Maura wandered into the bathroom and came to an aimless stop in front of the mirror. She took herself by surprise, as she looked up and caught sight of the grey-haired older woman looking back at her. It took another moment of slow comprehension for her to recognize that the image was herself. She reached for her toothbrush to set about brushing her teeth for the second time in only ten minutes. She stared at the instrument in her hand, unsure what to do next.
A nurse tapped lightly on the doorframe and bustled into the bathroom behind Maura. Grabbing the toothpaste from the cabinet, she handed it to Maura. "Here, dear, I think this is what you're looking for."
Maura stood holding it in her hand, looking lost. The nurse pointed at the tube. "Go ahead and unscrew the cap and squeeze a little onto your toothbrush there. Or I can do it for you if you like."
"That's ok. I can do it- do it myself. Thank you." With difficulty, Maura get the toothpaste onto the brush and scrubbed it around inside her mouth. Her movements were hesitant, clumsy.
As she finished, the nurse walked over with Maura's coat. "Let's get this on you now. Tommy's downstairs waiting for you." She opened the coat behind Maura to help her into it.
Maura kept her arms stiffly by her sides, uncooperative. Her body was tense, and wariness flickered through her eyes. "Tommy?" she asked sharply. "Who's Tommy?"
"Tommy Rizzoli, dear. Your brother-in-law," the nurse explained patiently. "He's here to take you home for the afternoon. Wouldn't you like to go?"
Maura relaxed. "Tommy. Of course. How…" She paused, shuffling through her brain for the word she needed, "…silly. Silly of me to forget."
She let the nurse slip the coat over her arms, and followed her quietly across the hall and downstairs to the lobby. She looked around eagerly, but her eyes scanned the people there without any flashes of recognition. Confusion filled her, and she turned to the nurse for help.
A man touched her on the shoulder. "Maura, hey. You ready to go?"
His voice- that, Maura could place. Comfort washed over her, and she smiled warmly. "Hello, Tommy. We're going out…out…where?" She fumbled through the sentence.
"I was gonna just take you home, but if there's somewhere special you wanna visit, we could do somethin' else," Tommy offered.
Maura's face lit up. "Home- is perfect. Is Jane waiting for us there?" She looked up at Tommy, glowing with excitement at the prospect.
Tommy felt the sickening sadness that had become a hallmark part of most visits with Maura. "Uhh…no, Janie's…she couldn't be there today. I know she woulda wanted to, but…she couldn't," he finished lamely, guilty about his avoidance of the truth. Watching Maura's face fall in disappointment brought back countless conversations of this kind over the year since Jane's death.
Maura had already been several years past her initial diagnosis of Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease when Jane had taken a fatal bullet during an undercover operation. The whole Rizzoli family had been heart-broken at the loss, but the event showed its effects most dramatically on Maura. She rarely seemed to spontaneously remember what had happened; she only knew that Jane wasn't around from moment to moment, and was always asking for her. Every time the family had to remind her of what had happened to Jane, Maura felt the loss like it were new.
The constant emotional stress and pain had lead her condition to deteriorate rapidly until it became obvious after two months that she could no longer manage independently at home without Jane there to help her care for herself. The Rizzolis had had to find an assisted-living facility for Maura, the nicest one they could afford, but they were all wracked with guilt. But Frankie and Tommy both had to work, and Angela was too old herself to take full-time care of someone else.
Tommy pounded one fist into his palm. It woulda broken Janie's heart to see Maura like this. He forced a smile onto his face, offered his arm to Maura, and guided her out to the car. I'll be damned if she doesn't have a nice visit home today.
The house was empty when Tommy and Maura arrived home. The Rizzolis had come to realize that Maura reacted better when she interacted with only one person at a time. Being in larger groups seemed to overwhelm her and made it more difficult for her to follow a line of conversation, so they arranged for her visits to be one-on-one.
Tommy unlocked the front door and said, "I got a surprise for you in the kitchen. You wanna see?" He hoped an unexpected event wouldn't throw Maura off-balance, but he thought she'd like what he had brought over for her. He walked her into the kitchen, where they found Bass in the middle of the floor. Maura knelt in delight, stroking Bass's shell.
"I hope it's ok," Tommy said. "I picked him up from Korsak this morning. He's been takin' real good care of him."
Maura looked up, smile on her face. "Thank you."
Tommy felt a rush of relief that the surprise had gone over well. He tried hard to give Maura as many happy moments as possible in her days. He knew Jane would have been more successful at it than he usually was, but he lived up to his sister as best he could.
He pulled a container from the refrigerator. "I also got some British strawberries. Korsak said they're your turtle's favorite food."
"Tortoise," Maura corrected, taking one of the proffered strawberries and holding it delicately out to Bass.
Tommy grinned, shaking his head. "You can remember that your turtle's really a tortoise, but you can't remember my name half the time. Way to make a brother-in-law feel loved, Dr. Isles."
Maura stood, brushing off her knees. "I remember your name, Tommy." She laughed. "Now, where's Jane? I want to- to show her how cute Bass is. He's cute when he eats. He likes cactus leaves, but Jane never believes me. I have to show- I have to show her." She turned ineffectually around the room, as though Jane might be standing there, just having escaped her notice.
Tommy put a hand on Maura's arm to steady her. "Jane's not home right now."
Maura looked affronted. "She didn't come on time? I'll call her mo-…motile…mobile phone." She reached for the phone on the kitchen wall, picked up the receiver, and stared helplessly at the dial pad.
Tommy stepped toward her. A note of desperation in his voice, he said, "No, Maura- you shouldn't call. She can't answer her phone right now."
"My wife can't answer my call?" Maura banged down the receiver and stared angrily at Tommy. "Why? Where, uh, where is she? She should answer…answer…my calls. I'm her wife! She's hiding, uh, hiding what from me?"
