We do not know what really happens to someone when the mind begins to lose its capacities for memories and speech. There has been much research done, and some scientific discoveries made, but still, we don't know what is like for the person suffering from the digression.
Roy Tate has been a farmer all his life, able to do and remember everything related to his business. To scientists, his digressions may be predictable and steady. To him, they are anything but predictable and steady.
In A Pretty Girl Came to Visit, Roy tells his own story. What he sees and feels is not what others see and feel, and what he remembers gets more and more frustrating as it becomes less and less reliable. His one steadying influence is his grand daughter Rosie. Early on, she makes him promise that no matter what, he will not forget her. He can forget all else in the world exept her.
Roy and Rosie struggle together to make that promise come true. In a heartwarming story of love and devotion, she comes to visit him, and he recognizes her, until the very end.
A Pretty Girl
Came to Visit
The weather was as good as could be expected for a February day, although the wind blew just enough to make it less than comfortable. Still, bundled up against it, the small group of family and friends sat in chairs or stood close by as the Preacher said his last words for Rose Anne Tate.
In the front row sat her husband of fifty five years. Roy Tate could still not believe that his wife was dead. Just five days ago, while doing the evening chores at home, he had fallen on the ice and had both gashed the back of his head open and been knocked unconscious. When he did come to his senses, he could not regain his balance enough to walk back to the house, or even stand completely upright, so he had crawled through the snow, leaving a crimson trail along the way.
Rose Anne had always been a stickler for how things worked, and after Roy did not return in the normal amount of time, she had opened the door to see if she could tell where he was. When she held up the flashlight, the first thing she saw was Roy stumbling, crawling, trying to make his way to the house.
And the blood. Having lived on the farm for the entirety of their marriage, she was not the least bit squeamish about blood, except when it was her husband’s, or one of her children’s. Not bothering to put on her coat or rubber boots, she ran to him, grabbed him under one arm with enough strength to get him to his feet, and got him to the house. It did not take but a second to determine that the cut was severe, and that she had to get him to the emergency room. She quickly gathered some rags for him to hold on his head, put on her coat and boots, and started the pickup truck.
In spite of her pleas over the years to build a garage so the vehicles could be out of the weather, especially in the winter, Roy had always found an excuse to build something else, so there it was, covered with six inches of snow. She brushed off what she could, clearing enough space on the windshield where she could see enough to make her way down the drive and to the gravel road that lead to the highway. By the time she got back to Roy, he was laying in the snow again, having fallen in an attempt to help her get the truck ready to drive. She managed again to get him to his feet, and into the truck, and headed down the driveway.
In the Emergency Room, the people had acted quickly and efficiently, getting Roy into a wheel chair, and on into a room to get him treated. Rose Anne had given the hospital all of the information for him, and had assured them of payment.
She sat in the waiting room for over two hours, or rather, she paced back and forth. A couple of magazines had caught her attention, and she had sat down to try to read them, but was not able to concentrate. So, she paced some more, and no matter how much she tried to wish for the best, she could not.
When the doctor came out, she first noticed the spattering of blood on his clothing. His blood. He wasted no time in assuring her that Roy was as well as could be expected, which was enough of a relief that she had to sit down for the rest of the conversation.
It had taken nearly twenty stitches to close the wound. He had received a quart of blood to replace what he had lost. He had a bad concussion. He should recover completely. He would have to stay in the hospital for observation for at least a day.
“Can I see him?” she asked.
“He’s asleep now, from the trauma and the drugs, but yes, you can see him.”
They walked together down the hallway, around a corner and then another, finally turning into a room. She saw her husband in the far bed, looking as if he was resting comfortably. She sat down next to him, grabbed his hand lightly, said that she had told him a thousand times that he was not supposed to scare her like this.
“When will he wake up?” she asked the doctor.
“It won’t be for a few hours. We are keeping him asleep to minimize chances of swelling on the brain. We don’t want him moving around much.”
“I have to go back home, then, long enough to do morning chores. It should take no more than a couple of hours. Are you sure he will be asleep until then? I have to be here when he wakes up so he doesn’t get confused with where he is or what has happened.”
“I can assure you,” the doctor answered. “He will still be asleep when you get back, and won’t know you have left.”
Not wanting to waste any more time, Rose Anne got up, gathered her coat, and said she had better get going. She made her way out of the hospital and to the truck, which was again buried in some inches of snow. She started it, brushed it off, and headed home.
