I have dreaded this day. And now it’s here.
I wanted to walk over there today, but my body wasn’t allowing me. I wanted to sit with her at her kitchen table one last time, but I can’t. And maybe she is too tired to sit with me today, she might be.
The storm that swept over here for the last two days has eased out. It’s sunny and kind of nice, and we might even have been sitting outside. The corner west of her front porch is leeward and could be warm even today, late September. That’s where we sat June 2008 when she had called, telling me Värner had died. Värner had just turned 98 and was her husband. He had been fragile for many years, living in a nursing home, and now it was time. Someone called her on the phone asking her if she was alone. No, she said, “I have a friend her.” Or more accurate “I have a pal here”. She is now 97 and I am 58. We are friends and pals.
Alida is my next door neighbor and has been here all my life. All my sons’ lives. All my mother’s life. And a great part of my grandmothers life. Alida is carrying every generation in her body, even the ones before my grandmother. And through the stories she will be carried in generations yet to come. Alida is my anchor. My anchor here at the end of the road. When she for some reason isn’t at the house, I feel like my backbone is gone. And now she will be moving. The time for a nursing home has come. And I don’t know what to do with myself.
There were good reasons believing this would be Alida’s last summer in her home, and my plan was to sit with her in her leeward corner every day. Enjoying her company. Take the few steps to her house, as I have since I was a little girl. Walk our mutual dirt road in the woods. Our road.
Alida’s body is brittle though, and this last year she fell over badly a number of times ending up at the hospital. Every time we were convinced this was the end, she wouldn’t be back, and maybe I wouldn’t see her again. But time after time she has amazed us with rising from the hospital bed, grabbing her stroller, and there she was again, taking her short walk between our houses. Time after time she has made me so happy. Coming back. My delicate anchor.
But a lot of this summer Alida spent in the hospital. And the times in between I have only had a few days when I could do the walk over there. And even when I could do the walk, I couldn’t sit. Only for a few minutes, and a few minutes isn’t enough for 97 and 58-year old pals.
So there has been a few times in Alida’s leeward corner where I have been standing next to her, leaning on my Nordic Walking sticks. Touching her fine hair. Caressing her soft and tanned cheek. I can’t bend over to give her a hug. But I can hold her close to me.
- Maria, what would you do if you weren’t in pain, she asked me at one of those occasions. She startled me. I took a deep breath, my eyes teared. They twirled, searching for a fix point.
- Live, I said. I would live. She nodded. I felt dizzy and staggered back home.
Alida was 91 first time my back crashed really bad. She picked up the mail for me and she came over to visit when I couldn’t. But mostly we have been sitting at her kitchen table having tea and biscuits in the dark winter afternoons going through her obituary collection, talking about life and death. She was a lonely widow and most of her friends long gone, I was grieving my family life. Although she has been my anchor, I know she has felt safe knowing I have been in the house next door.
This last year though, Alida hasn’t been lonely. Last fall her grand daughter Josephine moved in with her baby daughter and two horses. Suddenly there was a lot of life at my next door neighbors again! Josephine has been taking care of Alida in the best way possible and I know Alida has been enjoying every minute of it, feeling very fortunate and loved. But although Josephine would have wanted for Alida to not ever have to move, it finally came to a breaking point where she needs constant attention. And that’s where we are now. At the breaking point.
I have this thing. I need closure, no matter what it is. Weirdly, even bad things. I guess it is a severe form of separation anxiety. And now I have to part from Alida.
Being friends with people in their nineties, you know it can happen any day. All the years I was commuting between Seattle and my Swedish village I was happy every time I got back, finding Värner and Alida still being here. I have a beautiful B&W photo portray of Värner which I shot knowing it needed to be done, I would never have forgiven myself if I hadn’t.
Summer 2011 I took out my old Rolleiflex and seated Alida in the late evening light for the same purpose. Then of course I have never been able to go in to the dark room for developing those pictures, the film roll is still in my fridge, but I think it is safe there. And the year after I placed Alida in front of my video camera and asked her to tell her story. The story of her life.
2012 was a crappy summer weather wise. Documenting Alida was my mission, but weeks and months passed, rainy and windy. Finally there was one evening, nice, and the light perfect. Alida and I dressed her in a white blouse and that beautiful red sweater of hers. Her hair was curly from a new perm, and she was tanned as always, her dark complexion, so easily enhanced by the sun.
She started telling her story, and her eyes, shaded from glaucoma, came to life. Alida has been, and is still a very beautiful woman, glittering from the inside whenever she finds a reason for it. And here was a reason. I am so happy I found that evening. I am so happy her story will be here even when she is not.Alida will be moving away from her home this week. She will be moving away from my everyday life this week. And I can’t wrap my head around it. I didn’t get to sit with her today, but maybe I will have one more chance before she leaves. I need to be present in the moment. Maybe having a last cup of tea together. I need my closure. We need our closure. The day so long dreaded is here, and I can’t wrap my head around it. My beloved Alida won’t be in the house next to mine anymore, and I don’t know what to do with myself.