Fiction - 35mm

Published on 1 May 2023 at 13:42

*For our fiction assignment I wrote an older couple's story of love and loss through a diagnosis of Alzheimers* 


Laine finished unpacking old cardboard boxes. She shuffled their contents, made piles to donate, throw away, and one for mementos from the kids’ childhood. The last glimmer of sunlight whispered through the clouds and into her garage. It was a warm July day, nearly ten months since Hugh passed. Her long gray hair laid down her back, held out of her eyes by a knit headband that complimented her flowy floral dress. This was the first time Laine could bring herself to get some work done around the house.  She figured it was time to organize some old belongings, in case her time happened to come soon. Her grief had altered her concept of time, each day now she spent wondering how many she had left, a paralyzing anxiety of her time-ending, rather than living each day to its fullest.   


Amongst the piles she’d had created, her old 35mm Nikon film camera sat. After her dad gave it to her for her 21stbirthday, she carried that thing everywhere, strapped right around her neck.  That camera captured the happiest moments of her life, though years had passed since she’d last seen it. One of the kids must’ve put it out, must’ve seen it laying around and didn’t want to bring up any fragile memories, they had been big on sparing her feelings ever since High had gotten sick. A small coating of dust covered the camera, but she wound the lever and realized there was still a roll of film left inside.  As she finished packing the boxes and walking them up the creaky garage attic stairs, she slid the small 35mm camera into her pocket.  She’d look into that later.  


It was May of 1978, Laine and her friend Marjorie were nearing one of the first major stops on the Pacific Crest Trail, Idyllwild, when the ran into a dapper young man.  His backpack resembled a moss green, his boots color was already nearly unidentifiable due to the dust and dirt.  He introduced himself as Hugh from Stanley, Idaho, the girls, giddy to finally encounter someone besides themselves, hiked the last six miles to Idyllwild with him.   After a night spent warming up camp food and talking about what lead them there and where they were headed next, the girls parted ways from their newfound friends with hopes of reuniting somewhere further up past the Sierras.  Laine’s hopes a little higher than Marjorie’s. 


After weeks of conversations on the trail filled with Laine saying, “I really hope we run into Hugh again soon, I just felt a pull to him, I need to know more,” Marjorie would reply, “yeah, sure Laine, you just happened to meet the love of your life out here,” the girls did reunite with Hugh.  Their paces eventually lined up and they found themselves spending nearly every night at the same spots.  Marjorie would take the hint and at as the stars began to shine, she would crawl into her tent, leaving Laine and Hugh to talk until the late hours of the night.  “See you in the morning!” she would say as she gave a small wink to Laine as Hugh’s back was turned away from her.   


The nights under the stars lead to a deep connection between the two of them.  Their compatibility radiated and they didn’t know what they were going to do without each other when they reached Canada.  Laine had been born on a humid day in early August of 1953, under the sign of Leo, she was a hard worker, surefire, and had a creative knack in her brain.  Hugh was a mid-September Virgo, evening Laine out; he could bring her back down to earth in her moments of fiery passion, keep them organized.   


The dreaded day eventually came in October, the three of them, Marjorie, Laine, and Hugh, whom had become their additional team member, reached the Canadian border.    Laine  and Marjorie were headed back to Salt Lake City, UT, and Hugh off to Oregon.  The two love-birds had swapped information, and though they didn’t commit to being together, they decided to keep in contact and see where their paths lead them. There was a tearful goodbye, and then they parted ways.  Soon after that October day, they began to mail each other letters back and forth, each one of them checking their mailbox each day, not-so-patiently waiting to receive their next correspondence.  The letters were simple, yet important, keeping one another updated on their adventures, jobs, and other small details of their lives post-trail. 


My Dearest Laine,

I spent last week out on the Snake, the stars lit up the sky, and all I could think about was our path’s crossing again.  I hope all is well and that I will see you again soon. 

With love,



As the mail continued to flow in year after year, Laine worked local jobs guiding whitewater rafting or canyoneering journeys, and in her off time went to concerts, backpacked alpine lakes, and in the winter, skied.  At this point, the only constant in her life was her little 35mm, it was her and that camera against the world.


