Through the Weeds

The old woman paced the kitchen floor in confusion; wringing her soft wrinkled hands together in nervousness. They passed around each other like the coils of a snake and found their way around to tug on each tender finger. Every indent that carved into her digits and her palms were imprints of a life that she could never always piece together. When she would look down at them she would have a deep sickness pass into her stomach. The kind that makes you afraid of yourself when you are standing in a high place; the feeling that tricks you into believing you should jump. Those hands were surely not hers. Where were her hands, the hands that were strong and plump; hands that did not ache or refuse to bend?

Slowly, she stepped onto the living room floor. The warm, stained carpet cushioned her naked feet and made slight indents of their inner body as if she were stepping upon sturdy sand. With hollow breath she inched closer towards her husband’s strong back. He aged better than she did. Even though she could not see him, she knew his face was still his own, sometimes, she imagined a carpenter took the face she married and carved it into a slightly older tree. His hair was thick and alive; his skin even retained its coloring; her skin had become white and thin, her bones collapsible and her hair lackluster. She took this time to stand behind him. Before she could part her withered mouth to say goodbye she abruptly stopped herself. She suddenly realized that he would not let her go. If she were to say goodbye he would trap her there where she would continue to feel her internal sickness. So, she gently closed her soft brown eyes and for the first time turned away from him.

She escaped out of the back door and walked down the three cement stairs. She remembered there were three because she counted. One, she used her arm on the side rail to balance herself. The moment she dragged her foot down the step she felt her body cave. Suddenly, she noticed her arm reach toward the railing and grasp firmly onto the paint chipped metal. She paused. Two, she understood the dance; heel toe, breathe, heel toe. She now had come to the conclusion that her body could not be trusted. She stood on step two for a while, looking down at nothing in particular and gazing until her eyesight blurred slightly. This, she thought to herself, must have something to do with the hands. It was an unnerving feeling to have such a suspicion of yourself; to no longer be able to say, “My hands” but demanded by some other worldly Being to say, “The hands.” Those hands, that pair of stolen flesh, compelled to dangle at each end of her wrists.

Three; she extended her fingertips and pushed her palms gently away from the railing. She was on her own, floating on step three. She felt no urge to look down, only forward and away. She placed one toe on the ground and held it there as if she was checking the temperature of a pool. It was then, with little thought, she dived into the pavement, walking briskly and with meaning. No one can be sure where she was headed; her route was unclear to even the most avid onlooker. Was she going to the store to buy milk? Did she intend to visit with a friend where they would have coffee and gossip about other housewives? Perhaps she was disoriented. Could she have been wandering around looking for her child that had died long ago from Pneumonia? Confusion, however, did not cloud the passion of her steps. She walked with passion, perhaps a passion to find a purpose.

She felt like she had been walking for hours. Her head swayed back and forth violently as she desperately tried to recognize her surroundings. Her thighs pulsed with each step and the balls of her feet started up a dull ache. Constantly, she tried to tell herself she knew where she was, she wasn’t lost. But she could not account for all the things that were off. Street signs that looked different, or put in places they weren’t before and whole buildings that shifted and changed colors around her. It was like her entire world had changed, like she had been trapped in her house for a lifetime. She had copies of the things she knew; copies that either changed entirely, or were withering away, time fast-forwarding only for them and her. The inability to connect to the things that were and the things that are had made a lump in her throat that filled her eyes with tears. Tears that did not fall, but only evaporated back into its bulge. Cars began sweeping just in time to fill up the air and void her thoughts. It was then that she decided not to look up anymore and to only look down at the road, the only thing that was taking her anywhere.

Her concentration was nearly unbreakable. She realized that when she only focused on what was in front of her, she moved quicker. It was almost delightful to watch her feet do their vertical strut along the pavement. She began to hum quietly to herself and she again let her eyes blur briefly, this time not to go deep in thought, but to go out of it. It was in between consciousness when she began to hear the dinging of a bell. She was not concerned about what the sound was, but as to where it was. It seemed to be creeping along the ground, being something bells normally aren’t. Maybe this was another alternation of her world, where bells ring down to the ground instead of up high, where they walk around instead of sway alone. But what she most gathered was that the bell was walking toward her, if she didn’t look up she might be at risk of getting knocked down. So, tactfully she stopped walking and lifted her face up to see where she was in relation to the bell.

Much to her surprise, she didn’t see a bell at all, although it was surely there somewhere. In actuality, the sound was coming from a small white dog that was being walked by an older man in his late sixties. The man looked quite fit for his age and probably too well dressed for the activity he was partaking in. He wore a wide brimmed hat that hid whatever hair he had and slacks with well-polished shoes; in a way he reminded her of her husband. He carried himself in defiance of age, strong and almost unnaturally so.

He walked toward her slowly, stopping occasionally to let his dog steer off to sniff bushes and trees. She wanted so badly to ask him for directions, but the weight of her pride stopped her. She was supposed to know, she shouldn’t be confused. He wasn’t, he knew his path, and in fact he knew it enough to wander it. The closer he got, the more nervous she felt; there was a short window of time where she could ask. Where she could plead help, where she could admit her faults and find her way again. Suddenly, she realized he wasn’t walking slowly enough and if he could only find it in his heart to stop and ask her a question she could maybe find it in herself to answer. Maybe even ask where she was and if he could take her to where she needed to be. But, she felt too ashamed; too ashamed of herself, too ashamed of her mind. So, she let the man pass her as she looked on, helpless and afraid.

