She lives a thousand leagues under the sea at a place called Fountain Crest, it’s an assisted living facility, a rest home, an old folks home, a murky place at the bottom of the sea. Above the surface life goes on with its bright lights and people racing around here to there, darting back and forth like a flock of frenzied seagulls scavenging through another days accumulation of garbage. Up there time is cheap, everyone is preoccupied with getting their share as they squabble and fight, wearing out another precious moment, like tiny air bubbles under pressure, each moment bursts and then quietly disappears.
I drift past all the deep sea inhabitants who stare back at me with big exaggerated eyes behind thick fish eye lenses. They wear homesick eyes like a child dropped off on the first day of school— lost watery eyes left wondering, “What am I doing here”, “Are they coming back for me”, “How will I ever get home again”. They breath slowly, swaying in the invisible currents, circling aimlessly, going nowhere in particular. Hands gripping railings, hands holding onto walkers, fingers strumming on a table in time with an old song no one else can hear. Perhaps its The Dorsey Brothers, Duke Ellington or maybe Count Basie. The big dance hall echoes with brassy swing music blaring and everyone is dancing beneath a canopy of blue and red colored lights. Men in dark pressed suits hold women in multi colored party dresses as they flow in unison across a mahogany wood-floor. It’s a Monet in slow motion, couples glide in rhythm with the ebb and flow of jazz music. She is in love for the first time and no one, not even time itself will take this memory from her—-these days memories and reality swim together.
In the recreation room residents are sitting playing dominos while others stare at the big screen TV. Some sit solo, silently staring out the window into an empty patio with its neatly kept flower gardens. There eyes go through a series of mixed emotions as they question my presence here. I am a stranger under their waves of isolation and at first the eyes of the occupants gaze at me with an air of curiosity. Next comes a stare of surprise, “Is someone sick?”. Then fear, “Has another one passed away last night?”. Then comes envy, “Look, she has a visitor”. And finally thankfulness, “Isn’t that nice, someone has made that long dive—–a thousand kisses deep.”
I no longer look into their faces, at this depth they all begin to look the same. I watch their hands. Each set of hands tell their own story. Swollen wrists, knuckles deformed and twisted, age spots, yellowed nails, blue broken veins, tentacles gripping on to little pieces of life, or what is still left of one. These are the hands that cradled new-born babies, that reassured a scared child in the dark, caressed the fevered brow of the sick, hands that prepared home cooked meals, washed floors, dishes and folded untold loads of laundry, hands that once wielded a hammer to build homes and dreams, fixed what needed fixed, protected what needed protected, hands that played piano in churches and bars, hands that teased, tickled and pleasured a lover, hands that planted roses and canned peaches, hands that money fell through, hands worn callused by physical labor, hands once clinched into fists of anger, hands clasped together in prayer for mercy and grace, hands that composed love letters, baked birthday cakes, taught life lessons, wiped tears away, hands that then as well as now, still reach out towards life. If eyes are the mirror of the soul, then I believe hands are a reflection of the heart.
We take her for a drive to visit family members. We share food and reminisce about the old days. There is much laughter as we recall funny stories from the past. We fondly remember those that have passed and reaffirm how they shaped and contributed to the family. Photos are proudly passed around and stories shared about the “going on’s” of our younger ones. Claudia has a new job, Chris a promotion, Victor’s graduation, Haley’s skiing, Amelia is walking. Today is golden, for the briefest of moments time stands still for us—-we feel everything—–we can feel one another—-it’s always in the littlest of things that the sacredness of love is shared.
Back at her place beneath the waves, we have a seat at a table in the dinning area. It’s late November and a drizzle of rain falls from the evening sky. There is no longer any need for conversation as we sit staring out at the receding sun and silently hold hands.