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I am young. I am young and vibrant and lively. Alas, my body, that wrinkled prison, is dusty and frail. But in my mind, I can dance and run. I can hear those precious sounds, the ones that never really seemed to matter. The ever-present hum of my refrigerator, the creak of the third step on the basement stairway, the soft, shy whisper of the early morning breeze.
In that place, memories are full-color, detailed and precise. In that bright world, young men gaze at me with respect, instead of that pitying stare they now favor. I can still walk the dog, mow the lawn. Mere years ago, those things were chores. Today, I would give my left foot—not that it does me much good in a wheelchair—to be yanked along by an excitable lab.
It is in this rosy, immortal world that I spend my days. I run marathons, read the newspaper, listen for hours to the harmony of the grinding garbage disposal and the whistling mailman.
When I am jolted out of this land of imagined senses, the harshness of reality eats at me. This gnawing beast devours my youth, the feeble remnants of life. Only in my haven am I safe. So there I stay, coloring with my grandchildren. I am able to see the lines I draw, hear their high-pitched babble.
The nurse thinks I’ve gone mad. “The lights are on,” she says to my son. “But no one’s home.”
Maybe I’m not home. It hurts too much.
When my family visits, I try. I give it all I have, but even for them, I cannot endure reality. In this created castle of solid food and mobile fingers, I spend my final days.
Sometimes, I wish I’d died long ago, when I didn’t know anything of pain and of forgetting. They say that the good die young. Why wasn’t I worthy? What did I do to deserve this pain? Wasn’t I good? I helped in the soup kitchen, took in a few stray puppies, donated to the church. But I must not have measured up.
Those last few days pass quickly. Now, even my imaginary world is fading. The vibrant colors are washed out, drifting towards shades of white. How appropriate.
And then there is nothing. I am surrounded by a vast plain of snowy blankness. For the most part, it is silent. Now and then, whispers—only the faintest whispers—penetrate the concrete wall. It is a prison now, this world of what once had been.
“He’s fading,” the nurse says, her voice a welcome distraction. “It won’t be long.”
I hope she is right. I am ready to let go.