Tommy reached out and gently grasped Maura's arms to calm her down. Her distress had hit the point where it was better to remind her of the truth instead of continuing to deflect pointlessly. He braced himself, felt his voice catch as he said, "Maura! I'm sorry…Jane's gone. She died getting shot on the job last year, remember?" No matter how many times he broke the same news, it never got any easier.
Maura's whole body froze beneath his hands. Through a cloud of confusion, his words bring back pieces to her from the first time she heard this news. Pierced the left atrium…died instantly. Images flash by- Angela sobbing. Jane in her blues, lying still in her coffin. Maura, sitting at the dining room table for days, unable to remember how to do the simplest tasks, the conference around that same table with the Rizzoli family. The Alzheimer's has progressed too much…not safe at home anymore.
She broke away from Tommy and began pacing the room helplessly. Wringing her hands, she mumbled under her breath. "She left…she was supposed to come back, at night, back at night, but I lost her…if I could just think of where…"
Tommy interrupted her rambling, "Hey, hey, take it easy. Breathe, okay? Talk to me, Maura. You always like tellin' me about the time you two first met. When Jane was in the drug unit, remember? In the police café? You wanna tell me that story again?"
Although Maura's language skills had diminished significantly- her speech was characteristically slow, full of pauses, faltering starts and stops to words, and sometimes lacking concepts or cohesion completely- she had recounted the story of her and Jane's meeting so many times over the years that she could remember most of the words and details without too much difficulty, and re-telling it was a calming experience for her.
Tommy saw her visibly relax as she began.
"I had just started working at the, uh, medical examiner's office in Boston. I didn't know many people in the department yet- just a few of the homi-…homicide detectives. And I didn't know anything about, uh, about…undercover work.
"I went into the police café for my, um, coffee one morning, and there was this hooker there. I was astonished- right in the police building! And she was yelling at…at…St…Sta…at the café worker because she did- didn't- have the money for her coffee and donut, and she said they were stale anyway.
"So I put on one of my gloves, latex gloves, because although you can't catch cirrhosis from a cranky café manager, you can catch other types of diseases from sex workers- not all STIs are exclusively, uh, transmitted through sexual contact- and tried to offer her money to get a nutrition…nutrition…nutritious meal. And she looked at me like I was the one who was as out of place as a prostitute patronizing a police station café, and went right back to insulting the manager.
"She actually called me rude for trying to be nice and help her out and for correcting her about genetic versus, uh, contagious diseases. She told me later that she just mistook 'quirky' for 'rude', though I'm not sure that's better. But at the time she just said to me, 'Well, not every hooker has a heart of gold, all right, sister?'- God, she made a terrible…terribly trashy…hooker. And after I said back to her, 'Apparently not, sister', she uh, gave me this look of exasperation and fine-…finally smiled at me, and it-" Maura broke off abruptly. Her whole face crumpled and drained of color.
"What? What's the matter, Maura?" Tommy asked, worry permeating his voice.
"I can't- I can't remember what she looked like- that smile- it was special! That first smile was something I swore I'd never forget!"
She fumbled desperately in her pocket and pulled out a well-worn piece of paper. She started at it, and sobbed out, "I wanted to remember forever!"
"What is that?" Tommy asked.
Maura held the paper out to him. "She helped me make this so I wouldn't forget."
Tommy took the paper and looked down at a list in his sister's handwriting:
Things I Want to Remember Forever:
A list of my favorite memories that I will have with me always, so suck it, Alzheimer's.
As transcribed (with some creative license) by Detective Jane Rizzoli
- The first smile my future wife ever gave me. (While dressed as a hooker in the police café, right after I tried to be nice to her and got my first exposure to her very charming personality for my troubles, and right after she experienced the most adorably insulting-yet-sweet offer of help in her life.)
- The time my future mother-in-law, Angela Rizzoli, told me I was like her daughter too (even though my girlfriend and I were in the worst fight ever at the time). It made me feel loved and welcomed and part of a real family for the first time in my life.
- My wedding day. And night. We're just going to leave it at that.
-The hug I'm about to receive from my wife after I'm done reading over this list she's writing down for me. It will be the biggest, warmest, best-feeling hug in the world and whenever I think about it, I will remember how much she loves me now and will love me always.
That was just like Jane, writing something like that, Tommy thought. Snarky as hell, but really sweet and loving at the same time. He handed the letter back to Maura.
She waved it in the air, agitated. "I can't picture it…in my head. I can't see it anymore." She started hyperventilating, and Tommy jumped up, unsure of how to help.
"Lemme get the photo albums, Maura. I'll be right back." Maybe I can show her Jane, help fill in where her memory is failing. He ran into the living room to the shelf where Angela kept the family albums. Scanning through the titles, he grabbed the one labeled "Jane and Maura's Wedding", and rushed back to Maura. He placed the album on the table in front of her and flipped through the pages until he found one of Jane smiling at Maura.
"Look, Maura, it's ok if you don't remember- it's right here. Jane smilin' at you. See?"
Maura only glanced at the photo, not comforted. "It's not right! It's not the first one! I swore I would never forget, but now I have, and I can't get it back. It was just that one thing- one thing. This…this disease has taken everything, and I can't even have that one memory. It's not fair."
Maura sobbed with frustration and loss, and nothing Tommy did or said was able to calm her down. Finally, he had to concede that there was nothing more he could do to help her, and he drove her back to the assisted-living facility. He made sure she had the list from Jane in her pocket, and left the photo album with her in case looking at the photos might help ease her mind later on. As he walked out, he thought to himself, I'm sorry, Jane. I'm sorry for failing you. I'm sorry I can't bring you back for her, because no matter what we do, it's never gonna be as good for her as you were.