When it was time to renew his driver's license, Tom couldn't pass the written test. They took his license away, which meant he was basically alone in Topanga with no way in or out. The fire department gave him his own fire extinguisher; in case of conflagration, he was to cover himself with foam. More and more, his wife's job took her away from home.
At an Alzheimer’s support group—I only heard this—she complained of her husband’s violence. Over dozens of phone calls, my daughters and I came to the same conclusion: "But that's just Tom! If she can't stand the heat she should get out of the kitchen!" By that time, actually, she'd more or less gotten out of the house altogether.
I was alone, too. My beloved partner of 28 years had died. One night, I called.
"It's Carolyn, Tom. Do you remember me?"
"Yeah," he said in his familiar, endearing, forever cranky voice. "What do you want?"
We talked that night about our children, our parents, our childhoods, our long, crazy trips across Mexico. There were plenty of things he did remember. "One thing I've always been lucky in is my women," he said. "I've had three great wives."
"We had a lot of fun," I said.
"And I'm sorry I had such a bad temper!"
"I'm proud of you," he said. "I'm proud of us." Then he began to cry.
This afternoon, barreling along the road from Valparaiso to Santiago, our tour bus slammed into a car. The young woman driver died instantly. She'd been eating; her mouth was full of jam. I'll call Tom when I get home, just to talk—even if he won't remember—on the theory that life is short, brutal, dangerous, but unbearably sweet. I'll call just to hear his voice again, as we both skid along our own iffy roads toward inevitable oblivion.