I really wished I had not watched “Still Alice” last night because it rattled my cage a bit more than I thought it would. More than anything else on earth, I fear, deeply fear, Alzheimer's disease. It’s my monster under the bed, it’s the creature in the closet at night, and it is the one thing that hope I never see up close again. Julianne Moore’s performance in the film is heart wrenching and compelling but it is one of the movies I do not think I can ever watch again. It brought me nearer to the disease than I like, even though I know such movies really help raise awareness.
My friend Peg and I are going to celebrate our 30th year of being friend next year, or maybe it’s the year after that, we can never remember what year it was; 1987 or 1988. She’s always been a career person, driven, focused, hard charging and nearly grim in her expectations of the students she teaches at the University. But the years have taken their toll on her and even as we talked about the people we haven’t seen in a while the list of mutual friends is growing shorter. We talked about “Still Alice” and we share a common fear in this disease.
Peg has called me so that I might help her clean out part of an old shed she has. Many years ago, many a hundred years, even, this shed was a smoke house. There have been many owners since then and each of them has added a layer of junk and dust and debris in the shed. The part we’re cleaning out this morning is mostly a pile of old lumber that has been stacked in three heaps. It’s inside the shed so some of it is usable but there is a lot of deadwood in the piles.
There’s rats’ nests and a lot of dust and there’s more than a few spiders. There are also relics; metal tools whose handles have rotted away decades ago. I know what one or two of them are but there’s some mystery in some of the rust. I left my phone in the truck to keep it safe and to keep me from looking at it, so there are no photos, yet.
Too much work around loud machines and too many rock concerts, not to mention over a half a century of being alive, have left me hard of hearing. Peg is soft spoken on her best days so I can’t hear about three quarters of what she says. I know she has to speak louder to be heard in class yet for some reason she refuses to speak so I may hear her, so I do not. We have to wear dust masks so this keep me from seeing her lips move and I have this odd feeling that she doesn’t realize I can’t hear her at all. I hear a sound that could be her voice, but there’s no way to tell.
There’s pieces of a water bed in the shed. I remember it back in the mid-nineties when Peg first moved out here and I lived in Tifton. The water bed was in the spare bedroom and that’s where I would crash out when I was too drunk to drive home. We’re back in time by nearly twenty years now and running into objects I remember being new.
There’s a dog bed, a water dog bed, Peg bought years ago so that the first dog that died with her, Katie, could have some easement of her pain from arthritis. There’s a heating pad that goes with it and I ask Peg if she wants to keep it or toss it. I have no idea what she said or what she thought I said, but suddenly I look up and she’s putting both of them in my truck.
After the relics have been examined, the boards are stacked neatly, and everything put the way Peg wants it, we go to lunch. I cannot believe how tired I am but Peg is truly spent. She has problems with her shoulders, one knee, and an elbow. I’m not moving around very fast either. On the way home Peg nearly whispers to herself and I nod and watch the road. She was in a wreck three weeks ago and she still flinches at intersections. I’ve been there and done that and it will affect your mind. She takes a side road home then another, and I can’t figure out why she is prolonging the drive. I can’t hear her, she hasn’t had a response from me in half an hour, yet she’s taking back roads and driving slowly. I have to pee.
When we get back I discover she’s put the dog bed in the backseat of the truck without cleaning it off. It has an inch of old dust on it and is filthy. Worse, because it is a water bed of sorts, it’s leaking twenty year old water into the floorboard of my truck. I cannot believe she did this, really. This was once a woman of great care and even greater precision. Every action, every movement, every second of every day was preplanned and productive. Now she mumbles and dawdles. Now she wanders the back roads and speaks mostly to herself.
I really wish I hadn’t watched that movie last night but I think it’s a wake-up call. There is a lot I would like to write but just as my body is failing me my mind might begin to go as well. What am I going to do if in a year Peg starts to fade? Who will take care of her? Who would take care of me? What would happen to my dogs if my mind began to break down like my hearing already has? How badly would I become damaged before I was too far gone to realize how far it had gone? This worries me. And after today, I look at a friend of over three decades and I do not see the same person who I knew thirty years ago.
I wonder who she sees in me.