Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I know her name--I'll call her Millie here. I know it because it is written on a piece of tape on the back of her jacket. Someone who cares for her has written it there because they are afraid she might wander off, become lost, and not be able to identify herself.
I see her regularly at the pool on those mornings when there is not a masters workout and there are lots of empty lanes. She has the halting step of one who is afraid--afraid she might fall, but also probably just afraid because of the confusion in her own brain. Her face tells the same story I've seen in some of my grandparents and great grandparents. If I had to guess, she can remember some long ago things very clearly, like perhaps the time when the man on her arm took her on their first date. But I would also suppose that she cannot remember much of what happened yesterday or 15 minutes ago. She might not even remember that man's name sometimes, perhaps only the feeling of his presence, his smell, or the way his arm feels, warm and steady.
But he's always there whenever she is there. He drives the big Oldsmobile, parks in the handicapped space, and takes her arm as they walk ever so slowly, with tiny, fearful steps, toward the front door of the aquatic center. If I were invisible, the only company to their walk would be the metallic hum of the arc lights, and the frogs and insects chirping out in the pines. He walks her through the door, and she takes the inside lane in the indoor pool.
He reads the paper. But she escapes. She swims an easy freestyle. She breastsrokes. She backstrokes.
And she smiles.
The fear is gone from her face, for there is no gravity here. There is no specter of muddled past. This, she remembers. Every feeling and sensation is recalled without effort from the past written in her muscle memory.
And she smiles.
Who had the more meaningful swim this morning--the middle-aged, mediocre Ironman trying to push himself through 200s? Or Millie?