Goodbye

Today didn’t start out as planned. I made the pilgrimage to get my hair done—that dreaded time that comes every five to six weeks and keeps me up at night toiling over the cut, color, and style. It is unwanted and unwarranted madness, and I hate it! When I arrived at the salon, a small sign out front said that they had moved and gave an address.

I traveled another mile to the new place and discovered that neither my records nor my appointment were on their computer—and by the way, my hairdresser didn’t work for the company anymore. I went home, defeated.

Although it was the middle of the day, I decided to take my dog for a walk. The sun was out, and the thermostat blinked seventy-one degrees, a beautiful day. Zoey and I tracked our regular route skirting the edges of the lake and roving in and out of candy-colored Cape Codes.

At the end of our walk, we noticed an older woman sitting in the shade on a front lawn wearing a wide-brimmed hat made of straw. She was reedy, long-limbed, and she smiled exposing a yellowing front tooth that slanted at an angle.

As we came closer, she wished us a good afternoon and wanted to know what kind of dog Zoey was.

“A Chiweenie,” I said. The woman twisted her mouth into a knot.

“Is that some kind of a Chihuahua—wiener dog?”

“Exactly!”

She was puzzled over the breed I had tethered to my leash but eventually moved on to other inquiries. She was easy to talk with, and our conversation grew and waned like an ocean tide, being about everything and nothing at all.

We swapped stories about growing up in a large family—she, the oldest of ten children, and me, the fifth among eight. Her name was Charmaine, and she was weeding her daughter’s yard. She told me she was eighty-two years old and then the subject turned to Alzheimer’s disease.

Charmaine asked if I had known anyone with the disease—I had, my grandmother.

“Oh, Alzheimer’s is the long goodbye,” she said. Her mouth twisted back into a knot.

I told her that before dementia, my grandmother was terrible; mean and critical and often said I’d make a more attractive boy than I did a girl. But when her illness was in full bloom, she was delightful; sweet and giggly and I learned to love her.

The woman smiled but her eyes shined sad. I worried I might have said the wrong thing. I asked her if she knew anyone with Alzheimer’s and she nodded but didn’t share. We spoke for a while longer talking about our children and pets and then it was time to go. She wished me a nice day and returned to weeding.

I may not meet Charmaine again, but I’m grateful that we met. Although we shared only a moment, it’s a moment I’ll carry with me forever and perhaps that is what a long goodbye can be.

 

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