She was sorting her pills at the porch table when I came in. We had JoAnne as our new visiting helper (three days a week, all we could afford) and though I’d told JoAnne to keep the pill boxes up and out of the way, she had found them and was sorting the pills. Probably for the second or third time today. All the yellow pills went into the MON section; all the pink ones went into the TUE section; and so on. JoAnne (or me, more likely me, it always seemed to be me) would later get the proper pills into the proper days. She took great joy in sorting and organizing, and always had, even back before; now, the reason for organizing was gone, and the logic of organizing had vanished with her dark hair, but the drive to organize remained. Maybe JoAnne just wanted her to enjoy herself.
Maybe I hadn’t told JoAnne about hiding the pill boxes. I thought I had. Well, I meant to.
Maybe this was a sign. We always took our signs seriously, we said. I pulled out my own little container of red pills. There were 20 of them, according to the label. More than enough, from what I’d read on the Internet.
“How we doing today, honey?” I asked her, pulling up my chair next to her. She smiled at me (oh, I love that smile!) and held up her box of pills to show me how she’d sorted them so neatly. More and more, she was showing me things instead of telling me. Once she used to chatter enough for both of us. Now she recognized that words she wanted would drift out of reach, taunting her, brushing against her tongue without sticking. It was easier to show and point.
“Flowers sure do look pretty today!” We gazed together into our back yard, where the new spring flowers were making the shift from crocus to daffodils to the first tulips. Our man-made stream meandered down the back bank, making noise and a few bubbles as it tumbled over boulders and stones, only to vanish into a flat of rocks at the bottom so it could all be pumped up again. We had landscaped our back yard in 2017 as our “pre-retirement home” to enjoy before we went into the real retirement home; by now, we were supposed to be winding things up to move to St. Anne’s on the other side of the river. But she had the stroke just two years after officially retiring, and her dementia seemed to just happen overnight, looking back. Our funds could cover assisted living, but not memory care, and the nice lady at St. Anne’s was apologetic and sweet but very adamant.
And then I started to lose my mind as well. It’s an awful thing, to drift in and out of intelligence. The red pills might be my last chance. Well… it was a pretty day. And I seemed to be able to form a plan. Best time to carry it out, then.
I needed some of her pills, the… yellow? I had looked it up last week, looked it up again yesterday, checked this morning. I should have written it down. I looked it up again, opened my notes app, and wrote down the pill description. I saved the note, checked to be sure it saved, and saw another note time-stamped that morning. Same thing. Another note the day before. Same thing.
Well, we take our signs seriously.
“Sure do love you LOTS, honey!” I told her as I got up and kissed the top of her head. She beamed up at me and said, “Uh huh!” She used to say, “Love you lots, too, honey!” It was our standard term of endearment, in person and emails and texts, but she hadn’t said it to me in… well, I think there were colored leaves on the ground when it happened. I couldn’t really do time measurement any more, not without checking my phone five times.
I went into the kitchen, nuked some water to boiling, and make up two mugs of hot chocolate, underfilled. I added generous helpings of peppermint schnapps, 120 proof.
Ingredient #1: alcohol. And she always liked peppermint hot chocolate.
Ingredient #2: the red pills. Anti-anxiety meds. Marketed as Sorbitol™. (Or was that something else? Never mind, not important, and these were generic, anyway.) Stirred them in with a spoon, about ten in each mug, and made sure they’d dissolved. Then some of her yellow pills (one or two were enough, but I used ten each of those) and all three ingredients were ready.
Did we have whipped cream? I checked the fridge. Out. Doofus. I added it to the grocery list for next time, caught myself, almost crossed it out, then didn’t. Whatever.
I took the two mugs (without whipped cream) to the porch and put one in front of her. She took a sip and grinned at me (oh, I love that smile!) and exclaimed, “Pep-mint!”
I smiled back. “Peppermint and chocolate, that’s right, honey!” I could taste the pill-bitter in mine, but she didn’t seem to notice. Maybe she thought it was the schnapps.
We held hands, and sipped, and I talked about the flowers that had come up, and other ones I’d planted in the fall that would be coming soon. She put her head on my shoulder occasionally, then picked it up again to sip her chocolate. I monitored the level in her mug to make sure she didn’t get too far ahead of me.
She shivered. I got up to close the windows around the porch, leaving one open a few inches to let the sound of the water come through. “Cold, honey?” She nodded. “Okay, let’s put you in your chair with your blanket.” I helped her over to her chair, just a few feet away, still with a great view of the back. Her legs were unsteady, and I could feel mine start to get that way also. I sat her down, tucked her blanket around her, and kissed her forehead.
I sat down in my chair next to her and took her hand. The lights in the garden and around and in the stream came on as the sky darkened. She was staring, entranced, like she always was, even back when she was the complete woman I’d fallen in love with. Stayed in love with. Never stopped loving, even when she wasn’t there anymore. “Th’nku furnice day, h’ney,” slurring my words like my sugars were crashing. Maybe they were. Nobody cared.
I squeezed her hand. Concentrated. “Sure do love you LOTS, Debster!” Clear as a bell.
“Sure do love you lots, too, Jackster,” she whispered. And we slept.