She did not make it.
When she did not return in two hours, the doctor was concerned, but not yet worried. When she had not returned in four hours, he called her phone number and got no answer. He called the police to see if they could check up on her.
They found her truck in the ditch off the gravel road to their home. No other vehicles had been on the road, so no one had seen it. It was on its back, the top crushed completely to the seat. Rose Anne was pronounced dead at the scene.
And that’s not even close to the worst of it. I was married for fifty five years, eight months and sixteen days to Rose Anne. It took us a few years to get things sorted out, but for over half a century, there are some things which she did and things which I did. That isn’t to say that I never did the dishes or she never milked the cows, but only that for some things, I just never thought about them unless she was sick or gone for some reason, and the same was true for her with the things I normally did.
Things like figuring out what is for dinner, or remembering to change my clothes, or to go to the store to buy toothpaste. Or where I put my eyeglasses, or when to go to the doctor or dentist. Or how to put soap in the dishwasher. Or whose birthday is when. Things like that.
All of those things, though, are nothing compared to the loneliness. I miss her calling to me from the other room when she knows I can’t understand a word of what she is saying. I miss the all of the things she could come up with that need to be done, and the hundreds more things “that would be nice.” I miss getting scolded for tracking mud into the entry way instead of cleaning my boots off outside in the rain. I miss the best french toast and fried chicken and chocolate chip cookies ever made. I miss the snoring at night and the morning coffee and the short trips into town for a single item that become hours long with a dozen other stops. I miss another million things, also.
A month ago, when I woke up from the injury to my head, nothing quite made sense. I did not remember any of the things they told me. I had fallen. I had split my head open enough to require nearly twenty stitches. I had lost a lot of blood. I had been knocked unconscious. I had been sedated heavily so I wouldn’t move around and do any more injury to my brain. They were relieved that there was no apparent swelling. The stitches were healing fine.
And oh, by the way, your wife was killed in a car wreck while you were sleeping.
The words made sense, but they didn’t make sense. I knew what “killed in a car wreck” meant, but not when the name attached to them was “Rose Anne.”
I felt the emptiness begin to consume me. I looked around the room. A doctor, two nurses, no Rose Anne. She would be here. She should be here.
It isn’t real. I’m still asleep, and the drugs are causing these nightmare thoughts.
I look to the door, see my daughter Leah. She comes to me, her eyes red, tears pouring out, dripping down onto her shirt, onto me. She gives me a hug, one like she has not given me since she was a child, except for the one she gave me at her wedding.
“I’m so sorry, Daddy. I’m so sorry,” she says.
“When is the funeral?” I ask.
More tears. “It’s tomorrow,” she says. “Let me take you home.”
The last thing I want to see is a house full of people, but that is exactly what I see when we pull into my driveway. There are cars everywhere. Several of the people come to the door, and my son Ernie walks out to help me get out of the car. The doctor’s orders are to use a wheel chair for another week. He says that there could still be some problems with balance, and another knock on my noggin could be much more serious. By the time Ernie has gotten the wheel chair out of the back of the Suburban, I am already out of the vehicle.
My helper is my grand daughter Rosie. She is a really pretty girl, perhaps the prettiest I have ever seen. As a two sport athlete, she is also strong. I can’t remember what the sports are, though. She helps me to my feet, puts my right arm over her shoulder, and puts her arm around my waist. “I won’t let you fall,” she says, and I believe her.
When I get into the house, I am relieved to find that I know every one’s name. They are all family, or some of my long time neighbors. One by one, they come to greet me, solemn, sincere. All any of them can say is, “I’m so sorry, Roy.” To my credit, I do not say what I am thinking: Don’t you mean you are sad? What do you have to be sorry for?
An hour later, it is Rosie who I see is going around to people and quietly telling them that PawPaw has to get some rest, and it’s time for everyone to leave. Both of my children and her express gratitude for everyone’s concern, and thank them for all they have done to help with chores and work on the farm.
When the visitors are all gone, I say to my family, “I want to go to the funeral home to see Rose Anne.”
There is an immediate silence, a tension in both Ernie’s and Leah’s eyes. They glance at each other, having a silent conversation with their faces. It is Leah who speaks. “I think the funeral home might be closed right now,” she says.
I look at the clock. It says that it is one o’clock in the afternoon on a Thursday. A range of emotions— all bad— hits me.
