Still Wendy

Three things not to schedule on one day:

  1. Your son’s occupational therapy appointment
  2. Same son’s four-tooth extractions
  3. A pre-504 meeting with said child’s school’s school psychologist

Helpful parenting tip right there, y’all.  You are welcome.  No, you.  Really.

I received a shower of corrugated cardboard-clad prizes in the weeks before Christmas from my best friend, Deb. She’s one of the smartest people I know, and a librarian by trade.  Amazon’s smiley packages revealed to me copies of her favorite books from the 8.4 billion she read in 2016.  I wasn’t sure with which to begin, so I let my husband judge a book by its cover, and he chose A Man Called Ove.  Written by Swedish author Fredrik Backman, it affectionately details the days of a man called Ove, a quiet, principled fellow who, in spite of himself, learns to love and be loved.  Deb got to meet Backman at an event at her library, and that made me love Ove even a teensy bit more.  I miss her so.

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I completed #2 of Deb’s 2016 Best-of, Still Alice, by Lisa Genova just a few hours ago. You might have seen the book-turned-motion picture starring Julianne Moore a few years back.  There were ugly tears shed watching this movie, but the book hit me differently.  With sadness, sure, but also with fear.  We meet Alice Howland, a superb Harvard psychology and linguistics professor, at age 49.   She is at the peak of her game–a brilliant, sought-after international lecturer; physically beautiful and five-miles-a-day fit; adoring, co-author/researcher husband; two perfect, equally brilliant, accomplished children; one brilliant black sheep daughter; the beautifully appointed Cambridge home.  You want to hate her, but you don’t.  Shortly after she extinguishes 50 candles on the cake, she learns she has early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

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Genova’s Alice speaks to us through the veil of fading memory.  The way Alice reveals her loosening on the world around her is heartbreaking and scary.  Alice knows she’s losing it; she recognizes that she can’t quite recall words and labels, her familiarity with her loved ones, career-long colleagues and places becomes that of a passing acquaintance or a just-met.

I love words.  Reading wonderful authors reminds me that I don’t use a great many words in my own communications.  Sure, I could calculate a type-token ratio (a measurement of vocabulary diversity), but I don’t think that’s necessary here.  I do better than many, not nearly as well as I’d like.  My point?  My word retrieval has begun to fade, like Alice’s did.  I have this killer elbow tendinitis, and this morning wanted to voice an iPhone reminder, “Hey, Siri, remind me to call Dr. . .  Dr. . .  Dr. . .”  For a million, billion dollars, I could not recall my GP’s name.  Were you to hold a gun to my head or dangle front row BNL tickets in reward, I’d have gotten no closer to remembering his name.  I had a moment of pause.  This is not the first time I’ve come up empty in my quest for words.  And I don’t mean snazzy, arcane selections like gerrymandering or verisimilitude.  I mean stunners like cabinet or tortilla or crate.  You understand my fear now, right?  At least Siri wasn’t in a judgey, sass-me-back mode like she can be.  Maybe artificial intelligence is smarter than I assign it credit, and Siri recognized my gaffe for the frustrating moment it was.

My husband says I’m worried about too many things.  “You’re the glue that holds our family together, you’re always organizing or planning.”  You’re tired.  You’re stressed out.   Yes, yes, true, and yes.  But the same was said of Alice Howland, and she led a MUCH more dazzling life than I do.  Yes, she’s a fictional character, but we’re the same age and we were both pretty good with language.  Her earliest signs of early-onset Alzheimer’s were cast aside for these very reasons, I pointed out to my husband.  He was spectacularly blind to and disavowing of my self-drawn comparison.  I know I’m slipping the tiniest of steps, and so did she.

I don’t actually think I’m showing signs of early Alzheimer’s Disease.  I AM showing signs of being 49 though, even if I am sporting the best hair colors of my lifetime these days, I’m no spring chicken.  But all the while I read Still Alice, I thought Still Wendy.  How will I know I’m still Wendy when I don’t?   It’s exactly like me to make mountains from molehills to be sure, but what if I am tap dancing at the cusp of the mental abyss?  Alice asked herself the same five questions every day, and directed herself to open a special computer file when she could no longer recall the truths.  In this computer file (no spoilers here) she did write a breathtaking love letter to herself, detailing her own talents, accomplishments, loves and wishes.  Probably everyone should do that for him or herself.

