In the Silence of that Hallway by Ed Stubbing '64
Ignore it, Ed. It's a dream. Just a dream.
Uh-oh. Maybe not a dream. Maybe it's . . . Lu.
My mother-in-law, Lu, 89, is a 16-year veteran of the Alzheimer's Wars. Three years ago a stroke took its toll, and Lu needs a walker to move about. I press the Indiglo-light button on my Timex: 3:30 -- earliest ever. Time for an Action Plan. Sit up in bed. Shift legs. Place feet on rug. Stand. Stare into darkness.
"E-d-d-d-d!" Louder this time, loud enough to cause my wife, Lucille, to stir. Not good. Lucille is a nurse who works to the point of exhaustion and needs a good night's sleep. Must move quickly to silence the E-d-d-d-er. I tiptoe to the door that leads to the stairs that leads to the wake-up caller. I gazelle right on down those darkened stairs.
"Oh Ed, I'm so glad you're here."
"What day is it?"
Placing my finger over my lips, I motion for Lu to follow me into the kitchen where our conversation would be less likely to wake my wife or son. The creak of her walker follows me from foyer to kitchen. I flick the light switch: "Today is Tuesday," I respond. I know what's coming. We've been there a thousand times before.
"Do we have to go to Mass today?"
"No, it's Tuesday, not Sunday."
"It's not a Holy Day, is it?"
"No. It's an unholy day."
She smiles. Her humor survives within the damaged memory bank. I look at her. Once 5-foot-2, she now registers 4-foot-10 on the shrinking height chart. But her eyes of blue are as blue and as beautiful as ever.
"Thank God it's not a Holy Day."
"Right. But it is 3:30."
I nod. "You should go back to bed."
"Well, once I get up . . . I stay up." She crosses her arms and stares at sleepy Ed. There it is, the most dreaded of Lu's declarations, dramatic pauses and all. This is serious. Lu is fully awake, cross-armed and dangerous.
"Well, let's just think about it," I suggest.
"Why?" she queries. I consider a persuasive argument relating to the merits of sleep in the middle of the damn night, but logic has become a fading memory in Lu's mind.
"Tell you what. Go to the bathroom, change the pad, and then we'll check things out."
"Check what things out?"
Damn! She got me on that one. Sleep deprivation in action. What do I mean by that? Empathic listening is my last hope. "Tell you what. As a favor to me, go to the bathroom. Okay?"
She hesitates. We stare at each other. I am close to losing it. She smiles. "I just want to do the right thing, Ed. You know that, don't you?"
Oh, brother. I melt completely. "I know. I know you want to do the right thing." I turn and she follows me down the hallway. I flick on the bathroom light.
"Should I leave the walker in the hallway?"
"Can you get by?"
"I'll just jump over it."
She laughs. One of the pleasant little secrets of Alzheimer's is that the same joke works a thousand times. I laugh. Grand fun in the a.m. I open a pad and place it on the counter. I shut the door, amble to her bed and sit. I close my eyes. Peace at last.
"I went to the bathroom."
"Good. Now change the pad that's on the counter."
"What do I do with the old pad?"
"Brown bag on the floor."
Lu flushes the toilet, comes out and shuffles into her bedroom. I make my pitch. "So it's 3:30, and you said you wanted to get right back to sleep."
"What day is it?"
"It's not Sunday?'
"I was worried about Mass."
"You don't have to worry because it's . . ." I point both forefingers at Lu, a wacky expression on my face. She smiles. "Tuesday!"
"Yes!" A long pause as I await her next, critical move onto the bed.
"What do I do now?"
"You're exhausted, and you want to go back to sleep."
Lu sits on the bed. I pray to the unknown saint of sleep.
She lies down. Thank you, saint of sleep.
"What time is it, Ed?"
"Do we go to Mass today?"
"No, it's Tuesday."
"What should I do now?"
"Sleep. You are exhausted -- totally, completely, thoroughly exhausted. If there's one thing you want in life right now, it's the chance to go back to sleep."
"What time is it?"
"Three in the morning."
"Three! What am I, crazy?"
"I'll go back to sleep."
"Exactly! Good night, Lu."
"Good night, sweetheart."
I leave, close the door quietly and tiptoe down the hallway.
Tiptoe paralysis sets in. Motionless, breathless, sleepless, I turn at the end of my getaway hallway and face the closed, now feared, bedroom door.
"God bless you."
I don't answer. In the silence of that hallway all thoughts of sleep and concerns about the tasks awaiting me that day flitter away. An Indiglo moment of the soul takes hold. I realize that nothing I would do this day, or for many days, would be as important as what I had just done.
"And God bless you, Lu."
"I couldn't be happier living here with you and Lucille."
I stare at the bedroom door and lie. "We couldn't be happier either."
"Are you going to be around today, Ed?"
"Yes." I stare at the door. Seconds pass in the silence of the darkness.
I'm not one to sit down in a hallway at 3 a.m., but that's what I do. I sit, and ever so slowly my eyes well up with tears of joy.
Ed Stubbing, who lives in Stony Point, New York, writes articles and screenplays. He can be reached at email@example.com.