The Razor’s Edge between Fear and Freedom


The call came just after 6 on a dark and stormy evening.  A friend was supposed to pick up J and take her to dinner because I had a number of work-related stops.  But J was nowhere to be found.

We live in a lovely neighborhood that is close to some pretty rough blocks, so I was understandably concerned.  As I immediately headed home (with someone else driving), I called J’s cell phone.  No response.  I called and emailed the friend.  No response.  I called and emailed the student who lives with us.  No response.  I didn’t panic, but I did consider calling the police.  I was 20 minutes from our house, so I decided to wait and scope out the situation when I got there.  If J was still missing, 911 was my next call.

I opened the door to a very wet J.  “Where could you possibly have been?  I was worried out of my mind.”  J looked wounded, “I went to the Rite Aid to get milk.”  “Why didn’t you take your phone?”  No response.

There were so many things wrong with this scenario.  Number one, there was an unopened half gallon of milk in the refrigerator.  Number two, who goes to a pharmacy for milk?  And a pharmacy on a sketchy commercial street in the dark and the rain.  Number three, no phone, but I’m used to that.  Number four, the Post-it I left on the refrigerator that morning clearly said J would be picked up for dinner at 6.

This is not the first and surely will not be the last time J has disappeared.  Once she took a train downtown on her own to see a Christmas light show.   At least she took her phone that time.  Recently, she went downtown without telling anyone to buy new shoes.

She came home from each of these jaunts entirely pleased with herself.  She has the same happy aura on days when she takes herself to a program at the local Alzheimer’s Association office.

As far as I can tell, J doesn’t lose her bearings when she is going somewhere familiar like the local pharmacy, the Alzheimer’s Association, or even the closest department store.  And so I have come to accept that the best course, for now, is to revel in J’s independence — and to pray that she’s wearing her Safe Return necklace and has taken her phone.  I simply can’t let my fears keep J from enjoying doing things on her own while she still can.  So what if I develop a few new gray hairs as a result?

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