With today’s series of appointments–thank goodness for my text/messenger friends who were “there” for me, talking me down and through as they always do when I get too deep into my own head–I was reminded how much my boy needs me.  I’m the one who took off from work to shuttle him to and fro. I KNOW he’s a teenager, so obviously one of his parents is responsible for meeting these needs–I’m not that off my game!  But MD is forever for him; I’m temporary.  I mean, I don’t plan on going anywhere soon, but I don’t get to pick.  What will happen if and when I can’t?  He is going to need an extremely patient someone to share his life with, or will he have to hire people to care for him if I cannot?

I should compile my list of Still Wendy questions, because these questions?  These are not questions I’m prepared to answer.  I should also draft that love letter to myself, and so should you!  What would you say to you about yourself if you penned a love letter to you?

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6 thoughts on “Still Wendy

  1. I’ve heard from people I trust A Man Called Ove is wonderful.

    You know, one of the funniest and simultaneously most poignant depictions of a man grappling with the possibility he may be developing Alzheimer’s was Denny Crane, played by William Shatner on The Practice and Boston Legal. He won Emmys for playing the role on both shows.

    That said, I don’t suspect you’re suffering from early onset, Wendy! I think — and I’ve found this is true of myself — that the wiser and more experienced we become, certain pieces of knowledge just get stored on higher mental shelves, or filed in deeper cerebral cabinets, you know? At some point, you just know a lot, and you sometimes have to reach in a little deeper to recall some of that. I think it has much more to do with prioritization than mental deterioration.

    Liked by 1 person

    • After my first child was born, I was certain I lost about 15-20 IQ points, and my best friend tried to convince me that it was a matter of prioritization, not that I’d actually lost capacity. I loved her theory then, and love yours now. There are times when it’s just so darn frustrating to know I know something, and know that I can’t know it with the ease and facility I want. That’s a lot of “knows” in the last sentence! Read Ove. It’s not something I’d ever have known existed otherwise had it not appeared on my doorstep. It is worth your time. It won’t change your world, but it will give you a moment’s reflection about principles, and the lengths to which we go to hold them. It’s also been a springboard to make me ponder the opposite of that: how easily principles can be given over in favor of ease, comfort, being told you HAVE TO. Thank you for the positive feedback, as always, Sean.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wendy, your friends could write a love letter for you telling you all the wonderful things you do for all of them. Moments of anomia are normal for everyone, I have learned to relish in it- especially when the word pops up hours later making me laugh. You are so not temporary, all the lives you have touched and impacted. Let the countdown for summer vacation begin and take some well deserved time for you. macdonga

    Liked by 1 person

    • One of my friends did exactly that four years ago. . . FB reminded me this week of your February 1, 2013 honor of my lifetime. I think of that day so often, macdonga, especially when I wonder if what I’m doing at work matters anymore. You gave me the best gift and the reminder to keep fighting the good fight! Thanks for this this morning too! xoxo weirwa

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  3. Your letter should start with, “Give yourself a break. These trivial, everyday words are going to elude you every so often. And it’s ok.”

    Frustrating…yes. But, not the end of the world or your brain mass as you know it. It’s the very beginning of menopause brain fog.

    “Oh, THANKS for the bit of cheery info, you twat!” Sorry.

    Menopause hit me at 39 so I’ve been dealing with it a little while. I’m not nearly as quick witted or on-the-fly eloquent as I once was and I’ve had to learn to deal with that. It’s more of a pride thing than anything else. I could lay someone out with barely a nanosecond to process my retort.

    But now, when someone says, “What was that actresses name in Still Alice?”, I just reply, “Database storage is at a minimum. It wasn’t important enough for me to store.” Because it’s true.

    Don’t be hard on yourself for it. You’re not losing your mind. You’re just making storage for more important things. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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