The sun began to beat down on her violently as she walked down the bitter sidewalk. In each step she could feel the weight of the heat on her clothing and exposed skin. Her hair bowed down to it and landed at the nape of her neck where it clanged to her like Reynolds Wrap. The sweat dragged her up tight curls across her forehead where they made their home in the crevices of her face. She continued to walk tirelessly, every once in a while peering back to where she had been. It was the one thing she looked forward to after each agonizing step, it was the physical manifestation of her accomplishments. The pain was worth it, as if her legs gave birth to everything she saw behind her.

The trees in front of her were lavish, it seemed as though an otherworldly bright green emulated from them. She showed a fondness for these trees, looking up and dreaming of how cooling and soft they must be. Up there she saw the constant, the only things that didn’t change or wear down, but instead grew up and into the sky. She looked until she stumbled from not paying the road the attention it required and with that she gazed back down at her swaying feet. With that realization, she continued on again. She tried to forget her struggles, the only thing that didn’t slip away into the deep caverns of her mind. The not knowing, the not understanding was what stifled her. In her mind she saw stained coffee cups, blank papers running rampant over flat surfaces, empty chairs with worn upholstery. Everything hollow, waiting on her to fill the objects with the contents they once possessed, the color they once had. Where did they go? There once were people to sip coffee with in lovely chairs, letters to write carefully and then sign, “With Love” in contrastingly violent letters. It was sadness without understanding the reason to be sad and it was shame to feel sad when you don’t know why.

A few hours had past; finally, the outside world had begun its usual bout of silence. Undoubtedly, to later be satisfied with cars filled with people who rushed with an entitled sense of urgency. This sudden stillness engorged her with fear as she suddenly became aware of everything. Now, the smallest sounds were the most sinister; the emptiness was the lifeblood of her anxieties and it froze her worn feet deep into the concrete. She stood there dumbstruck, as this unauthorized feeling of nervousness crept into her body through her toes. That inescapable feeling was what prompted her to look down at the source and with the lowering of her eyes she saw it. It was very real indeed; the manifestation of her feelings had surely giving birth to it. When she looked down she saw the green coils of deep-rooted weeds wrapping around her ankles. She, surprisingly, was not frightened, but instead she looked down with matter-of-factness as if that mess of thick dark green wire had always been around her, dragging her down.

They were weeds, she not only saw them, but she felt them and she understood them. More importantly she could also do something about them and with newfound power; she bent down and began to pull at them. Reaching down, she grasped each weed and pulled them up out of the concrete with one deep thrust and tossed them aside like used rags. She freed herself rather quickly from the weeds, but she remained still after she straightened herself up. When she looked further down her path she was surprised to see that her problem multiplied. Weeds had popped up and slinked all along the sidewalk, only leaving a small patch of grey concrete in front of her. Determined to continue, she knelt down slowly and began to pick the rest on them.

Kneeling tested her more than her walking had. The pressure of her own weight pushed her skin back into her body and caused almost immediate bruising. Every weed felt different in her hand; some pricked, some burned, and others painfully reopened wounds. Once she cleared the path in front of her she crawled slowly closer to the next section of growth. It soon became a laborious dance; dip hands down, lift up, toss, and crawl. Dip, hands down, lift up, toss, and crawl. Had hours gone by, days? Would this dance continue forever? The cars began to quickly whoosh by her again, impatient and deadly.

After a while of this she noticed a pop of yellow in the corner of her eyes. After all the shades of green, seeing yellow immersed her in childish delight. It was so surprising to her to see the yellow flower among the tainted foliage. She was amazed how such a beautiful thing had not been eaten by the weeds. With a careful hand she plucked the flower and kept it in her left hand. Soon, she forgot about the weeds and only looked for the beautiful yellow flowers that grew alongside them. Collecting them; trying to save them from their own environment.

My uncle found her first, but I swore I looked everywhere. She was kneeling down, weeds in one hand, and yellow flowers in another. Her words were firm; she spoke repeatedly of bells on the ground, weeds that grew around her ankles, and the hands. The hands that were not her hands and when she told me I believed her because, I had no reason not to.

Inspired by my grandmother, Lola Rivera

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  4 comments for “Through the Weeds

  1. Mary M Rivera
    24 February, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    Oh my gosh Jean, This is awesome!! I remember when this happened. What an insightful view on what Grandma was thinking and going through.You have a beautiful way of venting your pain and such a compassionate heart!

    • Jean Mess
      24 February, 2014 at 11:29 pm

      Thank you! That really means a lot to me. I know I didn’t know what she was think or feeling and I kind of feel embarrassed that I write in such of a matter-of-fact way about it. Maybe my imagination got the better of me, but I’m so happy that you enjoyed it!

  2. Christina russell
    25 February, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Loved,your storie about grandma,I could feel your love for her in your writing.And you should never feel embarrassed.
    And for anyone that doesn’t understand what its like to have a loved one with this disease. Jean wrote exactly how that day went. Any task that anyone with Alzheimer’s does is long and repetitive, and confusing, just like Jean wrote it. And any one that has read this piece has just experience what it feels like !

    • Jean Mess
      26 February, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      Thank you so much; I will try to put more of my essays on here later. I’m slowly learning how to share these thing, so the encouragement helps!

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