© Copyright 2012 by Isabel Bearman Bucher
2012 Travel Nonfiction Winner
Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash
Lewy Body Dementia.
Thirty-three years gone without my knowledge, or permission.
People’s voices echo in my ransacked head. I smile and thank them, pushing polite, memorized tapes, but inside, I answer truly.
“How are you Isabel?”
“Fine. What am I supposed to tell you?”
“Mom, you’re not eating right. How much weight have you lost?”
“I taught you how to eat. Skinny is good for the heart.”
“Time? What time? Time does not exist anymore, because who I am now does not make
“You will be all right because you are so strong.”
“I am not strong. I want to scream, and fall down and die. And, I can’t cry! What’s wrong with me!”
“I does not, you dope!”
“You are a model for us all.”
“Model? I look like I’m a hundred years old. Feel it.”
“I don’t know how you did it.”
“I did what I did, 24/7 for him, until at the end. I sat on the floor of the care home I finally had to choose, to keep him safe and comfortable - to keep me from dying. We played with Tinker Toys. He was in Mensa, for God sakes. I watched, helpless, as he unknitted himself.
“It’s a blessing.”
“A blessing? Two no longer equals one? Being one stinks. It isn’t a blessing. It should have never happened.”
I lie on my bed, arm over eyes, unable to cry – everything just stays in held by the elephant sitting on my chest.
Waiting in a bank line, where I always am, because I’ve got so much financial business I hardly ever understand, I take out my pen and write on a slip of paper.
In my grief
I go back to all my griefs
Tatters blowing in the wind, pasted to a broken heart
Grief - you bastard
You ball of wool
You slip out of my hands
Roll across the floor
I run after you
Gathering you, winding you with fumbling fingers ...
“Oh, you pity fisher, you,” I whisper to myself, “you anointed queen of sighs and groans,” thinking of my Dad who was wont to quote Shakespeare to me when I couldn’t get my head out of my navel.
“Hello, Ms. Bucher. And how are you today,” says the smiling young teller. “What can I do for you?”
I think of several answers that are not charitable, and just smile, following it with the latest banking bailiwick.
Later that day, I make a decision.
“Hello girls? I’m going north,” I hear myself saying into each of my daughters’ fancy phones. Busy, they have huge jobs that create so much stress. It’s the youth way of life now. “Not to worry, I’m taking Maisie, and my sleeping bags. I’m putting mine inside Poppert’s. I’ve got my coffee pot, food. I’ll be fine. I’m turning off my phone. I’ll call you later. I need to do this.” The little Subaru eats black tarmac, pointing into Northern New Mexico, always my place of places, always where my heart lives. I hear Glen Campbell singing - Albuquerque’s fingers loosen, relinquish their grip, and the giant blue sky, painted with Tony Hillerman’s hundred foot clouds, take me to it.
“I am a lineman for the county, and I drive the main road,” I’m humming, and then break into a loud voice “Searchin’ in the sun for another overload.”
“Who just did that?” I ask with a deep chuckle. “Good thing I don’t sing for a living.
I’m wandering around trying for the melody and the lines. Glen has Alzheimer’s, and I’m so sad about this, like when I lost John Denver.
“I hear you singin’ in the wire ...And I need you more than want you...”
I’m ending the song in a choked whisper, “And the Wichita lineman is still on the lineeeeee ...”
“Get it together Isabel, and drive!” I hiss. Maisie turns her eyes on me, leaving her sentinel post out the passenger window.
Lavender far-away mountains break the immensity. I blow my nose in my sleeve, and leave myself, wandering my long-ago landscape, picking up stones I dropped in that far-away past - the should-have-done’s, the bucket lists, the possibles and the probables - the desires.
I cut off onto #599, avoiding Santa Fe, so congested now. I’m heading towards Espanola, and just before the low-rider capital of the US, I take a dog-leg right at the sign that points to the high road to Taos. I stop by the side of the road, to buy green chili from the sellers, with truck beds loaded with the green pods. It’s the fall New Mexico thing this – the roasted green chili obsession. They turn a bushel for me in their wire cages, fired by gas cylinders. That smell makes my mouth water, and all of a sudden, I’m begging for just one to just eat straight up. The guy hands me an 8 incher , with a toothy grin. I put Maisie on a lead for a quick pit stop, enjoying the heat of the pod, and she does her usual a sniff and pee routine, ending in a renewing drink of water for us both. With thanks, and a wave out the window, I’m on my way, moving into the land of poco tiempo, smelling the roasted New Mexico elixir of fall filling the car.
