Friday, June 18, 2010
Not long ago on our daily walk from the front door to the letterbox, my two-year-old and I bumped into our next door neighbour collecting her mail at the same time. Our neighbour is her late 70s. She and her husband are from Portugal and have lived in their house for 47 years. Their two children grew up here and in the five years we have lived next door their backyard has always been filled with the noise of grandchildren, extended family and friends.
They have created a second kitchen in the garage, the driveway capturing much of the sun, and they live most of their lives outside. The smells coming from her garage have always been appetising and we know when big dinners are planned as the smell of onions and garlic frying starts in the early afternoon.
We’ve not had much to do with this couple, lots of waves and smiles in the street and every Easter and Christmas our neighbour will bring over a freshly made plate of churros. Lately I had noticed their garage and driveway had been very quiet. It had been a while since I’d listened to laughter and garbled Portuguese voices from over the fence.
‘Hello darlink’, she said to me from her letterbox on this particular day. She tickled my son under his chin with her manicured hands, nails painted bright red. ‘Beautiful baby’, she cooed.
‘How are you?’ I asked, ‘Lovely day.’ Our conversations rarely strayed beyond the weather or the children as her English was quite broken and my Portuguese was, well, non-existent.
‘Not good, not good. My husband, he no good.’ She looked up at me shaking her head. ‘It’s very bad, very bad, this alzheimer’s thing.’ She put her hands inside the front pocket of her apron and sighed.
I had no idea he was unwell, although I remembered recently turning into our driveway to see him wandering down towards our front door only then to see his wife lead him away, berating him in Portuguese. I thought he looked bewildered but I hadn’t realised the extent of his condition.
‘I’m so sorry,’ I began, ‘that must be really hard for you.’
She smiled and took my son’s hand, ‘no, it’s hard for him. He doesn’t recognise his own son anymore. He sees our baby and says “who is this man?” “I don’t know this man” and I say “What do you mean? It’s your own son!”’ She picks the mail out of her mailbox, ‘He still remember me because I love him so much. Every day I keep holding his hand and telling him how much I love him.’
She grabbed my hand as she told me this and looked at me fiercely, ‘I tell him everyday how much I love him so he won’t forget being loved. But today no good, no good at all, he is very confused.’ She looked up to her house and shook her head again.
‘Is he still living at home?’
She nodded and looked at me, her eyes wet. ‘Fifty-seven years we been married. Fifty-seven years!’ she rolled her eyes skyward as though she herself could not believe how much time had passed. ‘Fifty-seven years and that man has never given me a day of trouble.’ She was crying now. ‘Not one day of trouble’. She wiped her eyes while still holding her rolled up Coles supermarket catalogue and assortment of envelopes.
‘I’m so sorry’, I said again feebly, trying to absorb the magnitude of losing a lifelong partner so slowly and painfully. I wanted to ask her over for a cup of tea or give her a hug but she was already wandering back up her driveway.
‘I must get back to him’, she said to me over her shoulder, ‘bye darlink.’