As if anyone could ever beat time
It was diagnosed about five years ago when our first granddaughter was born. How funny, he told me when we were taking care of her, it should be the grandchildren who don’t remember the grandparents, not the other way around. But despite everything, he was holding up well. The doctor recommended some memory exercises. The neural networks, she told us, the important thing is that the networks remain strong. She told us that he could do everything from small things, like crossword puzzles, to something more complicated, like learning a language or an instrument. What instrument am I going to be learning at this age, he asked me. Why don’t you go back to playing the piano? I suggested. Because he played a bit when he was a teenager when we met, and he had a very nice heritage piano that was used as decoration in the room. At first, he didn’t want to, but the doctor and I convinced him. And who is going to teach me? he asked. So, I asked some friends for a piano teacher who gave classes to older people. I know one, Alicia told me, and she’s good and very patient. At first, he tired quickly and was not very enthusiastic. It’s a waste of time, he told me, if my memory is still fine. But despite this, he reviewed his lessons every day for his class of the week. I always encouraged him, one because the doctor had recommended that to me, but also because I liked to see him motivated by something. Then came the third year, when the disease began to be more noticeable. In the mornings it took him longer to get ready, sometimes I saw him reading the newspaper and later he couldn’t remember what news he was looking for, he forgot the names of our friends, the days of consultation… Of course, we realized it, but we didn’t say anything. Not even between us. It was as if we believed that ignoring it would make it go away. But time was imposing on our hope. As if anyone had ever been able to beat time. By the fourth year, the gaps were normal, and the periods of the crisis were frequent. There were days when he didn’t even wash. Except on Thursdays. On Thursdays, he always got up earlier and asked me to help him take a bath. After the third year, he recognized me less and less, and by the fourth, I was no longer his wife but his nurse. At first, it hurt me, and even I complained about it. But I began to realize that it wasn’t his fault. He wouldn’t have wanted that to happen. And surely all of this hurt him more than me, more than us, although nobody realized it. So, I got used to it, you know? I did not see it as the end but as the beginning of something new. Little by little he stopped calling me by the nicknames we gave each other and started calling me by my name. But he also became kinder. He told me things about when he had been young, about how we had met, about our children… One of the last clear memories I had was the birth of our first granddaughter, who was already in kindergarten. Our granddaughter and piano lessons, that was the only thing he remembered. The piano teacher. And yes, I had already realized… Of course, it hadn’t been from the beginning, but since he began to forget about me. And I think she noticed it too. The enthusiasm when reviewing his lessons, the eagerness with which he wanted to get ready for classes, how well he treated her… She realized it and felt bad. She even stopped going for two weeks saying that she no longer had time. But I searched for her and told her it was okay; it wasn’t her fault. She wasn’t a bad woman, you know? She was married and had children. She was a nice lady. She took care of herself, she dressed well, and she was very sober. It’s just that I’m afraid he’s starting to confuse things, she told me. He has Alzheimer’s, of course, he confuses things, I told her, but he likes piano lessons and he likes that you are his teacher. It’s just that I feel bad about how you look at me when I am here, she told me. She was ashamed, but she had no reason for it. And I explained to her. I told her it wasn’t her fault, nor mine or anyone else’s. As long as he doesn’t go too far with you or make you uncomfortable, I’d like you to keep coming to the house, I said. And the following week she came back. He was happy again. On Thursdays, he asked me to put a nice jacket on him and choose his best shirt. He asked me to shave him and it was the only day he didn’t fight against taking a bath. You know, today I’m going to see her, he told me, and I want to look good. The first few times I couldn’t help but cry as I got him ready. Of course, I felt hurt. But, as I had told her, it was no one’s fault. Little by little I began to feel happy for him. Happy because he was happy. Even if it was to see someone else. And so, little by little, I stopped being the nurse to become a friend. Of course, the boys didn’t understand, they even scolded me for letting it happen. How is it possible that you let those things pass? You are hurting yourself, they told me. I didn’t argue with them. I also understood how they felt. But, you know, I was happy. Because they didn’t hear him cry at night, nor did they see his frustration, his rage, when he woke up in the middle of the night from nightmares and wet the bed. They didn’t see him fighting with himself because he couldn’t solve crossword puzzles or cry when he looked at photo albums. And within all that, seeing him smile for a single day, even if it was to see another person, was enough for me. One day around Christmas he asked me to buy a rose for her. I bought her a bouquet; It was small, but it was well done. It was from me too; I was also grateful. But while I was getting him ready, I noticed he was distracted, and absent. I asked if everything was okay. Yes, yes, he told me. I asked if he was nervous about giving her the bouquet. A little, he replied. I told him he didn’t have to be like this. That she was a very pretty lady and that she would surely like flowers. Then he grabbed my hands and stared at me like he hadn’t in years. She is pretty, but you are beautiful, he told me and kissed my hands. Your husband must be the luckiest man in the world, he told me, and a tear came to his eyes. He is the best man I know, I told him and kissed him. Then we hugged until the bell rang.
In 2012 he won the Pablo Neruda award with the collection of poems Jazzologías and was a finalist for the XLIII National Short Story Prize Franz Tamayo. It was selected by the European Union as part of the anthology Bolivia sub-35: Narrativas emergentes for his storybook Dos botellas más cerca de la muerte and is part of the anthology Boundless 2022: The anthology of the Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival. He also published stories, poems and reports.