There are people, places, pets, things and times in our life that stand out. They enter our lives and never leave: connections. It’s our opportunity to hear from you. We want the humorous and poignant. Send us your submissions of no more than 500 words, along with photos (in a JPG format), to email@example.com.
Where is Steve?
In my mind, my stepfather has not breathed his last breath.
Instead, it’s two Septembers ago. Steve is calling my house in Virginia from his and my mom’s home in Colorado.
“I called to tell you about my good day!” Happiness washes across his gravelly, distinctive voice. This is before any of us knows that he is very ill. Still, my intuition says the good days may not last for long.
This day, my parents’ friend Mike — he is nearly 30 years their junior — stopped by. Steve says one of the reasons Mike visits is because he enjoys my parents’ loving, cooperative interactions.
“We don’t do it on purpose,” Steve says; “It’s just how we are.” With a relationship built from 21 years of marriage and 15 years of dating, they had practice.
Earlier on that same “good day,” Steve and mom drove past Lakeside, Denver’s century-old amusement park, where years before Steve had cajoled his brother into riding the roller coaster. Later, the brother was treated to his first Chinese restaurant meal and Steve fooled him into downing a mouthful of sinus-clearing wasabi.
Today, Alzheimer’s clouds the brother’s mind. But the memories of the roller coaster and the wasabi remain. “He has forgotten a lot,” Steve laughs — oh, how he loved to laugh — “but he remembers that! Yes, suh!”
During our talk, Steve and I agree that the way of Alzheimer’s is a mystery to us. We also decide that the best days are often constructed from simple moments. As we talk, I feel the truth of that notion settle itself into our conversation.
Metastatic colon cancer killed Steve in January. We held a champagne reception in his honor and I find myself seated beside this same brother.
“I wish Steve was here,” the brother says, honesty and regret in his voice. “He’d like this. Where is Steve?”
I knew they could come, but his words catch me off guard. I am silent. Finally, I manage, “Steve is why we’re here.”
I pause. It’s how I imagine everyone pausing before delivering news that will hurt. I taste the words that I know have been said to him before.
Quiet settles between us. I take in his tie and perfectly tailored suit, the way they complement his unlined, beige skin. He has always dressed well, and I send silent praises to his wife for preserving his sartorial style. I wish it were as easy for her to combat the ravaging of his brain.
Finally, I say what I have yet to accept myself: “Steve died.”
“Oh, no,” he says, “No.” For a moment, his face wears all of the shock and sadness of a bereaved sibling. Then, like the time-lapsed photography that appears to speed the growth, opening and wilting of a blossom, his face closes in on itself. The news is already forgotten. His grieving is already done.
Oh, if grief could have its way with all of us so quickly. Show up. Leave its lessons. Move on.
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