This is the view Ralph and I have woken up to for over 25 years but no more. Although we don’t move for another two weeks, I took the mattress and box springs to Nola last week (so Rick will have a bed waiting for him when we arrive). For the last days here we are sleeping in our guest room in the antique double bed we slept in when we first married. A kind of poetic justice.
Waking to that view, though, was always my favorite thing about living on this farm I came to against my wishes; at times it was the only thing I liked about living here. Since there are no neighbors except a horse or two, we never bothered with curtains, and whatever the weather, sunny or cloudy or stormy, it was wonderful to sit in bed with a cup of coffee looking out.
Our bedroom always had a good view, but about 12 years ago, around the time we became empty nesters, we did some renovating and enlarged our span of windows. Afterwards Ralph and I went through a period of intense bird watching. We set up feeders outside the windows and armed our selves with bird-watching guides. Ralph made sure the feeders stayed filled. We had struggled in our marriage, particularly because we seemed to have few interests in common except our work and kids, but with the kids gone, we had more time before heading to work and the bird watching became a shared focus.
By the time Ralph was first diagnosed with MCI, evenings were when he functioned least well. We stopped hanging out together much once the dinner dishes were cleared. But mornings, he was sharper. I made a point always to be available from eight, when he woke up, til about nine. We’d bring each other coffee in bed—sometimes I made it but just as often he would—and spend an hour listening to NPR and talking about the view out the window. During that relaxed hour I would bring up subjects that might be harder to discuss other times of day. Ralph’s memory seemed better in the morning and he would converse with surprising clarity and even humor. Then around nine, he’d want his first cigarette and I’d start my day.
I’ve been telling myself we still have that schedule, but we don’t. I still wake up at sixish and read or do work. But now I have to force him to wake up, and although he goes to bed earlier and earlier, it’s getting harder and harder to get him going by eight. And even if I do, I end up drinking coffee alone because he goes to the porch to smoke as soon as he’s up. More than once lately, I’ve come home from a morning errand to find him still in his bathrobe on the porch as noon approaches.
This is a change that has crept up on us, but as I prepare us to move, I’m suddenly aware and worried that there are more changes I’ve been ignoring. A decrease in conversation, less care in how he’s dressed, a vacancy around his eyes. Tonight he seemed particularly out of it—even momentarily confused where to find the milk he always pours himself for dinner. I asked if something was wrong. He said he felt unwell, but when I pressed him, he said he didn’t ache or hurt, just felt “spacey.”
I want to think he was just having a moment due to the strain of the move. The truth I am afraid to face is that Ralph is accepting the move because he has withdrawn so deeply into himself. He gets tested next week so I guess I’ll find out then.
Meanwhile, what I already know is that Ralph has forgotten the birds and the view. Funny to think I’m the one who will miss them.