Hugh was living a similar life, he co-owned a guide company up on the Oregon coast, spending his off time with friends exploring, Laine’s camera to her was his guitar to him, always strumming any chance he got.  His letters often reminisced about their nights spent together and how no matter who he met, he had yet to meet someone that compared to her. 


Laine eventually made the trek to Oregon.  They spent three weeks back together, just like their time on the PCT; hiking, rafting, camping, and ended every night looking at the stars talking about life.


In August of ’81, Hugh and Laine’s closest family and friends all gathered at the river to celebrate their marriage.  Marjorie and Laine’s sisters wore sundresses and stood by her side as she wore a simple white dress she had sewn together.  Her and Hugh both stood barefoot in the center of everyone, grounded in their love of each other and the outdoors.  “Do you Laine, take Hugh—” “Stop!” Laine, said, “I don’t need any of the fancy words they tell you to say, I love Hugh and he will be mine forever, now let me just kiss my husband and celebrate”.  The crowd laughed, the two of them kissed.  They spent the night dancing as the insects chirped and the moon glistened over the water. 


They spent their first couple years together as any young couple would, living in a small studio apartment, working their guiding jobs, and at the end of the night they would often end up curled up on their second-hand tattered loveseat, eating bowls of cereal as they had always done, laughing and talking about life.  They saved their money to use on experiences, going to concerts, on trips to see places they had never been, or to visit their friends. 


Laine and Hugh had had a lovely life together.  Building a family had always been important to Laine, she had a tightly knit family growing up, and hoped to have the same in her future.  Hugh, though having had a rougher upbringing, longed to have children to give them the life that he felt he had missed out on.



Another box sat in the corner, Laine’s withered hands folded a small blue checkered jumper to set inside it.  Her mind fluttered, the jumper they had brought Adelaide home in all those years ago.  She always thought Adelaide would get to bring her first born home in it, but here she was, just a few years too late, finding it back somewhere she had sworn she would never forget about it.


It was Christmas of 1982 when Laine asked Hugh to go take a winter walk, they watched the snow flurries, “I can’t wait to turn these winter walks into a family event, and share our love of the outdoors with a mini-us, babe, I’m pregnant.” Hugh lifted her up and swirled her around,  the holiday joy was radiating.  The following fall, they welcomed their first sweet girl, Adelaide, followed by their first son Finn in winter of ‘84, and Opal in spring of ‘86.  They were the perfect five. 


Every weekend Laine and Hugh would gather the children, put them in some clothes, but shoes were never a necessity.  Saturdays were outdoor play-days.  Adelaide braided flowers into Laine’s hair, Hugh and Finn were always fishing in the creek, and Opal was doing cartwheels all throughout the grass.  It was their perfect afternoons, to connect them to each other, and to mother earth.  Laine and Hugh didn’t seem to put much of their life on hold once they became parents, instead they brought the children along with them.  During school breaks they would go on hiking trips, the kids learned to kayak all summer, and ski during the winters. As the kids grew older, Laine and Hugh began to see a lot of themselves within them. 


Adelaide, surefire like her mother, knew exactly what she wanted in life and wasn’t afraid to go for it.  She went off to Pitzer College, made great friends, got a strong education, met her husband and became an environmental engineer.  Finn, along with having an uncanny resemblance to his father, also followed in his footsteps, taking over his guiding business, and eventually settling down with his lovely wife.  Opal, a balanced mix of her two parents, met her wife in graduate school where she studied to get her degree in Journalism, spent her weekends backpacking, and her free time playing guitar like her dad had taught her. 


There wasn’t much to complain about, the kids all went off to school, but returned to the Pacific Northwest to grow their families.  Much like Hugh had done many years before, Adelaide and her husband took their parents on a Winter walk to tell them that they were going to be gradnparents for the first time.  Having squealing little ones join for another generation of Saturday play-days was one of their greatest joys.  They couldn’t ask for anything more. 


