Red Centre Dementia
Norma, Part 1
Norma is my 86-year-old grandmother. She has dementia, and lives on a remote community with my aunt who is a schoolteacher there. Engawala is 70 kilometres north of Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway, 90 kilometres along the Plenty Highway and 48 further on a dirt road past Gem Tree.
She walks in the desert every morning. As her mind recedes she craves the freedom of empty space and marvels at the desert stretching its red dirt to every horizon. It seems endless. Like her meandering walks, her memories wander in and out, and she often loses herself in the middle of a task recalling something from her far distant past, but mixing her times and places up. As she sweeps she recounts a story about my Mother’s childhood, but confused about who I am, and where I fit in, she asks me if I remember it too.
Norma conspiratorally tells me she has plans to run away from the community. I ask her how on earth she thinks anyone is going to help an old lady in a dressing gown hitchhike her way out of there? She pauses before laughing uproariously. She isn’t defeated though, she tells me, spinach stolen from a neighbours garden in hand. When she laughs she is the woman I remember. We’ve always been close, her and I, and I find it so hard to reconcile her failing mind.