Books·CBC Literary Prizes

"Adaptation" by Leslie A. Davidson

Leslie A. Davidson won the 2016 CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize for "Adaptation."
Leslie A. Davidson won the 2016 CBC Creative Nonfiction Prize for Adaptation. (Sarah Mickel)

He stops suddenly, just as we get to the bottom of the hill. I am relieved to be off the rocky trail. My left foot won't brace like it used to and I slide a lot. We are at a crossing point, just where the descending trail intersects the dirt path that runs along and above the river. I stop, too. The crows in the ponderosas explode into cacophonous flight. I wonder why. Do humans on the move seem more innocent to them than humans at rest? Did our abrupt stopping signal something ominous? I often wonder about crows. They are so cheeky and social. Tough. Confident. Everything I am not these days. I wonder what they know. As suddenly as he stopped, he starts again. He turns away from me, without a word or a glance, and begins to trot up the path, in the wrong direction.

I run to catch up, to get in front of him. A sincere smile is what I need. That and the perfect words.

"Where are you going, honey?" I ask.

"Home," he says and tries to brush past me.

I stand in his way.

"Going the wrong direction," I tell him brightly and then, heartened by the confusion in his eyes, I carry on.

I know I have to get this right the first time. Perhaps I shouldn't have brought him on such a long walk. I am not used to carrying a cellphone and once again have forgotten it. I don't have a plan for what I will do if he is determined to head upriver. If he decides to go I will have to go with him. I take silent inventory of the amount of water we have, the snacks, whether or not I packed my meds. I am not used to having to carry them everywhere. I just wanted to take advantage of a beautiful spring morning, to go for a walk. No one knows where we are. I think, I hope they will look for us here. It's a small town, everyone knows everyone. We often walk this way. Besides we won't be lost, we will just be going in the wrong direction.

"Look at the river, honey," I say. "See? It's flowing that way. It's going to town. It's going home, like us. See? Remember all those times in the canoe? We put in at 10 Mile and we pulled out at the park. We came this way. The river flows this way. We follow it home. Just like we always have."

I am not used to this. I am not used to living with his rapidly progressing dementia. I am not used to being the one in charge, the boss of both of us. I am not used to living with Parkinson's disease. I am not used to being shaken by tremors and slowed by unresponsive muscles. I am not used to relying on pills. I am not used to his spontaneous episodes of paranoia, his belief that though I look like his wife, I am not she. I am newly a stranger to myself and I hate being a stranger to him. I hate to not be trusted, to not be believed. The irony of it is I do lie to him. I sneak his medication into his juice at dinner. I tell him the library is closed sometimes when it isn't because I don't want him to go alone and he doesn't want me with him. The dementia literature tells me it's okay to do that. It's called "the therapeutic lie." I still feel guilty. I am not used to this.

"Remember that time we hit the rock and I went over the bow. That's just there, honey. Just there. I probably swam right past where we are now. The river would've taken me home if I hadn't been fished out. Let's go home. It's this way. Just like the river."

I see his struggle as I speak. His face flickers with memory and suspicion. Damn. I am losing this one, losing it to derailed synaptic conversations over which neither of us has any control. His face hardens. My panic rises.

Several months earlier my doppelganger moved into our lives, and out, and in, and out and in, again and again, until just the right dose of the right medication sent her packing... or so I had thought.

She introduced herself the first time, after a sweet, shared nap one dreary winter afternoon.

"Do you have a twin?" he asked politely.


I chuckled at both the question and the formality in his voice.

"You look just like my wife."


I did not know what to say when he asked why I was crying.

Days later an early morning phone call woke me. It was from a close friend. She told me not to worry.

"He's here," she said.

I hadn't even realized he was missing. He had driven our VW camper five miles up a winding rural highway on summer tires. He hadn't driven in months. I thought I had hidden all the keys.

"He's looking for you. There's a strange woman in your bed. That's what he told us. He's eating a muffin. We'll bring him home."

When he walked in the door, he looked at me with relief.

"There you are!"

He laughed and hugged me. We held on to each other for a long time. I could not help but weep.

"I am just so happy to see you," I told him by way of explanation. "I miss you when you're not here."

"I miss you, too."

That same week, we went to the movie. It was film club night. We always went to the movie on film club night. We had just settled into our seats when he grabbed his coat and bolted up the aisle. I followed him as soon as I could coax my reluctant left leg into action. He was heading off into the darkness on a bitter cold night, in search of me. Several good friends were just heading into the theatre.

"I need help," I begged. "Stop him."

I would do it all so differently if I could but we all did our best. None of us was used to this.

One friend gently restrained him, held him, spoke calmly. But even so his agitation increased. A 911 call, flashing lights, ambulance attendants, a police car, a tall young cop, and loving faces, bizarrely shining red then blue, shocked and sad - and, finally, a curtained room in our small hospital's emergency department. The doctor on call was a gentle man and a familiar face. I stayed out of sight but I listened. I had learned the knack of crying silently.

"You were pretty upset, I understand," the doctor said. "What persuaded you to finally get in the ambulance?"

"Did you see the size of that cop?"

That was what he said.

I learned the knack of laughing silently, too.

And now his stony look of contempt is such an unmistakable signal of where he is at, where we are at, a mile from home, alone by the river, while the crows squawk and flap above our heads. He cannot trust me but he looks a long time at the river and somehow finds a way to trust it. He turns and heads for home.

"Stay away from me!" he yells.

I jog up ahead and around several bends until I am sure I am well out of his sight. First I check for my Parkinson's pills. There are none. Yes, this really needs to work. I take my sunglasses off and I put my hat into my pack. I remove my sweatshirt and tie it around my waist. I make every change to my appearance that I can think of. I pace up and down by the side of the trail and wait for him. I take big breaths in and out. The crows are quieter. I guess they do prefer us on the move.

"There you are!" he calls in delight.

"Here I am!"

I walk to meet him. He takes my hand. He complains about the "other one."

"Oh her," I say. "She's not a problem. She's just not reliable."

"Not like you," he teases.

"Not like me."


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