It had been seven years since Beth died.
Norman still felt pain when he looked at the framed picture on his bedside table. His roommate, Big John, told him the picture was beautiful. It was of them in their first home, Beth holding their first baby. The joy in their faces could be felt by anyone who looked at that photograph.
Everyone knew Norman was a sentimental man. He didn’t bring much into the home, but he had photo albums and a box of cards that had been sent to him throughout the years. Peggy, his favorite nurse, loved to look through the old mementos with him. His mind was still sharp, and he had a thousand stories for each photo, each card. His daughters stopped at least once a week each and sometimes stood in the doorway while Norman spoke to Peggy or the other residents. He would become so animated, his hands moving excitedly as he spoke, that it brought them back in time. For a few minutes, Norman wasn’t old and frail, and he didn’t have to live in the nursing home.
His youngest daughter, Laramie, especially loved to have dinner with him and the other residents. He interacted well with most of them, except for “Grouchy Gus,” who scowled at them from another table. “He doesn’t like visitors. He doesn’t even like his visitors,” Norman told her one day.
“You better never scowl at me like that,” Laramie teased. They sat next to an elderly woman named Violet. Laramie took an immediate liking to her. She had silver hair and smile lines, and she had a grand sense of humor. She noticed her father became more energetic, almost flustered. After dinner, Violet went to her room, leaving Laramie and Norman alone.
“So Violet seems very nice,” Laramie said casually.
“Violet? Oh, she’s great. Just settled in here. She might be the nicest gal here. Just don’t tell Peggy I said that. She might get jealous” Norman winked.
“I think you like her!”
Norman smiled. Laramie had never been very tactful; her mother hadn’t been, either. “Sure, I like her. Don’t you?”
“You know what I mean, Dad.”
“I do like her. Actually, what’s funny is that I knew her many years ago.”
Laramie settled back in her chair, knowing a story was coming.
“I’ve told you girls about being on the basketball team. Well, I was nowhere near the best player, but the other guys liked me alright. Violet played on the girl’s team, and let me tell you, she was their star. She wasn’t very tall—well, you could see that—but she was quick. Could steal that ball right out from under your nose. We played together sometimes in the park after school, just for fun, and she beat me every time. Don’t go spreading that around, of course.
“Anyway, she was smart, too. Sometimes we’d get together to study during exam weeks. I had the biggest crush on that girl.”
“What happened?” Laramie asked.
“She had a boyfriend, an Army man. Wore his class ring around her neck. He was killed a few years later, and I haven’t seen her until now. I always wondered what happened to her.”
“Well, she’s here now. What’s stopping you?”
“She might be married.” Norman paused, and uncharacteristically, his voice lowered to almost a whisper. “And I don’t know if I could see anyone else. Your mother was my everything.”
“Oh, Dad.” Laramie sighed and grabbed his wrinkled hand. “Mom would want you to do whatever makes you happy. You know that.”
“I know, dear. I don’t think I could love anyone like that besides Beth.”
“You don’t have to marry her. Just ask her if she wants to get dinner here with you sometime.”
“I’ll think about it.”
The next day, Norman sat contemplating his conversation with Laramie. It couldn’t hurt to ask Violet to dinner, he figured. It didn’t have to a grand, romantic event. Heck, it could just be as friends. He grabbed his walker and hobbled down to the common room, where he figured Violet would be sitting. She was.
“Hi there, Violet.”
“Hi,” she said, taken aback.
“Sorry if I startled you. I just wanted to know if you’d like to join me again at dinner tonight. I enjoyed talking with you so much yesterday.”
Violet stared at him and shrunk back a little. “Momma told me not to talk to strange men.”
“We had dinner last night. Do you remember me from school? We used to play basketball together…”
“Momma? Momma, come quick,” Violet called out. Norman was, for the first time in many years, speechless.
“Violet, it’s okay, I—”
“Momma!” One of the nurses rushed over.
“Bonnie, I don’t know what happened. I was just asking her to dinner…”
“I got this, Norman.” She turned to Violet. “Violet, you okay, honey?”
“Oh, Momma, there was a strange man trying to talk to me.”
“How about we go to your room so you can calm down? You’re safe. There’s nothing to worry about. Okay?” Bonnie guided Violet to the carpeted hallway. Norman started back to his room as well and turned on the rerun station that played his favorite old sitcoms. He hardly paid attention; he couldn’t stop thinking about Violet’s blank stare and then the fear. He’d heard about people going back in time, seen it plenty at the home, but he’d never scared anyone like that before.
He heard a soft knock and saw Bonnie peeking her head in. She sat in the chair across from his bed.
“It’s been so lonely since Beth died. I was just trying to…hell, I don’t know.” Norman shook his head. “I knew it was a bad idea.”
“No, no, Norman, it’s not your fault.” They sat quietly for a second. “I probably shouldn’t say this, so this all stays between us. Your mind is pretty good still. A lot of people here don’t have that.”
“Violet has dementia. She’s lucid for long periods of time but her children are worried because those periods of time are getting shorter.”
Norman nodded. “Sometimes I wish my mind wasn’t all there. I know that’s a selfish thing, but maybe it would make some of this pain go away.” He thought for a second and shook his head. “But maybe I don’t either. Not with how scared poor Violet looked. She’s okay, isn’t she?”
“Oh yes. She’s fine. She’s settled in and watching her soap opera.” Bonnie stood up to leave. “It’s hard when it’s someone you know who’s losing their memories. It affects you differently than when it’s someone you’ve just met.”
“I don’t want to scare her again, Bon.”
“Take your cues from her. You’ll be able to tell by how she reacts if she’s lucid or not. Don’t be scared to be her friend. She’d be missing out on getting acquainted with a pretty stellar guy.” Bonnie squeezed his hand and walked out of the room. Norman picked up the framed photo of him and Beth.
“I sure am glad you don’t have to go through this,” he said aloud, caressing the photo. “I miss you every day but at least I can sleep at night knowing you’ll never experience this kind of pain when I can’t remember anyone anymore.” He set the photo back in its place and turned the sitcom up. He needed laughter to distract him from his tears.