Forgetting to Remember

I don’t usually tell anyone when it happens, but I’m scared.  I’m scared each time I forget the name of that handsome young actor I saw in a movie, or what kind of fish I ate last night, or the band that played at my son’s wedding three years ago.  I’m scared that I will end up like my mother, like so many others I know.  Those of you who have read my book understand how Alzheimer’s disease can turn a vital, sharp, intelligent human being into someone who forgets to take her medicine, forgets to light the Sabbath candles on Friday night, forgets the name of her brother, forgets where the bathroom is, forgets how to smile, eat, think….forgets.  It is the cruelest disease for it sits as a time bomb in the brain of those who know what the future holds for them; and for the family, it makes them witness to the slow unraveling of a beloved parent.  It is a death before the actual death has occurred.  Take it from me, Alzheimer’s is no way to live and no way to die.  My mother knew it years before her life ended, even before I could accept it.  If I were a doctor, I would devote myself in research for finding an end to the horror that is Alzheimer’s.  But I am a writer, so I leave you with a poem which I wrote about two years before my mother passed away.  In the meantime, I implore you to give what you can to the Alzheimer’s Association.(http://www.alz.org/join_the_cause_donate.asp).  Please don’t forget, lest we all do….

 

IN HER EIGHTIES

 

My mother is not her brain

which is after all

a dusty gray and rusty red gelatinous mixture

of curls and loops

tunnels slopes caves

one descending into the other

so that it doesn’t even

know itself.

And it is the one that cannot even

mask the way it looks

with Max Factor ivory foundation for dry skin or

Revlon colorfast blush.

The one who calls at 7:30 just as you

are climbing out of bed

having forgotten that

it wasn’t 7:30 in the evening two nights ago when

you asked her to call

or leaves the phone off

the hook for two straight hours–running

dazed like a frightened chick

to find what is

beep beep beep beep

yes–

the one who sees the demons

in the house,

crawling along the molding

to pick up pennies, checkbooks, toilet paper

she herself misplaced

three weeks ago

the one

who asked how in fact

was Great Aunt Rachel,

you know the one

who worked in the bakery

when she knew very well Aunt Rachel had died over sixty years ago even

before the War

who says the eyes on the flashing screen they see

they see her

when she makes the bed or eats her Cheerios

with skim milk in the morning

they see her  and

 why did you send those eyes?

the one

who leaves and walks

the city blocks to buy

some medicines and trudges all that way again

having forgotten her wallet which was

in the silk-lined pocket of the raincoat she was wearing

all along

the one who scares you more

than the big muscle-bound man

with the purple anchor tattoos waiting

at the end of the alley when

you were a kid

the one when

you try to reach her at 8am

and she doesn’t answer at 8:10

or 8:20 or

8:30–

so you leave the meeting early

and she startles

she was sleeping or

walking

or the radio

was too loud–

so you’re the one

to apologize

the one who sobs

because she can’t

understand why

she’s walking into

the wrong room

or has forgotten the name

of her brother.

 

No, my mother’s the one

who at the first loud buzz

turns the lock which clicks

like old piano keys,

flings open

the mustard colored steel door and

rushes toward you, like a sweet spring breeze,

arms outstretched.

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About shirleywachtel

Shirley Russak Wachtel is the author of The Story of Blima—A Holocaust Survivor (publ.2005), a novel which recounts the early years of her mother, Betty Weisstuch Russak. The novel s listed as a recommended novel by the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education. Wachtel is the author of several children's books, including a series of interactive mysteries, Charlie Wonder, Chef-Detective (2005), which includes several recipes; Brad Sureshot, Coach-Detective (2007) which details basketball skills; and Howie Rocket, World-Traveler-Detective (2009) which has handy foreign language phrases. In The Mellow Light (2009) is her first book of poetry. She is a professor of English at Middlesex County College in New Jersey. In addition, Wachtel is the co-author of Spotlight on Reading (2011), a textbook for college-level students. A mother of three sons, she resides with her husband, Arthur, in East Brunswick, New Jersey. Initially written as a doctoral dissertation for her Doctor of Letters Degree from Drew University, My Mother's Shoes , says Wachtel, is not just the novel of her life, it is the novel of her heart.
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