I have already taken the wrong exit, turned the wrong way, and turned the wrong way again. Now this: A large truck, pregnant with painted words on its large round belly, backs up slowly into the path of my car. The Purple Poop Pumpers don’t care if I am dead or alive.
I try to think—logically—how can I get myself out of this mess? I call Vicki to tell her I will be late, because I seem to be lost. Vicki tries to help me, but I have no way of describing where I am, completing ignoring the compass tucked into the dashboard like a sleeping baby. So I keep driving and turning.
Eventually I realize I should call someone else, and my cell phone makes the dreaded noise: no service. I drive a few more miles, searching for cell-phone service and sanity. I begin to wonder what I used to do when I was young; the pre-hysterical teenager, lost, no phone, and only cigarettes to smoke while I tried to figure out where in the hell I was.
I try and reach my son, Matt, but he is at work and does not answer. I call my husband, Jim, and when he answers, I shout: “Don’t ask any questions.” “Where are you?” he asks. “If I knew, I wouldn’t be lost,” I answer and hang up.
Matt returns my call, and I eloquently describe my own personal hell. I recognize the golf course I am in front of as a place he golfed at a number of years ago. I tell him the name of the golf course. Matt tells me to turn around, drive several miles, turn left, and I will be about ten miles from my destination. I learn I have basically gone around Otsego Lake, dipping westward, then southward, after I took the exit ramp near Gaylord, as if it were an intended scenic tour I decided to make while Vicki waited in a parking lot.
By the time I return to Gaylord and meet my friend, I have circled the lake in its entirety. I begin to cry after thanking Matt and hanging up. I call Vicki and promise I will actually be in Gaylord in the very near future. Her laughter is contagious, and I catch it, deftly, as if nothing in the world was as funny as this moment.
I thought that after the radiation, the tumor would not be in limbo in my head. I assumed I would be better, and never miss a right-hand turn again. I would always know where I was going, but today reminds me the tumor isn’t done with me yet.
Three weeks later: I am visiting my father at the nursing home he now resides in. It is a similar Michigan day with gray skies and rain. I imagine my father feeling the same way I did when I got lost near Gaylord. Even though he is in a building with sixty other residents and a multitude of nurses, staff members, and visitors, my father is lost. He is in some place that is familiar, but it is also unfamiliar. The lines have blurred.
My father asks me how things are in Alma, Michigan, as if he still lives in the house with my mother, although he doesn’t ask about her. Two days after that conversation, he asks me how things are in Dodge City. He informs me, my husband, and friends Peggy and John, that the food contract at the nursing home has been taken over by the folks who ran the Lamplighter in Dodge City. I wonder how far back in time he has travelled, but I do not ask, and instead vouch for the merits of their fried chicken and French fries.
This past Sunday: Matt and I visit my father. He tells us he wants out, and to bring his damn checkbook. I ask him where he wants to go. He says: “I’ve got two apartments in Dodge, so I ought to be living in one of them.” Matt and I exchange looks and say nothing. My parents raised me in a small farmhouse outside of Dodge City, but somewhere in my father’s mind, two apartments still remain, most likely filled with cowboy boots and his favorite hat, pictures of his brothers, big fat cigars, and furniture he has refinished in his spare time.
I think about the power of memory and the consequences of forgetting. My mother died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2008. I watched her slow death coming for several years, and listened to her stories become harder and harder to believe.
There is something inherently built into the loneliness of being lost, even in a room full of people. For me, I knew that when I was lost in Northern Michigan, I would always find my way back home. For my mother, I imagine that she got to the point where just having someone in the room with her was enough to offer comfort. But for my father? I watch him as he slips between apartments and houses he once lived in, and I hope that I bring comfort to him even though I am merely his daughter, breathing in what he is breathing out.