what we learn from walking

blackbird, fly toy camera :: expired fuji velvia slide film

{it was august 2010}
“you!… i’m coming with you!” i heard her voice almost before the door opened.  she was so determined into getting those words out. the words that come fewer and fewer with each passing day. i smiled big as  she joined us on the deck.  “yes, of course! come walk with us.” i put my arm around her and we set off into the darkening sky.

you see, this is what we do.  our family walks.  in the evenings after dinner, as children we’d find high walls to balance and sprinkers to run through.  what brought us together was walking.  when there’s nothing left to say, we walk.

she doesn’t walk very far these days.  her home helper comes twice a week now and they take a leisurely stroll to see the water and overturned canoe at the end of the road.  i walked with her in the mornings, a way for us to be together in our used-to-be way.  i quickly realized what was too far for her.  i quickly remembered how this dementia is not only affecting her mind but her body as well. the two are intricately woven together, the mind afterall, tells the body what to do.

two nights prior my brothers and i set off for a nighttime walk. we needed the space of air to be dark around us in order to discuss what had to be discussed.  this future that always summons death sooner than we can stomach. that night she grabbed a water bottle and said “i’m ready” for what she didn’t know, and i gave her a kiss on the lips and told her we’d be right back. it was like leaving your own child behind.  i hated that feeling and i walked faster that night because of it.

tonight she manages the word “you!”
my daughter. my grown baby now woman.
you three, my children, familiar yet vanishing from me…
“i’m coming with you!”

in that moment she was herself. strong determined. it was nice to have her back even if just for that moment. we walked and talked, the three of us sounding words that floated and drifted above her silence.  we walked like we always do.  only different.  she’s here but not.  it’s beautiful and painful to delight in something you know will be the last.

the darkness became us with our laughter bouncing like streetlights.  our legs were tired and her confusion grew deeper as we got closer to home. “i know what you mean” we’d say to her jarbled sentence of wrong streets.  the streets she’s known like the back of her hand for 23 years. “i know what you mean” i say, because i know you.  more deeply than i know anyone else.  and yet when i look at you i see through you, like the ghost you will soon become.

but for now.
tonight, i hug and kiss you.
and will not ever forget this, our last family walk.