Crisp air swirled around us as we strolled arm and arm in his back yard. Kicking up yellow and brown leaves as we went, I positioned my hand higher to give him more balance. This is good, I thought. He needs fresh air.
At long last fall had wrestled control of the days away from summer, not a small feat in the south. He stopped to pull his sweater tighter around himself. “I wonder what the flags are for,” he said fastening a black button and pondering the little yellow flags waving near the back edge of the yard.
Leaves crunched behind us as a little black and white fuzzy torpedo came running up with a ball. I picked up the toy lain at my feet, and gave my father the simplest answer that I could, “The landscapers put the flags there.” Tossing the red ball as far as I could, Bunny, the shih-tzu torpedo, took off with her tail high in the air.
“When were landscapers here?” He never remembered.
We had gone over this several times, but the cardiac arrest had left him with some brain damage. Now there where huge gaps in his memory, and often times my visits were spent filling in those gaps. Usually, the holes were monumental: who I was, where he lived, what had happened to him. Today he simply wanted to know about the flags again.
“They came when you were in the hospital, Pop.”
“When was I in the hospital?” Bunny danced around his legs for attention. I picked her up.
“Late September through most of October.” The little dog squirmed and wiggled in my arms.
“Oh. I don’t remember any of that.” He always said that.
“I know. It’s probably better that way.”
“I guess so.” He patted Bunny on the head as I reminded him about the cardiac arrest and the CCU. When I explained about his pace-maker and defibrillator he touched his chest, feeling the lump that was about the size of a deck of cards. “I wondered what that was.”
“You’re the bionic man now.” He looked amused. It was better to keep things light, otherwise he became overwhelmed.
Bunny begged for attention and he took her from my arms. “I haven’t seen Wolfgang today. He must be under the bed.”
I considered ignoring that observation, only to decide that the truth was best. “Wolfgang passed away, Pop.”
Pain crossed his face. “I didn’t know that.”
I told him gently, “Yes, you did. You’ve just forgotten.”
His occupational therapist had said that repetition was the key. She said eventually it would start to sink in. I sure hoped that was true. It was excruciating seeing him discover over and over who was still here and who had passed on.
“It doesn’t seem like I can remember anything.”
“That’s a side-effect from the cardiac arrest,” I said trying to reassure him.
Stroking Bunny’s ears, he asked, “When did Wolfgang die?”
“In August.” Just over a month before the event that changed his life.
“Where is he?”
“You buried him, and then you planted a daffodil to remind us.”
“I did? Where?”
I pointed to the spot in the yard. “Over there. Where the little yellow flags are.”
He walked towards them, setting Bunny down as he went. She followed. Stopping in front of the flags, he took in the prospect.
“The landscapers didn’t want to upset his grave, so they marked it.”
“That’s thoughtful. He was a good dog.”
I tucked my hand under his arm again. “Yes he was.”
He grinned. “One time he stole a loaf of bread off the counter top. Reached right up and pulled it down with his teeth.” Funny the things that did come back to him.
Smiling, I added, “But he put the half-eaten loaf in Rusty’s bed to hide the evidence.”
“Rusty,” he gasped. He had forgotten about Rusty. “So, Rusty is gone too?” That was a good assumption. If Wolfgang was gone, then Rusty, who was older, must be gone too. Sometimes his reasoning skills worked.
“Yes, two years now.” I walked to the other side of the flower bed and pointed to more little yellow flags. “He’s over here.” Bunny tromped through the garden, unaware of her predecessors.
“And that must be Teddy,” he said pointing to another set of flags.
“Yes.” Pleased that he had figured that out, and that there were no tears today, I considered that maybe somewhere in his sub-conscious it was sinking in.
My mom and I could have taken the flags down weeks ago, but we didn’t. Perhaps, we wanted to remember too.
“You know,” he said turning to me with a twinkle in his eye. “I don’t think you’re allowed to have a pet cemetery in the city.” That he remembered.