Watching Butterflies

The other day was a beautiful day. 83° low humidity. Jill rightfully wanted to go out for a while. We started on a drive, ostensibly to Princeton. On the way, I mentioned that there is a nature park pretty close to home. She agreed to a walk, so we pulled into… Crystal Lake Park. With a mindful eye kept for Jason, we got out of the car and started our walk. We passed a sign notifying all that the park was closed dusk to dawn. Now I’m thinking “Great, vampires too.” There’s a nice paved walking jogging and biking path running through the woods, and since I didn’t have bug spray in the car, we decided to opt for that path as opposed to the ones that were just mowed spots along the woods and fields. Neither of us is in great shape, and I’m still recovering from knee replacement surgery, and walking with a cane. Moseying along, we find a shady spot with a wood railed fence overlooking a small ravine, so we stop to take a look. I’m mentioning something about wildlife when I noticed a beautiful dark butterfly. I pointed it out to Jill, and another one comes to view. Then another. Sometime between that and me running out of fingers to count with, Jill turns to me and asks “Do you have children?” For those of you that are lacking in knowledge of my present history, Jill has Alzheimer’s. And we’ve been together for close to 20 years. After answering, “No” and reflecting on being asked a question usually reserved for a first or second date by someone who once upon a time knew all about me… It’s so sad

Then I think about how things could be so very different. No ex wife, no ligation over alimony or child support. And the butterflies keep coming. Jill wants to go, so we amble back to the car. Jill, of course, wanders towards the wrong car, then gets in the driver’s seat of our car. It takes a little bit to coax her out and into the passenger’s side, and I ask if she knows that she can’t drive, she answers in the affirmative, with a mournful yes that breaks my heart a little bit more. She was so independent, creative and adventurous when we met.

After asking what felt like 57 times with no answer, I made an executive decision and headed for Princeton. Driving through town was very strange. I lived there 28 years ago, and we both spent a lot of time there back in the day. It was so, so different. What used to be here was gone or something else, over and over. Some of the old places were still there, but it was still a little surreal and sad. At the same time, there are a lot of happy and fond memories attached to the town. It reminded me of the butterflies and the changes they go through. I chose to take the longer more scenic route home after we decided not to take a walk. Meandering towards home, it occurs to me how Alzheimer’s is like a butterfly in reverse. You start with a beautiful creature and sadly watch as they retreat slowly into a cocoon, losing themselves and the things that made them enjoy life. It’s painful and frightening to have to stand by watching, knowing that there’s not much you can do. I can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like from the other side. Jill’s still aware that she’s losing herself, and she’s scared and confused a lot. She’s always telling me “I’ve got to figure out what’s going on…”

So I guess in a way, I’m always watching butterflies.

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