To get right to the point, Cali's Colegio Bolivar is an amazing school. Anyone with the very good fortune to attend even one grade - from pre-kinder to 12th - is beyond lucky.
Today Dad, Dan, and I walk around the American school and as I sift through memories about good friends and teachers, the library and the gym, musicals and bake sales, I'm amazed all over again. Even as a child, I knew this was a special place, and it's more beautiful than ever. There's one thing they shouldn't have changed, though. The classrooms used to have only three walls, and they've added half-walls to the open side. I used to love looking outside at birds hopping along tree branches and at people walking along the center walkway, and those half-walls are really cutting down on some great distractions.
Over the years my memories of Colombia have seemed less and less believable, and that's why I'm so glad to come back to Cali. Fellow schoolmates, you aren't dreaming. It really is wonderful here.
We take the scenic route back to Mom and Dad's house, and Mom knows us and is glad to see us all. After a delicious lunch of fish, rice, plantains, and more lulo juice, siesta is in the air. I settle in beside Mom, who's napping already. I watch her and remember that horrible day, May 17, 2012, when Dad called and said Mom didn't know who he was. I visited as soon as I could, and found her moving puzzle pieces around a perpetually unfinished puzzle. She wanted to go to her mother's house.
A part of me understood her dementia but another very stubborn part could not accept it. I drove myself crazy trying to make Mom's words true, at least in the beginning, when she was so convinced herself. I've never felt like I had such a strong grasp on reality - Lord knows reality is overrated anyway - so maybe Mom was right. Only she wasn't. Her mother was long gone, her mother's house, too, and there were no hobos in her neighborhood.
When I drove home after that first horrible visit, south on I65 from Montgomery, my heart hurt so badly I could barely breathe. But then Olivia called to let me know she was home from school and was wondering when I'd get there. I took a deep breath and assured her I'd be home soon. I didn't tell her she had just saved me. She and Natalie and Chris needed me, and for them I wouldn't fall apart.
Now I look at Mom and touch her hand. She's gone to me, safe from any lasting heartache. She opens her eyes and smiles. "Hey, darlin'," she says, like she has a million times before.
P.S. Thank you to Jaami Clement Palacio, Sara Meneses, Carla Uribe, and Jennifer Tiffin for a lovely school visit! http://www.colegiobolivar.edu.co/website/index.php/en/