I am only here for today, so that she can leave the apartment. She has an appointment with a lawyer, it’s time to talk about next steps for her husband. He has cancer and Alzheimer’s, he’s fallen three times this month alone. “I just don’t have the strength for this part,” she tells me. She’s talking about physical strength, or maybe not.

She’s neat as a pin, buttoned into a crisp blouse and cardigan. She sits, spine straight, hands folded in her lap. She apologizes for the cat, who winds himself in needy figure eights around my ankles, and tells me to make myself comfortable. Her husband will likely sleep the whole time. “He sleeps a lot these days,” she says.

She bustles around his bed, introduces me to him (“Hi, honey”), asks if he needs a drink, re-arranges his pillow.

They live in a retirement community, a building for seniors but without the staff of a care facility. There is a button on the wall above his head, I ask if it’s for emergencies. She shakes her head. “Best to just call my phone,” she says.

While she’s gone, I sit on the couch. The apartment is tiny: one small room that is living area and kitchen combined, an adjacent room that is bedroom and bath. Her husband lies in the type of bed I’ve become familiar with, all metal railings and origami mattress folds. A television blats above his head, he fumbles with the remote and lands on a game show. He snores for a while, then startles the daylights out of me by loudly exclaiming, “OH boy. OH boy.”

“Everything okay? Can I get you anything?” I call, hovering in the doorway.

He smiles at me, blurry and tired. “I’m fine, honey.”

There are no books in the living room, no radio, no TV. It’s quiet in an airless sort of way, like being inside a stoppered bottle. I try to imagine how she spends her time. I can’t shake the image of her sitting in the recliner and absently stroking the cat, then getting back up to check on him. The carpet worn smooth from this singular path.

From the bedroom: “OH boy!”

What I would like is to keep coming back, so that she can leave. Go have lunch with her daughter, maybe, or just sit outside and feel the sun on her face. I tell her that, say she doesn’t even have to call hospice, she can just call me. She’s polite, and thanks me, but I know I won’t hear from her. She just needed to get to this appointment. The rest of the time, she’s doing what she can for him.

I want to wave a magic wand for this couple, fix the financial trap that has left her as sole caregiver, undo the heartbreak and confusion and the need for such steely resolve, breathe some life back into this home. I want assurances, that this will not happen to the people I love, that it will not happen to me. But none of it is within my influence or understanding, and I am only here for today.

I went to Glacier National Park a few times as a kid, and I have so many wonderful memories of those trips. The waterfalls on Going-to-the-Sun road, hand-feeding the ground squirrels, hiking to Avalanche Lake, skipping rocks in front of Lake McDonald lodge. That place was paradise in my mind, just pure beauty and Disney-like nature and good times with family — until I read Night of the Grizzlies.

Night of the Grizzlies is an old-ass nonfiction book that details a specific night in 1967 when two girls were savagely, and separately, killed by grizzly bears in Glacier. It has been a very long time since I read it, but I seem to remember the details were quite vivid, down to a description of the “sucking wounds” one girl had, where when she tried to breathe air was drawn into her chest from the areas she was mauled. I think she was the one who lay mutilated in the dark for hours before someone found her and she eventually died, the other girl was grabbed in her sleeping bag and shrieked that her arm was being torn off before crying, “Oh my god, I’m dead.”

Lord. Anyway, that book made quite an impression on me. Suddenly those peaceful Glacier trails seemed fraught with heart-pounding danger, bears hidden behind every bush and tree stump, and even when I went back and visited as an adult, I frenziedly rang a bear bell wherever I went like a deranged Salvation Army volunteer.

This summer we are planning to stay a few nights on Flathead Lake in Montana, and make a day trip to Glacier with the boys. I’d been excitedly telling them about all the cool things we’ll see, and suddenly I found myself saying, “There is this book you guys should TOTALLY read …”

And, like, I meant it! I was completely sincere in my suggestion that my 10 and 12-year-old children should read this book that scared the absolute shit out of me when I was their age, right before our visit so they too could be properly transported, imagination-wise, from “This is an awful thing that happened to some other person,” to “This is an awful thing that could theoretically happen to me RIGHT ON THIS TRAIL TODAY.”

Now that I write this all out I am kind of shocked at myself: why? Why would I want them to be freaked out in the same way I was? And why is this some sort of recurring theme, because I also rented Poltergeist for us a couple years back, even though the storm-counting scene remains lodged some trembling recess of my brain to this very day.

I think, for both of these scenarios, that there was a kind of thrill and excitement to the fear, and that was mixed into the scariness in a way I actually liked, even though I was filled with anxiety. Does that make any kind of sense? At least, when I really examine my motivations for suggesting the book, I am thinking of how I read it, consumed it, and how alive and real it all became in my mind. I guess that is the sort of thing I actually want them to experience: being swept up in a story, real or otherwise, and having that story expanded in a visceral way by the real world of thunderclaps and wooded trails.

However. No guarantee that my thrill won’t be their eventual therapy need, so never mind on Night of the Grizzlies. Ooh, but maybe we should watch Something Wicked This Way Comes … shouldn’t EVERY child be forever scarred by that spider scene?

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