Wednesday, June 28, 2006

3 a.m.

She say it's cold outside and she hands me my raincoat
She's always worried about things like that
She says it's all gonna end and it might as well be my fault
And she only sleeps when it's raining
And she screams and her voice is straining

---Matchbox Twenty

Pacing across the porch at 3 a.m., life seems a lot less complicated. Quiet and serene, the scenery's a perfect match for late night (early morning?) contemplation. At 3 a.m., nobody can hear you scream. Or something like that.

They say the only way to identify Alzheimer's Disease with certainty is in autopsy. Cerebral shrinkage, destruction of brain cells, and the singularly definitive factor: amyloid-derived diffusible ligands (ADDLs), a minuscule toxic protein suspected of triggering the disease, in levels up to 70 times greater than found in non-Alzheimer affected brains - these are the disease's physical calling cards.

Helpful and detailed though it is, science doesn't need to tell me much about someone I've known 40 years. At 3 a.m., even my bones tell me what it cannot, as yet.

Despite all protestation to the contrary, despite knowing where the tea bags are located in the cupboard, and remembering what she ate for breakfast, the mother I know is rapidly becoming someone else.

Worse, it appears on some level she knows this. We all do. I'm just the only one willing to talk about it.

She panicked when I was at the library for twenty minutes, earlier that night. "I was just scared. You were gone so long," she says, her arms reaching upwards to grasp my shoulders. Her voice has an unfamiliar quality - quavering, uncertain, childlike. My absence, along with a popped fuse, my dad's vocal anger over same and her own unreliable bladder had short-circuited her wiring. Here she stood, semi-naked, shivering, in tears and unable to articulate exactly why.

This is the woman who prided herself on driving hundreds of miles in 1987, first to visit us in Virginia, then up the coast to her sister's in New Jersey. She balanced checkbooks to the penny, knew the best interest rates at any bank within 20 miles, changed her own flat tires. Her searching eyes and guileless face no longer fit a person who was once so frustratingly guarded even her husband didn't know what she was thinking.

Now she cannot remember simple words, or that it's dangerous to walk down the hall in the middle of the night by herself. Or that I actually live somewhere else.

"Now that Anne's home, I'm okay. Paul, isn't it great that Anne's come home?" This she offered after things calmed down that night.

But it's not so great. And I'm not really home. For two weeks, at 3 a.m. I'm on their porch, at their house full-time when not at work, but nowhere near home. After the two weeks, it's anyone's guess.

Home for me is a mile away, with the pets and daughters whose resentment at my absence grows daily, and who need me every bit as much, if not more. I could tell her this, but she won't remember in two weeks, anyway. And it'll be ugly enough without a few replays.

I suspect mother and I are now not really that different: imprisoned, entombed, damned to futures not of our own design.

At 3 a.m, I can think about all of this stuff and ponder the next move, and why my father and brother refuse to discuss what we'll do next, or what's happened to the wife and mother we used to know.

I can wonder whether or not the speech therapist and social worker were right when they said she probably can't ever be left alone again. That she might turn on the gas burner and forget it's running, or get in the car, drive away and forget where she's at.

At 3 a.m., when it's quiet and serene, I can look deep inside and wonder if I have what it takes to really give what I know they're going to ask from me, if I'm even capable of abandoning my own little life for them, and what it might cost, in all senses of the word, to see this nightmare through to its inevitable conclusion.
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