I’ve been forgetting things for a year. Is this what’s supposed to happen when you turn 50? It was like clockwork: I got my invite from AARP to join the party and I started forgetting things. Not things, per se, I can still find my keys and my car (not counting supermarket parking lots), no, I’ve been forgetting words. Not all words, not words when I’m writing, but when I’m speaking. All of a sudden, in the midst of a conversation, when it’s my turn to talk, I freeze up. I become, sorry Mom, my mother: a picture of confusion, a pause one two three four five six and then back to the conversation. Or right in the middle of my talking the next word will suddenly—poof!—disappear as if a magic wand had suddenly descended upon my internal dictionary. I’m not happy about this development or reverse development, as the case seems to be.
One day in school I was standing in front of my class discussing The Odyssey and how Odysseus’ ship was sunk in the storm that Zeus sent as per the request of Helios, the Sun God, because Odysseus’ men had a bbq with his sacred cattle, when the word “sunk” disappeared. I stood there in front of 28 teens whose brains are in the midst of expanding watching me visibly losing some synapses. The word “drowned” popped into my mind, but I knew it was wrong—people drown, not ships. Still standing there, pretending that this wasn’t awkward, I searched some more, when it occurred to me to just say “the ship went down.” A few seconds later, thankfully, the word, “sunk” came into view, but too late for me to prevent a fearful insight—I am beginning my decline.
The other day I was at a sports store with my 16-year-daughter. As we walked around looking for a sports bag I told her that I was anxious that I was forgetting things.
“Oh, Mom, I forget things all the time,” she noted with that trademark exasperation of the teen.
“No, this is different. It’s an age thing.” Why is it that we always talk about sensitive topics in the car or public places?
“Mom, you’re being dramatic. Now, ask them where the drawstring bags are, and don’t call them cinch bags, that’s not what they’re called.”
Sure, she doesn’t want to deal with thinking about her mother as less than the lady who can take care of things for her; after all, I am the only adult in her life. I’m her rock, but I’m crumbling.
I walked right over to the sales clerk and asked, “Excuse me, but where are the cinch bags, uh, I mean drawstring bags.”
As we walked over to the soccer balls, where the drawstring bags were located, I said to her, “You see, I didn’t mean to say ‘cinch’ but it just came out.” It’s confusing and upsetting this whole word-replacement thing. I have lost control over my brain.
When I was younger (yes, that’s how old I feel right now that I can say that with confidence) everything worked without being aware of the parts—of the magic of creation and how amazing it is that the mind and body work so well. I heard a scientist on the radio recently talk about how much work goes on in the brain just to bring a cup of coffee to our lips. I can still do that, with ease, but still, this visible change is hard.
I used to walk by older people, going at their extreme snail’s paces, visibly concentrating on each step, wondering how they can be so slow—I don’t any more. Now I marvel at their ability to keep going in spite of all the stuff that’s becoming unglued and dismantled inside. I don’t see “them” so much as I see me down the road. Hopefully I won’t forget the word “road” and that I need to keep truckin’ down it.