It didn’t come on slowly, as I initially had thought. It was more like a car crashing into a brick wall, but I chose not to see it.
It was 1996 and I had just moved into an apartment with my boyfriend. My parents had recently divorced and feeling sorry for my Father, I invited him over for a day of “home repairs” and bonding. My Father was quite the handyman and literally built dog houses to actual garages, from scratch. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do when it came to constructing things, or home improvement. My boyfriend then, however, could barely change a light bulb.
Anyway, the first thing on my list was to install a dimmer switch in our dining room. I handed the switch to my Dad and gave him my tool kit. He stood there caressing the package in his gnarly arthritic hands for a few minutes. He looked at the tool box and then back at me. “I don’t think I can do this, Yen”, he said softly. I immediately noticed the tone in his voice, as it was completely foreign to me. It was fear.
It was then the dance began. We were awkward partners at first, he and I. Clumsy.
After that it was sporadic at best. Sometimes he’d pay the dry cleaner and yet come home without his pants. Once he and I met Johnny Cash at a book signing where I watched him take countless photos. According to his wife, he went home and inexplicably pulled the film out like toilet paper off of a roll, exposing and ruining it simultaneously. He would call and ask me the name of our Dentist of twenty years. It was like a row of Dominos, one thing collapsing into the other.
Then, the dance began to speed up.
His sister died and he forgot. He could not tell me what I do for a living, or where I live. He couldn’t tell me where we lived before we moved to Tennessee. He thought Mr. Cooper was a dog from my childhood. He had forgotten his marriage to my Mother. A marriage of 34 years. We became better partners, he and I. I did research and went to therapy and became very, very versed in all things Alzheimer. I adjusted my expectations and we were good. I accepted our circumstances and situation and made the best of it. We were fucking Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
And then? The dance abruptly halted. It stopped the day I realized my Daddy didn’t remember me.
You cannot take it personally. It is an insipid, horrible, gutting disease. Thankfully, he knew me last summer on the day the he actually died. He called me “shitbird”, as that was his (affectionate) childhood name for me. Funny, that.
I am participating in a charity walk tomorrow to support those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, directly and indirectly.
Please support your Alzheimer’s charities, even if it’s just a walk or a $5 donation.
It could happen to anyone. I should know.
*anyone remember the song of the same name? Who sang it?