My heart grows light, then takes wing. I’m going right at the fork, instead of left, towards Chimayo, the popular tourist place of faith where people take dirt hoping for a healing miracle. I’m taking the road less traveled. Red cliffs, sculpted for hundreds of years by wind, rain and sun stand stunning in the distance, as the road narrows and I’m going behind time, at last. Names like Cundiyo, El Valle, Llano Largo, drift by, not even on any sort of regulation map. I’m winding down, around and up, passing through time warps into places that have etched their history in adobe mud since the 1500's. Then, Conversos, hidden Jews, were running away then, from Mexico City, carrying with them their need for anonymity, secrecy and suspicion. Once again, the Inquisition hand of Madrid, bedecked in red sleeves and golden rings, is giving the order to either convert or die - and don’t forget - give me the money you made in all your business dealings in Mexico City for a hundred years. They ran north, and hid themselves in the folds of Northern New Mexico, always looking over their shoulders, always suspicious.
Four hundred years passed. They mostly forgot their roots, except sometimes Stars of Davids ended up chiseled on tombstones buried a foot below in the rich ground, their top parts embedded with Catholic crosses. Their genes now tell of their connection to Northern European Judaism and their Spanish goes back to the 1500's. Ancient brown-walled adobes drown in the sea of sunflowers; metal roofs are glinting under a warm sun. Morning Glories climb trellises. Deep set windows frame potted geraniums. Agone churches strike the center pose, re-mudded yearly by the village, ministered to by traveling priests. The mountain patriarchs soar into view. Residents walk the dirt paths. They’re tall, befreckled, looking down at you from the very same long noses painted by Goya in the mid 1700's. Sometimes red hair and yellow eyes find you, always with that ingrained suspicion. I wave and talk the talk in that Northern New Mexico wandering cadence, a mix of Spanish and English. Horses clop, unconcerned, on the road ahead, and stick their heads in my window, hoping for a treat. Maisie goes bizerk. They just sniff, unperturbed, and go back to their business of taking up the whole road.
I’m climbing an outback rocky primitive track now, thinking whether the little Subaru will make it, worrying about a dead end, then, I opt for taking a chance. It’s winding me high above miles of green, stream-strung meadows. Below, contented cows and sheep raise their heads. Wild mustard stitches the road with a bright yellow and green border. I’m passing old hippie places - the ones who came in the 60's, like Janice Joplin and Charles Manson, but these never left. They’ve built geodesic domes, and, as the need for space arose, connected them together. They still attach log splitters to their ancient truck engines. They survived in simplicity, giving new meanings to the “créme-de-la créme hoarders,” TV shows have thankfully missed. And, may it always be so. Old Buick Flowmasters are painted with brilliant and outrageous murals speaking of resistance and refusal to knuckle down to the system. Carvings rise 20 feet. Winged creatures and totems strike defiant against the blue. There’s no Walmart here, no McDonalds; red chili strings hang outside from hand carved vigas.
I’m breathing now. My lungs are filling with this pure air of no time. I’m letting go.
“Honey! Do you see this!”
I’m talking to Robert, and catch myself, thinking I’m getting wonkey.
“To heck with it. Honey,” I continue. “Did you see that old Buick?”
The road narrows, then pitches steeply down to a pastoral, storybook place. There’s shade, it’s green, there’s a stream. Nobody, nothing, nada is around. It’s only me and Maisie, the birds, the breeze, and the beauty. I pull off, park, and wander down. Maisie is reading the dog edition of the New York Times on every bush, every tree, every blade of grass. How dogs have that much pee to keep writing their names, is beyond me.
“Here’s home, little girl,” I say. “Just you and me and Robert.”
I unload my sleeping bags and ground cloth, my little backpacking stove, and the five gallons of water I always carry, setting up home base by the merry creek. Then, we take a slow ramble. The sun begins to sink as it’s done forever on this earth. Back home, I prop myself up against a spruce, and look up, feeling my heart break once again.
“Where are you! Why did you leave me! Why! It should have been me! I am so alone. I can’t do this by myself! I hate you Robert! I really do!”
“Good evening Sweet,” I hear. He’s come up silently behind me, like he always has. I lean my head on his shoulder, remember his smell.
“Come to me,” the out-here calls.
“There’s so much I wish I’d told you.”
“Come to me, the out-here calls.
“I am so sorry I took so much for granted. I never thought anything would change.”
“Come to me,” the out-here calls.
