A Lasting Memory

Archie surprised me and took me to a lovely hotel for our 50th anniversary. First we met with Marvin the hotel manager, and he assured me that I’d enjoy my stay there. Then the hotel staff gave us a tour of the grounds, showing us all of the leisure activities they had available for us. I personally liked the pond. I knew I would enjoy watching the miniature waves caused by the breeze, rolling against the bank. The white, fluffy pollen that had fallen from the cottonwood trees floated aimlessly like the last few cheerios in a bowl of milk that seem to evade the spoon. I could just sit there, watching the ducks, letting my mind wander for hours.

            I remember that it was a cool evening with a gentle breeze that softly blew the curtains in the open window. Our hotel room was pitch black other than the path of light cleared by the moonlights footsteps pacing from the window, across the foot of the bed, to the door and back. That evening we had a lovely meal from the hotel’s room service. We danced to my favorite song, Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable”. It was the song we danced to at our wedding. Archie was never the best dancer, but he’s always been romantic, and I’d say that trumps coordination.

            I awoke suddenly and turned to put my arm around him, but he was gone. This wasn’t unusual. Archie had been wandering off a lot lately. They say that, at our age, the mind is the first thing to go, and I was beginning to wonder about his. One second we’d be at home or out shopping and the next second he’d be gone. I’d be standing there, all by myself, wondering where he’d gone. Wondering what I would do if I couldn’t find him. Scared to death of being alone. But he would always return and assure me that everything was all right. He would hold me close and stroke my once golden hair that had since turned a fine silver.

           As I rolled over and felt empty sheets where my husband should be, I opened my eyes and that’s when I saw the man’s figure. This was not my husband, No, not my Archie. I’d never seen this man before in my life. There he sat in a chair against the wall, between me and the door. My eyes were still adjusting to the light from the window that illuminated his silhouette. I couldn’t make out his distinct features. He was an outline. He was an opaque intruder, a stranger.

            “How are you feeling?” he asked me. Why would he ask me this? The question scared me as much as his presence. I was mortified. I shrunk into the bed and pulled the sheets right up under my nose. They were the only barrier between this crazy person and me. “Fine,” is all I could mutter. My muscles, limbs, and joints were frozen with fear. It was a chore in itself for my lungs to build up the energy necessary to breath, let alone speak.

            “That’s good, that’s good,” the man said. He sat with his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped, grinding them together so hard I thought he’d start wearing skin away. His head hung down and he rocked back and forth. He appeared to be very troubled. I had heard that there was a facility for people with such conditions somewhere in the area and I wondered if he was an escaped patient. My mind raced with no particular thought or focus. I wondered how I would escape or even if I could. I wondered what this man was thinking. Was he crazy or violent? But most of all, I wondered where Archie was and why now, of all times, he decided to wander off.

            I looked at the man, who was still staring at the floor and said, “Listen sir, I don’t know how you got in here or what you want, but my purse is on the dresser and my husband’s wallet is on the night stand unless he took it with him on his walk.” I thought that if he knew someone would be coming back to the room, he might get scared and hopefully leave. Neither happened.

            The man just stared at me. He stared right through me as if I wasn’t there, as if I were a mirage. Then he looked back down and began rocking again. At this point I had no idea what this deranged stranger was thinking, and I was also afraid that he’d already done something to Archie and was deciding what to do with me next. I looked around the room searching for any sign of a struggle but the room was in the same shape as it was before I fell asleep. “Have you seen my husband? Have you done something to him?” I asked.

            The man released a large sigh, but offered no response. He just kept looking down at the floor. It began to sound like he was crying. I wondered what tormented this man so much. “He must be crazy,” I thought to myself. He looked angry but sad at the same time. I almost felt sorry for the man, but my fear wouldn’t allow it. My instincts were geared towards self-preservation more than empathy for the intruder. Still, I didn’t know whether to scream for help or attempt  to comfort the man.

            I tried to sound calm and collected and said, “I know the man that runs this hotel…his name is Marvin and we’re very good friends. If I push this button on the phone he will send hotel security to check on me, and if they find you in here they will arrest you and throw you into jail. I’m sure you don’t want to go to jail do you?” The man looked at me with tears gathering in his eyes. His eyelids were like a dam about to brim over with the flowing water it impeded.

           By that point my eyes had nearly adjusted fully to the light. I squinted, trying to make out any details of the man through the darkness. But the only thing I could see was the light gleaming off of my husband’s watch which the man had already helped himself to. I wondered what other things he’d taken.  I could envision his pockets stuffed full of my jewelry, money, and any other valuable possessions that we’d forgotten to nail down.

