Thirty Something Years Ago

February 2, 2013

In the course of a conversation with my supervisor the other day it came up that I’m no longer working on Mondays. I asked her- “Why can’t I work on Monday?” She looked at me, puzzled. “You said you wanted Mondays off, when we made up your schedule. Three days ago.” I have no recollection of asking for Mondays off, what would I do without work on Monday? Go to the spa? Mow the lawn, Clean out the closets? I can’t afford a spa, it’s the dead of winter, and I’m tooi scared of what’s inside my kids closets to actually look inside them.

That night, a fellow swim mom called me. She wanted to know if she was still picking Katy up for swim team that night. I didn’t remember her offering to take my daughter to swim team.  I didn’t remember talking to her at all last week. Of course, I didn’t hesitate, I’m always happy to let someone else drive my child around.

It didn’t occur to me until later on, after Katy was at swim team, and my son at a friend’s house doing homework, that in the course of a week, I’d pretty much misplaced two  entire conversations, one about my job, and one about my child. It scared the fuck out of me.

Thirty years ago, I was 16 years old and was standing outside the Mountain Lakes Club, in Mountain Lakes, NJ, waiting for my dad to come out of a business meeting and give me a ride home. It was his first day back after an extended absence. He’d been sent to a hospital, (this was before the days of rehab,) to be treated for alcoholism.  He was there for thirty days. Before he’d been sent away to deal with his addiction to russian vodka, he was a big shot, in charge of the American division of a company that imported raw cocoa That morning was his first day back, the big executives from Switzerland were in town.

When he came out of the front door, his eyes were down. He was carrying a briefcase like it weighed a million pounds. “Dad, what happened?” He looked over at me. He looked over at me, but it was like he didn’t see me. His eyes stared in the direction of the tennis courts, they never moved from the tennis courts. “I can’t… I couldn’t- I had to leave, Julie. Something’s wrong.”

“Dad, what do you mean? You’re sick?… Did you have a drink? Do you need to go back?”

He shook his head. I don’t think he ever stood up straight again. My father, my charming, handsome, funny father, the man that all the ladies wanted to sleep with and the men wanted to drink with, was gone. He put his arm around me, and we walked to the fancy company car. We drove home in silence. A week later, he was tentatively diagnosed with early onset Altzheimer’s. He was fourty four years old.

So when I find myself in the middle of a week with pieces missing, it takes my breath away.

It took me a long time to recover from the journey my father and I took, his descent to a place where he tried to stab his health aide. Where he smoked endless cigarettes upside down. Where they had to strap into bed at the nursing home because he was always hopping in with the ladies.

He really didn’t know any better.

After he died I spent about twenty years making a series of incredibly bad choices.

And then I got pregnant. And then I got pregnant again. Long, long story short, I have two children now, one is 12, a basketball star and a lover of animals. My daughter is nine, she likes to slow dance with me in the morning, she writes songs, she makes me laugh more than anyone.

My father’s illness came close to destroying me, I can’t, can’t can’t get that disease. I can’t.

Tonight, I’m making Spaghetti Bolognese. I brown three different kinds of meat first. Then I dump it all in a colander lined with paper towels to strain out the grease. I chop onions and shallots and garlic together, real fine. Add the mixture to the meat back in the pan. Then I pour in tomatos, and an old jar of spaghetti sauce, and a box of special tomatos from Italy. (They are in a box, they must be very fancy.) I don’t follow a recipe, I don’t cry when I chop the onions, I know just the right moment to add the cream, and to boil the pasta.

Tomorrow, I’m going to the gym at 9 for a cardio class. Then I’m going to church. Then, a long walk with some friends and some dogs. The Superbowl. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day.

If I move really fast, and I pray really hard, and I surround myself with my family and friends, and I start paying attention- I’ll  make notes in my phone, I will actually use the calendar from the bank, I’ll buy a book about Mindfulness, and another about nutrition.

I’m scared. I’m not scared of having the illness, well, I am, but that’s not the main thing.

I don’t want to tell my kids. Like he told me. Because I never recovered from those moments in the parking lot in Mountain Lakes, NJ, thirty something years ago.

I can’t do that to my children. And I won’t. Because I am going to be fine. Period.

The spaghetti sauce is done, I can smell it. I will put on the pasta, and salt the water, and take out the plates. Katy likes milk, Tue, her friend, only water. With one cube of ice. Colin asked me to make a plate for him to eat later.

As long as I can remember the important things, I’ll, we’ll be alright.

Post script  An hour after I wrote this, I was going thru the voicemail on my phone. Remember the wonderful swim team mom that had arranged to drive Katy? The arrangements I forgot and confirmed I was on the path to dementia? She’d left me a voice mail I’d never listened to. And the conversation about working on Mondays, well, I may not remember it, but it was a damn good idea. Monday off. Maybe I can’t afford a spa, but I can sleep in, go to the gym and spend a really long time in the sauna.

I’ll be allright, and on special occasions, amazing.

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