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park benches
Today I’m going to lie to you.

The lie doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to Walter who doesn’t speak English and to Regina, his translator. The man has problems with dementia. Not his dementia, Regina says, but his problem. It's the patients at his center, a retirement home in the German countryside. Walter is the director.

Escapes happen. They’ve found women wandering in deep black forests and in the produce isles of grocery stores. The nurses go crazy, Regina says, “wondering where is the persona and why did she go. This is something we all know about.” And Regina explains that even her grandfather once got hypothermia waiting for a bus to Harvard in his longjohns for 4 hours and Regina’s father told her that everything was going to have to change. Her grandfather needed a place for himself. A place with locks.

“Some people just have to be locked in. It’s horrible,” Regina says over Walter’s raspy German.

Walter’s friend had an idea one day and Walter called the man crazy. I don’t remember the friend’s name. It was very German and very hard to pronounce and Regina asked that I restrain myself from trying if I couldn’t do it properly.

The friend built a bus stop for Walter’s locked in patients. It was beautiful and perfect with yellow signs and an iron bench and the nurses could see it from the front desk of Walter’s center. Even the healthy neighbors were very excited and would wait at the bus stop until the nurses came and shooed them away. No busses were coming. “The bus is always the first step into the wide world. People always reach bus stops when they wander. But it’s a bus to nowhere!” Walter is excited and Regina imps the tone. At first they thought it wasn’t tasteful. They thought it wouldn’t fool anyone but they were mostly wrong.

Anyway this fake bus stop helped the patients and suddenly Walter all the staff began to remove some of the locks. The first lady to sit at the bus stop said needed to get home home home very quickly because it was late and her mother would be worried. She sat. Walter sat with her. The bus didn’t’ come. They sat side by side until they went back and had some tea. Regina says the mood at the bus stop is always dark and urgent. They need to go quick quick quick. Until it simply fades and the urgency gives way to the cloudiness of the present time, no longer the past time. There was a baker and before nurses would bolt his bedroom door at 2 am every morning to stop him from wandering into the kitchen. Now they let him make the bread for the day and he is happy and he is proud and the bread is good.

Walter says when the past disappears it’s like another thought comes up and you forget what you wanted just like fish coming up to the surface of a lake and then going down again and disappearing. Thoughts come up and then they disappear and you don’t know that they have ever been there. The patients have forgotten so much that now they need to just keep forgetting so they can be calm and they can be quiet and that’s not nice to say but it just is. Regina says “This isn’t their world. What should we do? Tie them down? Why not just allow that other world to be true until it’s gone. Lead them very gently into today.”

I told you this story because when I lie to you I want to know that once I told you the truth. I want to know that somewhere in a hidden part of your mind this story lives and that little bit of you knows why I lie and knows what I mean and knows who I am and knows.

So today your mother is in the kitchen. She’s making turkey soup for us. It’s just after thanksgiving and she’s boiling the bones. I’m your sister, not your granddaughter. You’re far too young for granddaughters, of course. No, no, momma can’t come to you. She can’t leave those boiling bones or they’ll burn. Can’t you smell the thyme? Didn’t we just pick it yesterday? Just hold my hand, it’s alright. It’s alright. Shh. Please. It’s alright. The pain is almost finished. It’ll stop soon. Our mother is coming. She’ll be here soon. Shh. If you close your eyes the pain will stop. I won’t leave you. I know how to help. I won’t leave. Just be patient. Just remember Jesus loves you. Just hold my hand. Just think about Jesus. Let’s sing Go Tell It On the Mountain. That will make you feel better. Mom is in the kitchen and Pop’s at work in the general store and he’s got a box of strawberries and after dinner we’ll go to the store and he’ll let us each have two strawberries and when he’s not looking we’ll sneak a penny candy from the glass jar and save it until right before bed so we can fall asleep with sugar dissolving on our tongues. Shh it’s ok to sleep now. I won’t leave. I’ll be here. I’ll stay for everything. I’m not afraid, you don’t need to be afraid either. Momma’s coming. If you go to sleep, she’ll be here when you open your eyes. I won’t leave.


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