The Dancer

His hands are on the wheel, his foot is on the accelerator, but I am driving the car Even with his dementia—or perhaps because of it—my husband will not relinquish the car keys. They are the first things in his pocket in the morning and the last things placed on the night table at bedtime. Therefore, although he is unaware of what road we are on, what state we are in or even the day of the week, he is the one who keeps the car moving forward. He knows only that we are heading for California to spend the winter there because he wants to play golf, and in Pennsylvania, where we live, the courses are covered with snow.

As we passed through Oklahoma the weatherman on the radio announced an impending blizzard, and advised all vehicles to get off the road.

“Look how wonderful this is,” Herb exclaimed, noticing the highway empty of traffic except for an occasional truck probably rushing to complete a delivery. “We can make great time this way,” he chuckled as the windshield wipers clacked frantically to brush away the swirling snow. Meanwhile, the car with its rear wheel drive slid along the road, occasionally skidding sideways but not meeting any obstacles.

“Please, please let’s stop!” I cried. “This is so dangerous. We can find motels anywhere along this part of the route.” The words echoed in the car but did not register in his irrational mind.

“ff we drive past the city limits there won’t be any place to stop for a hundred miles,” I pleaded. “Oklahoma City is a great area. Let’s stay here overnight and see the city hall. the guidebook says there’s an oil well on the lawn. Wouldn’t you like to see that? Please s Snowflakes danced on the windshield. The car kept moving forward.

“I read that the famous ballet artist, Maria Tallchief, came from this area. There are lots of Native Americans around here and there’s a big portrait of her in the city hall. Let’s stop here and see it tomorrow morning before we leave,” I coaxed, hoping he’d remember how much he loved anything to do with dancing. “Anyway, it’s getting dark, the road is icy and we have got to get off the highway.” Wet white stars silently kissed the glass in front of us. The car kept moving forward.

“One of the great places to eat along Route 40 is in Oklahoma City,” I cajoled. “They serve a buffet on the hood of an old-model Cadillac and you sit in car seats at the tables. It’s right near a good motel, and we can stay there overnight.” Glistening and blanketing the windows the snow fell relentlessly. The car kept moving forward.

I began to get panicky, thinking he might drive all night, into the darkness and—worse—that our luck at avoiding an accident on the icy road might not last much longer.

Suddenly I reached behind the seat, grabbed a blue plastic covered container and held it up so Herb could see it.

“When you have to pee,” I said waving the jug in his face, “you use this in an emergency. Well, I have to pee, and I can’t use this bottle. You’ve got to stop so I can go to a bathroom. We’ll get off the road at the next exit. Now turn into the exit lane right here!” I demanded. The snow crunched and the car kept moving forward, this time at last leading us off the highway.

We found the motel three blocks from the exit. The restaurant, as advertised, was nearby, just down the street. Surprisingly, even with the inclement weather, there were many cars in the parking lot. While we sat in the lounge, our beverages rested on a table only a foot high, and we drank them through yard-long straws. Then, as he often did whenever he heard music, Herb got up and began to dance —alone, but not for long. A pretty, slim, blonde twenty something joined him, and they twisted and reeled breathlessly around the room. When the music stopped she threw her aims around him and laughingly exclaimed, “Thank you. You’re a terrific dancer. That was such fun.”‘ And turning to me she smiled and said, “You’re so lucky.”

Ruth Levitt, a public health nurse, has retired to care for her ill husband.  She now facilitates an Alzheimer’s Support Group.