That was, until a somber morning in 2013, Hugh had gone in for a routine check-up, but he had started to notice some things that he wasn’t sure were just a side effect of old age or if there was an underlying cause.  Toward the end of his appointment, his doctor said they could just do some blood work to see if there was anything of concern.  A few days later, he got a call the doctor spoke slowly, “I’m sorry to tell you this, and over the phone nonetheless, but there are markers in your blood consistent with,” he paused, Hugh waited “Alzheimer’s,” the doctor continued.  “You can come in later this week, and we can discuss where to go from here.” “Thank you,” Hugh retorted and hung up the phone, Laine had heard it all, and began to break down.  The diagnosis was taxing on everyone, her especially. 


Seeing the love of her life slowly fade away was something she wouldn’t wish upon anyone. Small details slipped first, things that could’ve been passed off as anyone’s faulty memory.  Then it began to pick-up, they would be out to dinner with another couple and Laine would recall a movie they had watched earlier that week, Hugh regretfully had no idea what she was talking about.  Laine was able to stay strong, that was until he couldn’t even seem to remember their memories together.


Adelaide, Opal, and Finn helped as much as they could, but with their own families and jobs to tend to, a lot of the responsibilities fell onto Laine.  She also felt a nagging guilt of making her children see their dad in such a state, “no one should have to suffer through seeing someone they love in these conditions”, she would think to herself. 


As Laine spent her days caring for him, she found that one of her favorite ways to connect was by showing her old film photos.  Hugh sat next to her in his rocking chair, “this here was one of the first nights in our apartment”, she would say as she showed a picture of the two of them smiling with their bowls of cereal.  Next would come a photo she took of a “Trail Magic” on the PCT, where locals would set up stops to provide the hikers with free goodies.  “Look, that’s me, you, and Marjorie with the cookies they gave us out near Kennedy Meadows”.  Though he couldn’t pull the memories from his own brain, the photos instantly put a smile on his face. It was as if the pictures brought him right back to the moment, it gave a sense of normalcy.  


Being a caretaker was no easy task.  Laine gave up much of her independence to try to help Hugh, she lost a lot of relationships and her personal joys faded away, she would let the phone ring whenever anyone called.  “Laine, it’s me, Marjorie, I think it could be nice if we got lunch this week, Adelaide said she would come by and stay with Hugh, call me soon”, echoed through the house.  “Mom, I think you need to get out of the house, let’s set up a doctor’s appointment to see if you can get some help around here”, Finn would say each time she came over.  She wouldn’t allow herself to give up time with Hugh to go to lunch or make him stay with some care-taker who likely didn’t even know what she needed.  She couldn’t remember the last time she had done something, just for her, she even seemed to misplace the 35mm.


It was a November morning a year before she lost Hugh.  Laine made Hugh his morning coffee and then went upstairs to clean herself up. When she returned downstairs, she rounded the corner into their kitchen to find Hugh sitting in their breakfast nook.  The noise of her footsteps made him look up from his cup. 

He jumped in his seat “Who are you?! What are you doing here?” He yelped. 

Laine didn’t know what to say, her eyes welled up with tears, as she choked out “Hugh, it’s me, Laine”. 


That day was a turning point; there was not much more she could help with.  The one person who had always been there for her, who she shared so much of her life with, was slipping away, and there was nothing she could do about it.  The hospital suggested they hire a care-taker, so seven days a week, a lovely young woman named Missy would come and work with Hugh, Laine was hesitant at first to let this young, unknown girl come work in her home.  But eventually as she came around more often, Laine warmed to the idea and Missy’s help relieved a load of her stress.  She was having a hard enough time getting out of bed at this point, let alone full time taking care of her withering husband. 


Doctors and friends had consistently reminded Laine “When a loved one is sick, you will have to grieve them twice, once when they are first diagnosed, and again once they pass.” She didn’t want to hear it. Couldn’t they see she was already living her painful grief day to day?   