Why would they be telling me it’s closed? Why are they all clammed up and not really talking? Why is Ernie averting his eyes? What really happened to Rose Anne? Was her face smashed in? How bad was it?
“You don’t lie very well,” I say to them.
Leah breaks down, says to Rosie that they need to take a walk while Uncle Ernie and PawPaw talk. I can tell that Rosie does not wish to leave, but she is an obedient child, and silently makes her way to the door.
“What is it?” I ask Ernie.
He tells me the details, or at least a whitewashed version of the details. It was bad. It took them nearly two hours to cut her out of the truck. Although she was an organ donor, there was nothing to save except her corneas. He asked me that I not bring it up again, especially in front of Leah, who had still not recovered from being the one who identified her Mother’s body. “Please, Dad, just remember her as you last saw her. Remember her as she was when you first met her or first kissed her. Remember her bringing you your morning coffee all those years.”
My head drops to my chest. I had hoped that the last few hours were a bad dream, a nightmare, that I would wake up when she gently kicked my feet and told me the football game was over, and it was time for chores. It isn’t.
I try to remember her, find that I already can’t. I search the room with my eyes for a picture of her, find one on the piano that must have been our wedding. There are two more next to it, where both of us are next to our children, presumably at their weddings. We look much older now.
The headaches do not seem ever to go away. All the doctor can say is that “Well, it was a pretty good lick you took,” and all he does is order more tests, or the same ones over again. The results are always the same. Nothing abnormal.
I go to get the stitches out. Evidently, the doctor is already tired of seeing me, and he has a nurse do it. She is kind, and takes her time. She gets to the last stitch and tells me that it has grown into the skin a bit, not all that unusual, but still, something for the doctor and not for her to do. She says she will fetch him and be back directly. In forty five minutes, sporting a stop-bothering me look, the doctor comes in, takes his clamps, and then what looks like a dental pick, and pulls the end of the suture out so he can cut it. “Looks good,” he says on the way out.
In the parking lot, I can’t remember for sure where I parked my truck. Under my breath, I say, “I told you so,” to Rose Anne about it. Why get a white Ford truck? They look like half the vehicles in any parking lot. I decide I am going to go with something far easier to spot next time, like bright green or perhaps yellow and black polka dots. Or maybe I will attach a piece of orange tape to the antenna so I can spot it.
A young lady stops by me, asks if I am okay.
“I wasn’t paying attention when I came in,” I reply. “And I’m not sure where I parked.”
“What are you driving?” she asks.
“A white Ford truck.”
“Have you tried your fob?” she asks.
Evidently, I appear not to understand the question, so she asks it again in a different way. “Do you have an opener?” she asks as she mimics pushing a button.
She looks at it, asks if she may try it, and pushes the lock button a couple of times. Somewhere in the distance, a horn beeps a couple of times.
“This way,” she says.
In a few seconds, I am next to my truck, and I thank her for helping an old man. She says it is quite all right, and to be careful on the way home. I promise her I will.
Before I start the truck, I sit in the seat, try to think of a time before when I couldn’t find my car, already worrying that I am losing my memory. I try to think of other things that might now be eluding me, wonder if I am just getting old.
Of course it has happened before. Maybe not dozens of times, but certainly a few. I remember once when Rose Anne and I waited for a parking lot to clear out some before we could find our small car back in the day. Then, it wasn’t a worry, though. It was funny, and we laughed about it for years. Why should this time be any different? I’ll go on my way and laugh about it, but I will keep it to myself. Other people don’t need much of an excuse to tell someone they can’t drive any more. They always use the excuse that they are worried something will happen, but I’m not so sure that’s the case. It’s more likely that it is about who gets to make the decisions.
Once I am on the road, I am fine. I deride myself for making such a big deal about not being able to find my white truck in a sea of white vehicles, toss the worries of it aside. I make my way through town, and back home with no more problems than I have had for the fifty years I have lived there. I believe I could find it with my eyes shut, but also decide not to try it.
It has been three days since anyone came to visit. Leah calls every day, at various times, to see if I am okay, and tells me about her day also. I always lie to her that I’m fine, that of course I miss my wife terribly, but that I am keeping busy reading some old books and working in my shop.
Both are lies.
The truth is that I don’t keep busy. I give myself a passing grade on trying, but a failing grade on successes. I can read no more than a page or two before I put a book down, or even a newspaper, and when I get to my shop, I can see a million things that need worked on, but just can’t get going. There are at least a half a dozen projects in various stages of completion that I can not get myself to finish.
