Several years ago, when my parents were both in their mid-sixties, I joined them for a brief summer vacation at the house on the Cape. It used to be my grandmother’s house. She passed away nearly 14 years ago when I was in high school, the house kept by my mother and my aunt, occasionally rented, mostly cooped up and musty until one family or another visited to make minor repairs, visit the beach, give gifts to the neighbors for helping where we couldn’t from New York.
On this visit, sometime after dinner, my mother and my father and I were in the living room. The TV was on, we all were buried in some book or magazine. It was peaceful and quiet and probably the last time I can remember that I did not think of my parents as anything else than what they had always been. You may not know what I mean, but some of you will. That thinking of your parents brings a vague sense of dread and anxiety, knowing they are vulnerable and in need of care that only you will be responsible for providing.
On this quiet summer night, the smell of the sea in the air, my mother disappeared. I’m being dramatic. Her physical body was still there, but my mother, the person inside that body, the mind inside her graying head, wasn’t.
She looked up from her book, looked around the room, and asked me where her husband was (later I realized why it struck me as immediately wrong: “my husband” when she always referred to him as “your father”). I looked at her strangely but conceded that from her chair she must not be able to see where he lay on the couch. I gestured. He’s right there. She peered over the end of the couch and let out a laugh. That’s not my husband that’s my father. Where’s Dave? She walked out of the room calling his name. She checked all the doors and called back to me, They’re locked so I don’t think he left. She walked back into the room, looked at my dad lying on the couch, walked out again, wandering the halls. I heard her open and close doors, go into the basement, walk up to the attic, methodically searching the house. After a few minutes she came back into the living room and picked up her book again.
My dad refused to talk about it. My mom insisted she had fallen asleep reading her book and had a vivid dream and must have still been half dreaming when all this happened. All I know is the person I was talking to in those few moments thought I was her sister, not her daughter. I didn’t exist for her and who she is to me didn’t exist either. She looked me dead in the face and didn’t know who I was. She was gone.
I read this article in the New Republic about Alzheimer’s, the point ostensibly that as the baby boomers age, we are going to see a higher rate than ever before and our health care system is woefully unprepared. I did not expect the author to weave his own complicated relationship with his deteriorating father into his missive. I did not expect to relate so fiercely. My mother’s dementia is far from me and unknown in its scope. I know, though, that it is coming. My father will only claim she is “better.” I want to believe him, but last Christmas I watched my mother try to sift granulated sugar and stare at the measuring cup in her hand, knowing that something was wrong, but not remembering how to fix it. I do not know what will come next. I do not know how I will fix it.
Watched Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon last night, a Chinese crime action film, the prequel to the not terrible, but not that great Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. The prequel started off with some pretty cool cinematography, stuff a la Sherlock Holmes with the slo-mo and rapid change in perspective. Anyway, the point of this is that in the film, members of the imperial family turn out to be drinking tea poisoned with parasites and the cure for it is drinking urine.
And there is easily ten minutes of footage showing every member of the army, imperial family, royal whatever, drinking full bowls of piss. Like, just extended and repeated shots of people drinking bowls and bowls of piss.
Having a crush on somebody means that you think they’re cute and you either want to crush them to death with your thighs or you want them to crush you to death with their thighs. Either way, you’re going to die.
Poorly dubbed Bruce Lee on TV, pretty good reenactment on the couch… #fistsoffur