Forget Me Not
The room kept dropping hints that I should forget it, but I wasn’t quite ready to let it go. It was obnoxious, the way the walls shone blankly and the lights glowed blankly and the sheets itched. I wanted to get up and turn off the lights, but I couldn’t find my slippers and the floor was cold. So instead I looked out the window.
It had been so long since I’d admired the view that I’d forgotten why it wasn’t worth admiring. All I could see was a brick wall with a mural. Granted, this wall wasn’t white, but the painted hills and trees didn’t hide the fact that it was a wall. If I squinted, I could almost pretend that the hills were rolling and the trees were rustling. But no matter how bright the sunlight made the colors burn, no matter how much my squinting fuzzed the image, the edges of the bricks still stuck out and spoiled it. Underneath the paint, the wall was still a wall.
The floors were linoleum and the ceilings were high, even in the hallways, which meant I could hear when people passed my door. Everybody had a rhythm. There was the rat-a-tat-tat of men in a hurry and the thump-squeak-thump-squeak of women pushing carts and the shuffle-shuffle-click-shuffle of old people leaning on their walkers. And then there was the sound I heard now, the uneven shuffle-thump-shuffle-thump that I knew so well. There was no clock in my room, so I kept time by when she showed up. She had a prosthetic leg. I know one time she told me once how she got it, but I must have dozed off because I don’t know what she said. But it’s not important.
She didn’t have to push the door open because all the doors in this place are motorized. At least, I’m assuming they all are. I haven’t checked every door, obviously, but my door has a motor and why would they make an exception for me? Anyway, she didn’t have to push the door open, just had to push this button on the wall. Then there was a buzzing sound and the thing swung open very slowly and clicked when it was done. She was pushing a cart, which meant that it was lunchtime.
Lunch meant bologna with mayo and a carton of skim milk. When I asked her for whole milk, she nodded and told me she’d bring it next time. I made a mental note to remind her before she left. Smoothing the blankets, I waited for her to put the tray in my lap. Instead, she held out a paper cup.
“No lunch until you take your medicine,” she said. She tapped her leg impatiently, the fake one, and it sounded hollow. I wondered if it was. I took the cup and shook it, watching the reds and blues and whites rattle around. It made me feel very patriotic.
“What’s this green one doing here?” I asked. “You’ve never given me a green one before.” She told me that yes, she had, and didn’t I remember? I took offense at that and was going to say so, but then I realized I didn’t know her name. No big deal.
After I took the pills but before she left the room, I suggested that they put a button on my side of the wall. That way, I said, when I heard her coming I could open the door. Chivalry’s not dead, I reminded her, and she assured me that I was very much a gentleman already. Even so, I insisted that a button would make it easier to take a leak. Not that I have any problems, I explained to her, making sure she understood that I did, in fact, have a very strong stream. She said that she knew all about it. I repeated my bathroom access request. She said that was what the catheter was for. She turned to leave, and I asked what her name was.
“My name is Sherryl. Your name is Harry.” I don’t know why she said that. It’s not like I’d forget my own name. Maybe she was sore because I didn’t know hers, but that wasn’t my fault. When you meet as many people as I do, it’s hard to keep track of names.
I felt like there was something else I wanted to ask her, but she left before I could. I hoped that it wasn’t important.
Pretty soon I heard her coming back down the hall. I was glad, even though the rhythm was a little off. It was more uneven than usual, like she had six legs and only one fake. When the clattering stopped, a small voice asked if he could push the button. A bigger voice said to knock it off and behave. She said it was fine if he wanted to try it, but the big voice said no again. I didn’t like the big voice.
The door ground open and she stepped inside. I asked her if it was lunchtime and she said no, it wasn’t but that I had some special visitors. She disappeared and reappeared with a man and a boy. The man was tall, with a pair of bushy eyebrows and a thin coating of grizzle on his chin. He looked like a man who cleaned up nice but couldn’t be bothered to make the effort today. His smile made me wonder if he’d gotten some bad news today. The kid didn’t look any happier. He had his arms folded and his lower lip puckered out. I guess he really wanted to push that button.
I don’t pride myself on many things, but I’m really good with faces. We’re talking, scary good. Never forget a face. I took a long, squinty look at this pair and nothing. I had never seen either one of them before.
Grizzly turned to her and asked how I was doing today. I didn’t appreciate him talking about me like I wasn’t in the room, but I’m not a confrontational guy, never have been, so I let it go. She nodded and told him that I was doing very well. She seemed nice. I made a mental note to ask her name before she left. Grizzly walked over to my bed and pulled up a chair next to me. He leaned in too close.
