She punches Mountainview Nursing Home in on the GPS. Her cell phone service is iffy and she can’t find a physical address. She isn’t even totally sure of the name. The last couple of weeks have been a blur, conducted on the phone with distant voices, or in whispers, with strangers who know so much more than she does. Her mother, small in the seat beside her can’t seem to tell her the way.
She is tired beyond tired. They are driving on the backside of the lake, and now beyond the lakeshore, into the space that is no longer New Hampshire vacationland. There are small strings of scruffy stores, a gas station at a cross road, many farmhouses sinking into themselves, trailer homes with lean-tos attached. Occasionally her mother says “that’s where I get gardening supplies”, or “Dad and I sometimes stop there for a sandwich and coffee.” So it isn’t the wasteland it seems, perhaps, being familiar to her mother though her parents moved here only 3 years ago. “That’s where I got paper goods and my craft supplies!” she points with a little more vigor. There is an excitement attached to that shopping trip apparently, that had seemed missing in every conversation, and in any sense of their new lives that Grace had managed to gather. Her parents have been a mystery to her since they so suddenly packed up and moved here, living first in one house she had never had a chance to visit before selling and moving to another. The GPS points it’s long line to the distance, somewhere towards The Presidentials, which she sees with their snowy heads floating and commanding, in the way of a large mountain range rising out of the flatland. Then her mother says, quietly, looking at a road that points into the woods, “That’s where we turn.”
The GPS does not agree, and Grace, not knowing what to trust, says, “Should we just keep on a bit and see?”, and her mother, who has retreated before every decision hard made these last few weeks is silent, absent again. The wide, mostly empty highway seems as barren of promise as the moment when she realizes that the GPS too is just punting, and there can be no road where it has suggested, now that she is up high enough to see the vast swaths of forest that slope upwards and away.
“It doesn’t usually take so long.” Her mother sounds peevish.
Grace is suddenly struck by the question of whether a place of memories is more painful than one that is not, now that she can see the long scramble to hide from the blankness of dementia. Then they had thought it was her father, whom they are going to see now, who was running from confusion.
She turns the car around, and at the corner into the woods that apparently is the right turn, the correct turn, she remembers keeping herself awake in the back of the station wagon, decades ago, and quite nearby, on their way to cousins in the White Mountains now at her back. They had never been there before, and coming from flat pre-Cambrian Canada, the mountains seemed alive, and restless in the dark. While her father slept in the front seat, her siblings in back, she had hung over the driver’s seat, watching for signs. She who will never trust her mother’s judgement, terrified that she will lose them all irredeemably, watching, as if it might ever be clear when the losing started.