And yet, nothing could have prepared her for the misty October morning when her second wave of grief would begin.  Hugh hadn’t been himself for a while, more so recently.  He had been in hospice care at their home, and after a dinner with the kids and grandkids the previous night, his body continued to deteriorate.  In the morning, Laine woke up from her spot on the couch where she had been sleeping ever since Hugh’s hospital bed had been moved to the house.  She walked over to the family room where he laid, still, motionless.  He hadn’t made it to morning.  Her clammy hands grabbed his, she leaned down to kiss his forehead as her tears streamed down his face.  It took a few minutes before she could gather herself to call 911, and then the kids.  “I don’t know how to tell you this,” she broke down before she could finish the sentence, and a few minutes later Adelaide, Opal, Finn, and their families entered the back door. 


The days to follow all seemed to blend.  The grandkids playing on the living room floor while Laine, Adelaide, Opal, and Finn gathered around the kitchen table, a continuous flow of neighbors and friends dropped off more casseroles than they ever could have gone through. Memories were shared, a few somber laughs, and the feeling of being together filled the room.  Looking at her three children made her choke up, and her heart swell all at the same time.  The kids each resembled a mix of her and the person she had loved the most, they were sitting right in front of her, and yet her other half wasn’t. 


It was the months that followed that were the hardest, when the surplus of casseroles had faded away, and the kids and grandkids attempted to return to normal life, Laine found herself all alone in her large house.  A place that was once filled with laughter and love, she could now hear a pin drop, left with her only her own thoughts about all that had been, and would never be again. 


She hardly had the energy to return back to her everyday life, rather she filled her days watching reruns of soap operas and visiting with the kids a few times a week.  The thought of touching any of Hugh’s things left a pit in her stomach.  It wasn’t until many talks with her therapist and children that she finally got up the courage to go through some boxes slowly but surely.


Which leads her to now, staring at their long and wonderful life together, packed up into a few dingy cardboard boxes that will be up in the attic collecting dust until the next time someone cares to look.  She closed the attic stairs and drew the film camera out of her pocket.  She spun the lever to ensure there were no photos left, a feeling she used to dread, needing to go buy new film, but warmth filled her body with the idea of getting this roll developed.  She slid it into the pocket of her dress and walked back to the house. 


She felt a sort of breakthrough in her healing, making a small step made her want to take more steps, to enjoy the time she had left, rather than reminiscing on what had been. 


The next morning, she didn’t grunt and cover her ears when the birds began chirping in the morning.  Instead, she got up, soaked up the sunlight, and decided to walk down to the local film store, she didn’t know what she would find on that final roll of film, but she figured it would likely bring her a warm feeling, one that she hadn’t had in years now. 


Two weeks later, on her birthday, Laine got a call from the film shop.  She answered to hear the chipper young girl who had become a companion of hers after her continuous calls to see if her film had been ready, “Well, here’s a birthday treat for you, Laine, your photos are ready to go,” the young girl said.  “I’ll be right down!” Laine exclaimed.  She could hardly dress herself and get her shoes on fast enough, she didn’t remember the last time she had been excited for anything. 


That night for dinner the kids and grandkids gathered around Laine’s dining room table to celebrate her.  Her house was filling with joy, love, and laughter once again.  When it was time for gifts, Laine began, “I don’t want to open any gifts yet.  I want to show you all the gift the young girl at the film store gave me today, put on your shoes”.  The grandkids, kids, and Laine, all got ready, and Laine lead them down to the river, where her and Hugh had gotten married so many years before.  “I’m thankful for whatever gifts you kids have gotten me, but for now I just want to be outside and together”, she said as she showed them all the photo of their whole family, Laine, Hugh, Adelaide, Finn, Opal, all their partners, and the grandkids, having a picnic down by the river where their moonlit wedding had happened many years before.  A picture taken a couple months before Hugh’s diagnosis, before she knew of grief, hardship, and dark days, “I’m ready to go back to the times like these,” she said as hope filled her voice, the first time in years this had happened.  “I’m ready to reclaim my days to be more like these days, that’s what Dad would have wanted”. 

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