            “You don’t want to go to jail do you?” I repeated.

            “No…No I don’t”, he finally replied.

            “Well then,” I said “I’ll make you a deal. You can keep my husband’s watch and whatever else you want to take and I won’t call for help, if you leave right now.”

            The man wiped his eyes dry and looked down at the watch that Archie had worn since before the war, the watch that was now coiled around this man’s wrist. I prayed that Archie was ok while at the same time cursing him that he wasn’t there with me. I was terrified that he would return and this man would try to hurt him. Back in his day, there wasn’t a man alive that could take on my Archie. He would’ve mopped the room’s tile floors with this guy. But now he’s 75, has arthritis, and a bad hip from a mortar fragment he was hit by on Peleliu, and quite often must use a cane to walk.

            By now the man had his arms crossed and was looking out the window, through the fluttering curtains. He looked both angry and confused, like a man who can’t find his car in a large parking lot. I could see the anger in his face growing as his eyes narrowed, his teeth gritted, and his nostrils flared. It appeared his temperament was increasingly unstable, so I decided I had to act, lunged for the phone and hit the emergency button. The phone began to ring and I could see a light just outside my door reflecting off the hotel’s hallway floor. I knew the phone went straight to security and then to Marvin. It was only a matter of time before someone would respond to my calls for help.

           The man got up from his chair and walked to the edge of the bed. I laid there with my eyes pacing back and forth, from him to the door, the door to him. He began to lean down towards me as if he were going to grab me. I flinched so hard that I fell off of my side of the bed. My back hurt a great deal, but I wasn’t going to lay there and let him hurt me, so I got to my feet as fast as I could.

            “Are you all right?” the man asked seeming almost worried. I couldn’t figure him out. One second he seemed sweet and innocent, the next he looked like he was going to punch a hole in the wall. “I’m fine,” I stammered as I backed into the corner, “now leave!” My heart was pounding so hard I was sure it sounded like someone knocking on the wall from the next room.  The man stood up straight, looked at me, and began to leave the room. He walked with a limp. I know those loony bins are hard to escape from. I wondered if he’d jumped out of a window and taken a hard fall.

            Just as his hand reached the door knob he paused. With his shoulders slumped and his head hanging down he said, “I’m sorry I scared you,” and walked out of the room. No more than 30 seconds after he left, a couple of the nice young security officers came to my room. They turned on the lights and radioed the office to turn off the emergency lights outside my room. I told them that a man had broken in and that if they hurried they could still catch him. They assured me that he wouldn’t get away and that I was safe. I told them that I didn’t know where my husband was and that I feared the man may have hurt him. I asked them to look for my husband and to tell him what had happened immediately. They promised me that they would and left the room.

            As they left, a few of the girls from the hospitality staff came in to make sure I was doing all right. I told them that I was still very frightened and worried for my husband, but that physically, I was fine. They gave me four different colored pills in a little white paper cup and some water. They told me that two of the pills were my regular dosage and two were to help calm me down and get me back to sleep. I was amazed at how good their staff was, knowing what my regular medication was. Archie must have told them. Those girls really are very nice; they bring me lunch and take me on lovely walks around the hotel grounds. Down by the pond and back up again, and between the shuffleboard and chess table areas. I’ve really enjoyed my stay here.

            So after I took my medicine, they tucked me in and assured me that they’d keep a close eye on me so that I’d feel safe, but I told them not to worry because I knew Archie would be back soon. Just before I fell asleep, I decided to close the window since it was beginning to get a bit chilly. As I sat up and looked through the bars on the window, I could see Marvin in the parking lot, speaking to the man who had just broken into my room. After a few minutes he shook the man’s hand and walked back inside the building as the man made his way towards the parking lot.

           I watched the man get into a station wagon and thought that it was odd that a person as distressed as him would be allowed to drive. I would bet money that he stole it. I was confused. Why wasn’t the man arrested? Why did Marvin go so easy on him after what he put me through?  He should have, at least, spent the night in jail. I planned to speak to Marvin about it the next morning but I must have forgotten.

             As the man drove out of the parking lot I noticed that the back hatch was tied down by a rope as if the lock had broken. I thought that this was odd because I could remember that Archie and I had owned a similar station wagon. Everything about it was run down, but Archie refused to get a new car because he wanted to save up for our retirement. The passenger side windshield wiper only went up half way and over the years it got to where I could barely see when it rained. The glove box was held closed with duct tape. The fabric from the roof was hanging in odd places and thumb tacks were the only thing holding it up. And the lock on the hatch had broken, and Archie had to tie it down with some rope.  It must have been a common defect in those models. I guess as things get older they just begin to break down.

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