“Hey, Dad,” he said. “How are you?” He laid a hand on top of mine.
I slapped it away and informed him, as politely as possible, that I didn’t know him and he needed to back off. He persisted, put his hand back, asked me if I remembered him.
“Did you not hear me the first time? I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
He looked like I’d punched him in the face, which I had considered doing, but he stood up and stepped back. This guy must have been very touchy-feely, because he put that same hand on the kid’s shoulder and told him to show me what he brought. The kid shook his head, eyes wide, and backed up against the man’s legs. I could see he was holding a card. Grizzly tried to push him, but he wouldn’t budge. I really didn’t like Grizzly.
The kid still wouldn’t move, so Grizzly took the card out of his hands, very roughly in my opinion, and set it gently on my nightstand. I kept my eye on his hand to make sure he didn’t bring it too close to me again. You can never be sure with these overly affectionate types. If you’re not careful, they’ll snatch you up in a hug without warning and the last thing I wanted from Grizzly was a bear hug. I just wanted them all to leave.
She told Grizzly that maybe it would be best if they left me alone for now. She said that there was some paperwork to fill out. I was willing to bet Grizzly was good at filling out paperwork. He didn’t seem to like the suggestion, probably because he still wanted to give me that hug, but he took the kid by the hand and they left. Once the door clicked shut, I picked up the card. It had the name Harry written on the front and the name Bobby scribbled on the inside. I say scribbled because the kid clearly needed work on his penmanship. Go figure. They go to all this trouble to bring me a card and they bring me someone else’s. I’d have to tell her to give it back to them when she brought me dinner.
I heard someone coming down the hallway. It wasn’t her, not moving that fast. As the sound got louder, the beat got faster until finally it stopped right outside my door. Then I heard a new rhythm: a slow, even beat, like two feet at once. This went on for a couple minutes, then the door buzzed and started to open. The kid slipped into the room before it was finished and stood with his hands on his hips. He was panting.
“I pushed the button,” he said.
“I’ll bet you did.” Before I could say anything else, he climbed onto the chair that was still next to my bed and hopped on top of me.
“Come on, kid. What are you doing? Get off!” I regretted it as soon as I said it, because the kid got that same look like I’d punched him in the face. I do not hit children. He started to climb back off the bed, but I stopped him.
“Hold on. You can stay for a minute.” The kid smiled and hugged me before I could stop him. He rested his head against my chest.
“I love you, Grandpa,” he whispered. I liked the kid, so I didn’t correct him. Maybe I wasn’t his grandfather, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t pretend.
“I missed you, Grandpa. Did you miss me?”
“Of course I did.” The kid looked up at me.
“Do you remember me?”
“Of course I do.”
“Daddy says you can’t remember my name. Do you remember my name?” This game was getting difficult to play.
“Sure I do.”
“What is it?” This was why I never had kids. Too persistent. I tried not to be too obvious as I looked around the room. Of course I didn’t know the kid’s name, but I could try and guess it. There was a card on my nightstand. It had two names written on it, one on the inside and one on the outside.
“Harry?” The kid giggled.
“That’s your name, Grandpa. What’s my name?” Oh, crap.
“How could I forget your name…” I said, leaning back to read the card, “Bobby?”
“You do remember! I told Daddy you would!” Lucky guess. He hugged me again, then grabbed my shoulders and gave me a serious look.
“Now, Grandpa,” he said, “Don’t forget it. I want you to promise that you won’t forget it.” I was beginning to regret humoring the kid in the first place. “Do you promise?”
“I promise.” He smiled and hugged me a third time. I could hear a noise coming from outside.
“Good.” Bobby hopped down from the bed and ran out the door. A woman ran into the room. She asked if everything was all right. I wanted to ask her same, because the look on her face said no. She said that was enough excitement for one day. I thought that was funny, since nothing had happened since lunchtime. I told her they should put a button on my side of the door so I could go to the bathroom. She sighed and left, closing the door behind her. I realized that I had forgotten to ask her name. I made a mental note to ask her next time.
There used to be a mirror in my room, on the wall opposite my bed. I had asked her why it was there and she told me that every room had one. She said that some of the patients didn’t get as many visitors as I did and that the mirror helped keep them from feeling lonely. I told her that I didn’t need any visitors and I didn’t need any mirrors. They took it away and I was glad because I didn’t like the mirror. Sometimes, when I looked at it, I didn’t recognize myself.