I work in a little office in the back of a medium-sized office building in an industrial park in Kearny Mesa, the land of car dealerships and not a lot else in San Diego County. My little office has it's own door to the outside world, where there is currently (and has been since yesterday) a dead bird just outside.
Today an older man wandered into my office from the outside door. And instead of "Oh, whoops! Sorry, wrong office. Can you tell me where the Whatever Department is?", which is what normally happens, he just looked really confused. The office is very tiny, so when there's a new person in it, we're in close proximity. As he stood there perplexed I asked which office he was looking for.
"I...I can't remember", he told me.
"Ok, well do you know who you're looking for?" I asked.
"Yes. She's...she's my wife. But I can't remember her name. I'm too old, I guess."
"Well, if you go out to the main lobby there's a directory where you can look at the names of all of the offices and that might be helpful." I told him.
"Oh, ok. Yes, maybe so. I'm so very hot. I...I don't know how I got here."
And then I just looked at him, because I didn't know what else to do.
"I guess I'll try going the way I came", he told me.
And he walked out of my office. Instead of turning left towards the main entrance and the lobby he turned right and walked straight into the bushes. I figured once he realized he was in the bushes he would turn around, but he didn't. He just kept walking into the dirt and shrubs around to the ice plant and into the nothing that's behind the building. I sat at my desk as he disappeared around the corner and tried to think of what to do. Call the police? That can't be helpful. I didn't know what other options there were.
About 10 minutes later I saw him wandering out in front of my door again and went outside with my cell phone, the only thing I really have that I thought might be helpful.
"Hi." I said. "Are you still...not finding what you're looking for?", because I didn't want to insult the man. He looked about 80 and was wearing a members only jacket. He'd seen so much more than me, and regardless he was just a person, and he needed help.
"Yes, I'm lost." he confessed.
"Do you know what office you're looking for?"
"I do, but I can't remember the name."
"That's ok. Do you know who it is you're here to see?"
"Yes, she's my wife. But I can't remember her name. I just...I can't remember. She's small like you and she has blonde hair...but I guess it's white now."
I asked him if he had her number and he pulled out a flip phone and said that she wasn't answering. I took him to the lobby and read off the names of all the offices in the building, none of which were familiar to him. As I took him from place to place I began to fear that his wife was, in fact, nowhere to be found. He told me that he couldn't remember her name because he had been gone for a while.
"Well, that's alright", I told him.
"I was gone for a few weeks. I was in the hospital, you see. I just had a stroke."
"Oh, well that's terrible", I said. "I'm so sorry to hear that. That must be awful."
"Well...", he began to say, but let his words trail off as tears started to roll down his face.
"My mind...it just won't work anymore. I can't get it to work." he told me.
I tried to stay optimistic. I wanted to cry myself, but I knew that wouldn't help either of us. After we'd exhausted all of the options in the building and the man was growing very upset, I asked if maybe I could try to call his wife. He opened up his flip phone and pushed the number 1 but nothing happened. He put it to his ear, but without pushing send, it didn't do much good. I took the phone from him. "Try 3" he suggested. So I pushed 3, then I pushed send, and it began to ring. Someone answered.
"Hello", I said "I am with a friend of mine-
"Deano!" Deano said
"Deano", I said, "and he's looking for his wife but I can't seem to remember her name."
"Maxine" the other voice said.
"Maxine?" I said to Deano.
"Yes, yes that's it, that's her!"
"Yes, I said. Can I please speak to Maxine?"
I was on hold for a long while. When she answered I told her that I was with Deano, her husband, and that he'd lost his way. She said that she was a few offices down the road and point him in the right direction.
"Well, he's lost." I told her. "He can't find the building. If you tell me the number I'll bring him over."
"He won't know the number. Just send him up the hill", she said irritated.
I got the building number out of her and walked Deano on the busy street to a few blocks over. Every few steps I had to lead him back to the street so he didn't wander off into the bushes or the path of cars.
"You watch out there, there's cars coming", he told me.
"Oh, I'm alright Deano."
"What's your name? I'm sorry to have taken you away from your desk"
"Don't you worry about a thing, I'd much rather be out here in the sunshine than sitting at my desk", I told him. "And my name is Jennifer".
"Ohh", he said like it was his first time hearing the name. "What is it again?"
Eventually we got to Maxine's office and there she was, standing outside in floral knee-length shorts and a matching top, all irritated and reigning Deano in.
Deano thanked me again, and I told him it was no problem. He asked for my name a third time, like he really wanted to remember it but he knew it was impossible.
I turned around and walked back into my little office and sat at my desk. My boss called with some things for me to do and the day continued as it always seems to do. Later someone came to shovel up the dead bird just outside my door and haul it away to wherever it is you put things like that. I kept making phone calls and writing e-mails and going to meetings, but I didn't want to forget about Deano...and all I could do was promise myself I wouldn't.