I am also not a very tidy housekeeper. It’s odd, in a way, because I do not like a cluttered house, and despise a dirty one even more. For all these years, I thought I was doing a fair amount of the housekeeping, yet when I do the same amount now, I fall farther and farther behind. I decide I will vacuum the whole house today, and tomorrow, I will do all of my laundry, and the next day I will catch up on the dishes, and then a day dusting up, and then a day just to alleviate the clutter. I laugh at the absurdity of it. By the time I got caught up, I would be just as behind as I am now.
Finally, the weather is warming up, and the snow is beginning to disappear. In fact, it is mostly gone, with only a few pockets of it left on north facing slopes, or behind buildings here and there.
I found out from my grand daughter Rosie where her my wife had perished. No one else would be very specific, saying only that it was “right about in here.” I wanted to know more precisely, so I could put a cross there as a memorial to her.
Rosie had driven out to pick me up and take me to a doctor’s appointment. She was out of school for one or other of the “vacations” schools take nowadays. She promised that it wasn’t because she didn’t think I should be driving, but only because she gets to spend so little time with me because of her school activities, and with going to college in the fall, she will get to see me even less. I don’t know if I believe her completely, but who wouldn’t take up an offer of being driven around by a pretty girl?
Everyone at the doctor’s office knows her, as is the case wherever she goes around town. And she knows everyone else also. Every name, every face. Every adult and every child. I asked her about it once, and she says she feels like it’s a responsibility she has to the people of the town for all the support they give to her when she is competing in a sport.
“If someone is going to cheer when I make a basket or strike someone out, I owe it to them to know their name,” she says. “And I owe more to the kids. Just like Jillie Smith spent so much time talking to me, and making me feel special, I need to do the same with any kid who wants the same.”
“You are too grown up,” I reply.
On the way home, I ask her if she knows exactly where the wreck happened. She says she might not know to the foot, but she knows close enough. She starts driving slowly once she is on the gravel road, and looks closely off on the right. She stops, puts the truck in park, says it was right here. “I remember that particular fence post,” she says. “When I came out here with Mother, she pointed out to me that post, and said the truck was up against it.”
I look at it, see that it appears the fence post is broken, and not merely leaning over. There are also some broken strands of wire. I want to go over and fix the fence right now, but of course she won’t let me, saying to wait until spring when it will be easier, with not so much mud.
Since then, I have driven past that post many times. I always slow down, always try to imagine what Rose Anne’s last few seconds were like, if she yelled out for help, what she thought of in the instant that she knew this was the end. I wonder if she felt any pain or if it was instantaneous, where she was alive and then she wasn’t, no time of transition, no time for thoughts. It is useless to wonder of such things, of course, but still, I do it.
So, now that the snow has finished melting in the last week, I am going to the site and fix the post that was broken. I am also going to put up a cross I managed to make in the shop. I didn’t want to put up a memorial that looked like all of the others, since Rose Anne herself was not like all the others. I made one out of some old barn wood, with four ninety degree mitered corners meeting in the center of the cross. I then cut and welded a frame for it, and then ground it to a fine and lasting shine. It is all covered with a layer of epoxy so it should last far longer than the time I will be driving by it.
When I get to the fence post, the first time I have been there since the snow melted, I am sickened. I can see the tracks the truck made, and where it turned over on its back. I can see where it slammed into the broken post. I can also see that it burned.
New thoughts come. Did she burn to death, or was she already gone? I will never know. I decide not to fix the post. I don’t want to work around that area. I put up the cross, right about where I think she would have been. It is in the burnt ground. I planned on saying a prayer, but do not. I do not feel like talking to God right now, as it would not be a pleasant conversation. I sit down, close my eyes, imagine it is the day before this happened, and that I place my foot inches away from where I placed it, that it does not go out from under me, that I do not fall.
I am almost there, almost where that is real, where none of it happened, when I hear a voice in the distance, a woman’s voice. I know that it is Rose Anne, talking to me from the hereafter. I can hear it, muffled, but clearly audible. I concentrate on it, listen harder, make out that she is saying, “Are you alright?”
“No,” I say. “I miss you too much to be alright.”
I feel her touch my shoulder, a real touch, not imagined. I turn to see her, grasp at her hand on my shoulder. My eyes go up to her face.
It is not Rose Anne. It is someone I have never seen before. She looks concerned, asks me again if I am alright.
“My wife died here,” I say, hoping it will say enough.