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What if I’ve forgotten the most important thing?
What if somewhere inside me there is a dark limbo
where all the truly important memories are
heaped and slowly turning into mud?”
~Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood


I walk straight past her when I enter the waiting room, instead approaching the man sitting in a wheelchair, a baseball cap lying flat in his lap. “Mr. Dougherty?”

He looks up from his lap, his eyes flickering down to my white coat and back up. “Hi, Doc, how are you?”

To my surprise, my mentor appears over my shoulder. “Jerry, how are you doing?” he asks warmly, reaching out to shake his hand.

“Well, I’m doing alright, Doc,” Jerry replies.

From somewhere behind us, she makes her presence known. “Remember Dr. Jennings, Jerry?”

I search for the source. Dark green wool and a nondescript wristwatch meet my gaze, followed by limpid blue eyes. She’s sitting on the edge of her chair, her torso angled towards Jerry, her back pressed awkwardly against the plastic armrests.


Dr. Jerry nods. “Ah, Cathy, good to see you again. Natasha, this is Jerry’s wife.”


As soon as we finish the introductions, Dr. Jennings asks us to accompany him to an exam room. Cathy moves behind Jerry’s wheelchair and grips the handles. “I’ll take him in.”


I’m unwinding the blood pressure cuff from Jerry’s arm when he says, in a lowered voice, “You’re beautiful, you know.” The comment startles me, but his lowered voice and intent gaze makes it clear that he’s speaking to me.

Reflexively, I glance at his wife to see if she heard. Cathy meets my eyes and shrugs, hands raised and palms turned upward. I’m not sure if the gesture is resigned or placating. My discomfort is overridden by relief at her complete lack of anger, either toward her husband or toward me.

“132/78, which is pretty normal,” I report, choosing to ignore his comment and move on as quickly as possible. I turn towards Cathy. “Has he been having any new symptoms since he moved to the ALF?” I ask her.

But Jerry does not like being set aside. “I fought in a war,” he announces loudly.

I turn back toward Jerry. “Were you in the Army? Or the Navy?”

Jerry blinks. “Well, you know… that’s a hard one.”

I turn back to Cathy to hear her response, feeling a bit like a yo-yo rebounding on a string. I feel like I should be focusing on Jerry, who is my patient, but Cathy is the only one who can answer my questions.

“The Navy,” Cathy answers. “It was the Korean War.”

“Ah, yes, that’s right,” Jerry murmurs. “Korea, that’s right. Big ships.”

“Did you fix the ships?”

“Yeah, I think so.” Jerry glances at his wife uncertainly, adding, “I drove them too. And fixed them. And uh…”

“He was a mechanic,” Cathy supplements. “Worked on the motors, I think.”

“Ah, I see. That must have been a tough job.” I place my hand on the doorknob, feeling slightly relieved. “I have all the information I need, so I’ll be back in with Dr. Jennings in a few moments.”


Cathy is talking with Kate, the secretary who has known her and Jerry since they started seeing Dr. Jennings a few years ago, when tears start to well up in her eyes.

From across the office, I have to do a double take, but Kate is much quicker on the draw, immediately rising to her feet to grab the tissue box and offering it to Cathy.

Still unsure of what’s going on, I hurry over and place my arm around her as she buries her head in the crook of her elbow on the counter.

“He doesn’t remember anything,” she says as she lifts her head up, rubbing at her nose with one of Kate’s tissues. “It was our wedding anniversary yesterday.”

“Did you celebrate?” Kate asks.

“Yeah, I went over there, and the ALF made a cake for him,” Cathy says. “But he doesn’t remember.”

“Well, you have your beautiful children,” Kate says, patting Cathy’s hand. “You have to be strong now, Cathy. He provided for you guys for so many years; now it’s time to be strong for him.”

“No, I know. I know that. I never cry in front of him. Ever.” She rubs the last traces of tears off her cheeks with her hands, sniffing a few times. Her eyes are dry, her mouth a firm, thin line again. She turns her attention toward me suddenly. “Thanks, dear, I’m alright.” I take my arm off her shoulder and she stands a little straighter.

“Alright, so we’ll see you in April?” Kate concludes. At Cathy’s nod of acquiescence, she concludes, “Take care of yourself then, Cathy.”

A minute later, I spot Jerry’s baseball cap in the exam room. I grab it and run out to the waiting room. Cathy’s pushing Jerry’s wheelchair toward the door when I catch them, handing over the cap. Jerry runs his fingers repetitively over the white embroidery on the front of the cap, which spells NAVY, as I say goodbye again to Cathy.

As they move through the doorway into the bitter January evening, Jerry leans out of the wheelchair, peering around the torso of his wife to look back at me. “Beautiful,” he shouts over his shoulder. “Just beautiful!”  ■

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