I never thought that she would forget. All the memories, all the good times, gone from her mind. Dementia takes everything away from you, until you have nothing left.
I’m Donivan Steffarman, and I’m your ordinary 16 year-old. Muscular build, gel filled brown hair, and sharp green eyes. I like football, nachos, gym class, all the typical teenage boy stuff. But I’ve gone through something that not many 16-year olds go through.
It all really started when she forgot my name. Sure, there were a few small mishaps before, forgetting to show up to appointments, constantly looking for her keys, wallet, and phone, but nothing has been as severe as forgetting my name. A small fraction of everything she would forget about me, but still a surprise as I walked into the living room one crisp, fall afternoon after a long, tiring day of football practice and school. That day was a good day, until the incident. I’ll never forget how my heart accelerated, how I felt after she spoke. This happened in the November months, so I was relieved to come in and warm up. I walked into the kitchen to fetch some apple cider from the fridge, and I saw a woman, sitting motionless on the couch.
“Hey mom,” I greeted her with a wave.
“Hello, Abraham,” She replied.
Abraham was my dad’s name. He was in the air force, and that was just one of the wonderful things he did. On July 29th, 2006, a United States fighter plane went down. None of them survived, and among those men was my father. I don’t remember how she told me, I just recall being so confused as she tried to explain it all to me in between muffled cries. I still have wonderful memories of the two of us doing everything together. I remember his wide smile, his big green eyes, and strawberry blond hair. It’s never been the same since that day. Now, our family is incomplete. We’re missing a huge piece of the puzzle, and my mother and I’s relationship has never been the same as it once was.
I wasn’t very surprised at first when my mother called me by my father’s name, she’s always going on about how I look so much like him. After that though, she said something that made my heart beat faster.
“Abraham, could you please come sit with me? Tell me about work.” She asked, making no eye contact. They always used to talk together. She never really held on to the fact or pretend that he was alive.
“Mom,”I said softly. “I’m not daddy. I’m your son. Abraham is in the stars now, and that’s where he’ll stay, watching over us from heaven.”
She looked around at me. Her face looked pale, and blank. “I’m sorry, right, you’re my son? I can’t recall… your name.”
I never really knew much about Dementia until my mother was diagnosed with it the day of the incident. I didn’t show up to school the next day. I didn’t care what my football buddies would think of it, I knew I wasn’t going. It’s a big thing missing a football practice when you’re the very first Sophomore quarterback ever at your school, but I didn’t care about that. I care about my mother. Right after my mom’s last statement I raced up the fuzzy gray stairs to my bedroom. I dug in my Franklin Academy sweatshirt for my old-school flip phone and punched in my Grandma’s number. She answered immediately after the first ring.
“Hello Donovan! How are you honey? It is so great to receive a call from you! Sweet boy!” She chirped.
I cringed hearing myself get straight to the point, but this was urgent. “Grandma Sandy, Mom doesn’t know who I am. She’s talking about dad again, but it’s never been like this. She asked me who I was, she doesn’t know my name.” My voice started to break as I finished.
The other end of the line went silent. “I’ve noticed it too,” she whispered softly. “I’m coming right over honey, hang tight.”
“Okay,” I replied still in a daze from the recent events and hung up. I sat down in my bean bag chair and picked up my Lord of the Rings book, a paperback that I could never read outside the comfort of my home. Immediately after, I put the copy down and stared at the ceiling tiles above me. I thought. Deeply. I thought about dad, and how mom would be today if he was still by her side. She wouldn’t talk or think weirdly of him, and she would still have that smile on her face. I reassured myself everything was fine, everything would be alright, nothing was wrong. She probably is just tired. She has to just be tired.
I heard a knock on the door, and raced down the stairs to open it, knowing that it was Gram.
I greeted her as the front wooden door opened with a creak. “Hi Grandma Sandy,” I said shyly.
“Hey sweetie,” she answered and kissed me on the forehead, her short brown bob swinging as she reached up to deliver the peck.
“She’s in the living room,” I continued and we walked to find my mother, still sitting motionless on the sofa, mumbling things about my long dead father.
“Lesley, hon. It’s me, Mom. Let’s go do something together! I have a really fun place to take you!” Gram winked at me and I got the memo. My mother was going to a mental hospital.
“You aren’t my mother,” Mom replied. “You’re my Aunt Petunia.”
Now this was a new development. There are no Petunias in my family, and I have a complete family tree hanging over my nightstand in my room, and staring at my third creation everyday helps me remember each of my 31 cousins’ names.
“C’mon Lesley,” she urged. “Let’s go!”
“Ok, Auntie. Is he coming too?” She asked, looking at me.
“Yes,” I replied flatly, before my grandmother could answer for me. “I am coming too, Mom.” How could she just seem to emotionless looking at me? Her only child. I’ve never felt this heavy weight on my chest since my father’s passing finally sank in.
We then all got into my Grandma’s Cadillac, Silver Slick. Not really the most accurate depiction of her 27 year old rusty vehicle, but at least it has a nice ring to it. As we neared the San Diego mental hospital, my stomach lurched. I couldn’t help but think what her condition was. At the time, I really thought it wasn’t that bad, Just a minor brain issue, it could all be fixed, she would remember, she would always remember, and it would never happen again. I kept telling myself that. Over and over. I wish my optimism was enough.
We entered the hospital and Mom finally seemed to have caught on. “What are we doing here?” She asked sternly.
No one spoke a word. No one filled her in on the fact that she would be in a mental hospital. We all just kept walking to the desk. Grandma Sandy talked quietly with the secretary, and then took a seat next to me, and gripped my hand tightly. I felt a sense of protection from her warm grasp, but the moment didn’t last long enough.
“Lesley Steffarman,” A nurse called as she stepped out into the waiting room. She smiled as my grandmother and my mother got up.
“What’s the issue with her?” The nurse asked my mother.
“Actually, well, we’re here for my daughter..” My grandmother replied, an obviously fake smile spreading across her face as she motioned to my mom.
“Oh,” the nurse spoke, and her face flushed with embarrassment.
I watched people in their older years walk and roll past us. I felt an emotion I had not yet felt, shame. Ashamed that my mother, just a 48 year old woman, was in a mental hospital. What would my friends think? If everyone found out that my mom was in this state, my position could be in jeopardy. The thing about high school is that no one admits their weaknesses. Their fears. Their struggles. Who would I be without football? Without all the praise I got whenever I scored. I would feel empty.
Grandma and mom went back with the nurse, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact my mother was mentally ill. I just sat there in the black leather chair, and stared off into space. Thinking about what would come of the situation.
Grandma Sandy emerged from the endless room-filled hallway about an hour later with a grim expression on her face. My heart sank in my chest as I stood up, and took off my headphones as the short woman looked up at me.
“She’s been diagnosed with dementia. The doctors say they can help, and they will as much as they can but there is a chance that she might…,” her soft voice trailed off.
I understood. The woman who raised me from the beginning, could forget all of those memories with me as a small child, but not just that, all the memories of my father. Sharing laughs as we all walked to the ice cream parlor on a hot Summer day. Planting tulips in the Spring garden. Reading on the couch by the fire in the Winter. Sipping cider and playing card games on a cool Fall morning. All of it, gone.