Abuela Marie Carmen
By Dan Brandle
Juan began to court Abuela Marie Carmen when she was 19 in a small Spanish village. “He was 31 then, 11 years older than I— fui la chica mas bonita en el país,” she would tell us. “Every man would cat call me like ‘tst tst tst chica Carmencita’— even Juan, but he was different.” They fell in love instantly and were wed. Even after her first child Fernanda was born the men still called to her but Juan did not worry: he knew the love they shared was eternal.
Fernanda grew up and found her own love; she and her husband eventually moved to the Spanish island of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Heartbroken, Juan took his wife and followed his daughter. He bought a house for the entire family just outside town which, after weeks of repairs, became the center of a beautiful family. Juan established himself in Santa Cruz de Tenerife through business and a developing social network, and his marriage only grew stronger. “Esto es Marie Carmen, la mujer mejor que queiro en el mundo (this is Marie Carmen, the woman I love most in the world),” he would say to all his friends and acquaintances when he introduced his wife. Life in Santa Cruz de Tenerife was copious, and the family aged well.
But Juan contracted Alzheimer’s disease later in his life and his memory slowly began to deteriorate; he was eventually confined to the house. The family watched as he began forget the location of rooms his hands had had built, forget his friends’ names, forget his daily routines. On one particularly bad day Juan was sitting in the armchair in which he spent most of his time. He stood up to walk outside and Marie Carmen asked him what he was doing. “I’m going out to milk the goats.” “But, why?” she asked. “Father told me.”
Eventually Juan spent every minute of every day in his armchair. He had forgotten almost everything he knew— everything except Abuela Marie Carmen. She spent days with him in an adjacent chair holding his hand. She would ask him the only question that he cared to answer: “Quien soy?” (Who am I?) Juan would always respond, “Eres Carmen, la mujer mejor que quiero en el mundo.” When he began to lose even his memory of Abuela he would hang on to the “Mmm,” knowing something belonged after, and Marie Carmen would remind him: “Marie Carmen.” His eyes would light up and he would blurt, “la mujer mejor que quiero en el mundo.” Juan and Marie Carmen spent all of their time together holding hands, quietly remembering the only thing that mattered.
Abuela Marie Carmen was next to Juan when he began to die. He knew none of his family members, he had forgotten his entire life, but his eyes lit up when he passed over her face. “Soy Marie Carmen,” she would say to him each time. “La mujer mejor que quiero en el mundo” were Juan’s last words.
© Dan Brandle