Pam’s upper body doesn’t really work anymore. Just think about that sentence: it doesn’t really work. We meet her husband and her at a French bakery located in a strip mall- it’s strange, crepes and croissants next to Job Lot… Her husband is a school teacher, pragmatic and friendly. They’ve just gotten back from Washington DC at a big Alzheimer rally. They say the same things yo hear a lot when you start speaking to people with Alzheimer’s: “no one really can help. No one is really doing anything. All you can do is go and meet people like you, that’s what these conferences are really. They’re activism but in the end they’re mainly helping you be less alone.”
I stare at Pam. It’s not rudeness. It’s not because she looks so foreign. The truth is she looks young. So young. Like my mom ten years ago. When she is sitting still you’d guess nothing. You’d listen to her husband talk about their sons, those college aged scamps, up in milwaukee living with their girlfriends and saving up for study abroad. “One of them is going to Africa. Isn’t that something.” You’d listen and if you didn’t know and she sat across from you you’d think Pam was a midwest stereotype of a woman: reserved, quiet, smiling nicely, not feeling she can add tot he conversation.
But it’s when she speaks…
“I… wa… I… wan…”
It’s when she tries to speak…
That’s when you notice it. That’s when you stare.
“I… want.. you to… know…”
You can see her throat heaving, the muscles, all the muscles in her neck contracting, struggling to turn her thoughts into words before those thoughts are gone. She has alzheimer’s she knows if she doesn’t say it quick enough it will never exist at all.
“I… WANT… you to… know… I’m proud of them.”
And so you know her son’s are a source of pride. You know she’s a mother and that is worth fighting her own body to get it out.
Pam worked at the same school as her husband.
They met in college.
Married junior year.
Their fortieth is coming up soon.
The facts are endless.
“it was when we were working on a house.” Her husband says.
“She’d had problems before. Little gaps in memory. But you didn’t think… I didn’t think…”
Her throat heaves as she listens. She watches us ask questions as her husband tries to explain when they knew she was not well. We ask questions:
“So you were working on a house”
And her throat tightens wanting to add to her own story. And as soon as she can even try-
“I gave her a mask to put on. You know when you’re working on a house so you don’t breathe anything in”
“And no matter what I did”
“I couldn’t get her to understand how to put it on. She just couldn’t. Even after I’d done it for her. And then you knew…”
I watch Pam’s eyes dart between us and her husband. She watches us like a tennis match. Like something she understands and that she wants to play- but somehow can’t find her way in.
“She couldn’t put it on. And from there it was fast.”
Pam doesn’t eat much while we’re there. She listens- adds to the conversation when she can- and when I leave she hugs me. Her grip is tight. Surprisingly, strong. It makes sense if each movement and each word is an absolute war with your own mind, your own senses and understanding then they each should count.
They should each be done with abandon.