I can hear the crunch of gravel beneath my feet on the dirt road, feel the rocks slip a bit as I progress.
The sounds and feels shift as I step through a vine-entrapped ditch into the woods and onto the remnants of what may have been a trail. I trudge through tight ground cover and pull my boots more than once from sticker bushes as I navigate to the path.
Once I reach it, I walk with continued purpose toward my intended goal, careful not to trip over a tree’s stretching root or step too close to previously-hidden creatures that may wish to slither or scurry across my foot.
After what seems to be both hours and only a few minutes, I see it in the distance — an old clapboard house, unpainted boards stained with weather and time. As I get closer, I notice it’s begun to tilt slightly to one side, as if the entire structure is leaning casually against a wall, waiting for a stranger to come by and strike up a conversation.
I step out of the woods and into a clearing not much bigger than the ancient house itself, then cross the soft, tall grass to the bowed steps. I pause and nod at the door that sits slightly ajar. I allow myself to believe the wind moving through structural openings is the voice of the house welcoming me, bidding me to step inside and explore.
I do, and I am quite comfortable doing so — the house is mine.
It’s not a physical place, but it is very real. It is the house of memories long untouched, long unexplored, tucked away and easily forgotten. There are things in the various rooms here that I put here intentionally, and eventually lost track of. But most of the items scattered about on the old pine dining table, in the cabinets and drawers, tool room and bedrooms are simply memories I thought I had lost.
I “dropped” them somewhere and the winds and other unseen movers brought them here.
Some days I want to come here and dig around and try to find a moment — a memory I know I treasured but can’t quite get a grip on, an irritant I think I need to revisit or more likely a name and a face to go with it — but the door is stuck and I can’t force it open.
Other days I stumble in the woods and find myself outside one of these windows, the memory photographed and held to the window by an unseen hand for me to see once again.
Remember this? Remember them?
I wonder about so-and-so. I haven’t thought about them in a while. I wonder how they are. And the very next day, perhaps later the same day, I’ll see a social media post from them, or literally turn the corner and there they are.
I don’t know why this happens, and I don’t know why we sometimes can’t remember things and they seem to be just out of reach. It can be frustrating.
Imagine how much more frustrating it must be for those battling dementia, Alzheimer’s or other memory-damaging diseases. When they are aware of the disease and its progression, it can be infuriating and frightening. A rush can be made on the home of memories to secure it, bolster it and make sure it’s safe.
When they’re not aware, they may not remember how to get to the old house, or even that one exists. It may become closed off to them for good, and therefore inaccessible by anyone else who cares for them.
And, oh, the pain and struggle for those who care for them. It’s hard to watch someone you love struggle.
Please reach out to those struggling. Have an extra measure of patience and understanding. And if you’re one of those struggling, take heart. You are loved.
This is World Alzheimer’s Month, and without a trace of irony or sarcasm I ask you to remember it and remember those who are fighting to remember.
Brett Campbell covers the Chunky Community News. He can be reached at ChunkyBrett@mail.com.