on beginnings and endings and just-before-endings, on love and loss and cruises

There is a lovely couple on the cruise my parents and I are taking. They’re “jus’ folk,” a Scottish compliment that I translate to “regular people.” And as quirky as my parents and I are, my parents do not put on airs (and do not forget their roots), and we really feel more at home around jus’ folk, because that’s what we are.

We were randomly seated together at lunch, and while I’m pretty sure our politics wouldn’t align, when politics popped up in conversation (I swear I didn’t do it this time), the husband changed the subject, because we all seemed to like each other. They hail from Maryland like my parents, and they’ve driven an RV along the Pacific Coast Highway (and just barely lived to tell the tale) so they knew where I live. When we talked about how you can no longer walk up to Stonehenge and they said they saw a replica of Stonehenge in Texas, I told them I had seen a photo of Carhenge, a model of Stonehenge made out of rusted cars. They wanted to know where in America that might be, and not ironically. He’s ex-military; the military straightened him out he says and they agree it’s the best thing to happen to their son, too. He cracks dirty jokes that she pretends to be offended by.

They’re on this cruise for two months. They’re making memories in Greece, Turkey, Spain, Italy and across the Atlantic. They’re making memories for her, not for him.

“I have a condition called CRS,” he says, dying for you to ask what it stands for. If you pause too long, he’ll still crack, “Can’t Remember Shit.”

I haven’t observed it, but his memory is fast deteriorating, long before it should. The three of us chat in the shadow of a Greek fortress as my parents hike to the top. When she’s off ordering a coffee, he tells me, “Fortunately I’m happy by nature. There are times, sure, I go” he gestures a plane crash, “but mostly I’m a happy guy. I mean, I have mental issues–dyslexia, ADD, and this memory thing…but I basically wake up pretty happy and I’m grateful for that.” As she approaches, he says, “I forgot her name twice; she punched me for that!”

She says more seriously, “See, he says things like that, and it kills me. It’s affecting his confidence, and he talks about how he’s dumb. He has a specialist, and I told him, ‘You gotta help him with this. He’s so down on himself!’ And the guy says, ‘I could do a million things for him and he wouldn’t remember any of it at the end of the session.’ It really kills me that this is affecting his self-esteem so much. This man is such a good man.” He’s looking uncomfortable. I say they both seem to have picked winners. We change subjects to back pain (the reason I’m at the cafe and not on top of the fortress) and they tell me to stop by their cabin for an herbal topical lotion to relieve the pain when we hike Mount Olympus tomorrow. She has it with her now, but I’m wearing a dress, so we can’t apply it in public. “I could help you put it on in the bathroom,” she offers, then concedes, “but people would think we were up to something bad.”

“I’ll watch,” he offers. “I’ll take pictures! And sell ’em on the internet!” I reiterate an earlier joke that he should really come with a two drink minimum.

They don’t have to tell me that she’ll see him through this, that she will be with him as he forgets more and more and she holds the memories for both of them, until she’s the only one who remembers their lifelong love for one another. They don’t have to tell me that he knows this and is grateful right now while he is aware of it. They don’t have to tell me how hard it is already, while there are still more good days than bad, and they know it will keep getting harder. Instead they tell me of the things they do remember of their shared life–mostly about friends they’ve made cruising over the years and places they’ve been on purpose and by accident. And then they walk up the fortress side by side in the Greek midday sun.

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