The tears are rolling down my face, onto my jacket; I cry and wipe my nose on my sleeve. I eat my stuff and feed Maisie, and I cry. Everything foodie gets closed up and locked in the car. I crawl into the Isabel bag inside the Robert bag, and blow my nose on the bags because it’s a flood now, and I can’t stop. I am enfolded in the warmth, the velvet dark, struck with a billion stars. Maisie sleeps next to me in her bed, under her blanket. Knowing I’ll never sleep, night winks, then takes me to dreamland giving the sleep of the dead.
First light opens my eyes, feeling the vista blur with more tears. The mountains look like pressed cardboard propped up against a silver sky. The song of the Hermit Thrush Norteños call the “Bird with the Bleeding Throat,” trills its cadence downward, and is answered by another, then another. I breathe, crawl out into the chill and light my stove, filling my esteemed espresso pot. I take my sleeping bag pad, click it into its chair position, when I smell the caffé robusto bubbling into my cup. Sweet with honey, I snuggle streamside into the chair, rock back and cover myself and Maisie with the folds of the bags. The morning is filled with music, a throbbing, a call to life so insistent, so desperate.
“Robert? Are you there?” I whisper, throat closing, and hurting. “It’s me, Isabel.
I hear only the stream.
My hands warm around the steaming mug. “Robert? Are you there? I hurt so much.”
I hear only the stream.
Then, morning touches it. The white ribbon takes one gigantic breath and blazes to life, now a white wedding veil, sparkling with a trillion diamonds. Night and day trade their jewels.
“Hoarder,” I whisper, choking and sniffing. “Always got to have your sparkles, don’t you now.”
Everything around me becomes a great symphony, is a thousand voices, is one great organ chord. My heart swells and overflows, breaking from the beauty of it all. My tears join the diamonds.
“Life goes on,’ Stream says.
“I’m tired,” I say.
“Breathe. I will refresh you.”
“My Robert died.”
“Did you love him?”
“Oh, yes, so much.”
“That is all you can do. There is nothing else in life. He is where he needs to be. Comfort the children.”
“I am empty.”
“I will fill you.”
“I am so alone.”
“Do you see that I am alone, I flow alone? Do you see within me, there is so much?”
“I am heavy with worry.”
“I will carry you along to a place of hope.”
“Everything I knew is gone.”
“Is there beauty in every place you see in me?
“Yes, so much.”
“Keep looking. Did you see me before today? Give me your tears.”
“I thought I had.”
“Am I not forever changing?”
“I don’t want to change. I want what I had!”
“Change is here. Always. It is the only constant of this universe. Give me your tears.”
“I have so many troubles.”
“I tumble over the rocks and move forward.”
“It’s such a struggle.”
“Do you see how I go around everything and flow on ...look into me. Every place that sparkles is a life, your life, Robert’s life, all life. All the sparkling makes one great ribbon of life, beginning and becoming.”
“I can’t. I’m so broken.”
“I have prepared this place for you. It has been waiting. There are those who are caretakers of places of great beauty, because they have loved them above all else, with such a great love, the places heal all who come to them. This is such a place. Partake.”
“Be brave. Join my force. Give me your tears. We will move together as one.”
Clouds cover the rising sun, and instantly, the stream turns to shadow, then, when the sun emerges, it’s again, a brilliant wedding veil. Shadow. Light. Shadow. Light. Tears. Laughter. Change.
“Breathe,” Stream says. “Live on. Give me your tears. ”
Something is swelling through my soul, sweeping me away. I cascade over rocks, pulse through dark places, swirl and twist over logs, under bridges, by adobes, through New Mexico valleys, ever onward into infinity, becoming a part of always. Stream flows in me; I flow in Stream. Robert. I. One. Peace. Everything is a part of everything, now and forever.
The sun rises. This day has begun, one of millions, one of only one. This valley, this place, this sky, these mountains gather me unto it.
“Be of comfort Stream says. I am with you. Stream’s voice fades to Robert’s. ”
“Hi honey girls. Three-way call is it? Yes, I’m OK. I’m on my way home. I’ll tell you later. I love you both...
So much.”On January 11th, 2012, 40 minutes after his death at 5:30 AM, Robert C. Bucher's brain was taken and donated to the University of New Mexico Neuroscience Department, where dozens of slides were then analyzed and studied. Because he had such clear and differentiated representations of both Lewy Body and Alzheimer's conditions, the slides are now a part of almost every class at the medical school. Robert lives on, helping untangle the mysteries of these tragic conditions. Isabel has found peace in this.
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