And so, I charge him, “It is always secrets with you. I hate you for that."
Which, to my surprise, he accepts. "I hate it too,” he admits. “Having to have secrets."
“With mom,” I say, “things are simpler. You know, from time to time she would tell me something about herself. She would write to me, even.”
“Oh yeah?” he says. “And how long ago was that?”
I figure that the last note I received from mom was—let’s see—at least two years ago, maybe three. It amazes me now that all this time, I have given little thought, if any, to the silence between us.
I suppose I did not feel like telling her about myself, because around that time I quit everything. I left my studies at the Facoltà di Medicina e Chirurgia in the university of Firenze, after only a couple of years. And so, I figured, the less letters from my parents—the better.
I isolated myself, and attributed the sporadic nature of our correspondence to the frequent changes of my address, as I moved often, from one place to another across Italy.
“And her handwriting,” says my father, pressing steadily ahead. “To you, son, was it clear?”
Her beautiful handwriting. It is engraved in my memory. As a child, I used to study it and copy it repeatedly, beginning at age five, when she wrapped her hand over mine, and taught me how to hold a pen. Between the first and middle fingers, she said, and hold it in place like this, by the thumb.
Mom used to draw text with the nib of a calligraphy pen. She would produce a smooth, fluent line, changing it—as if by a magic wand—from thick to thin, connecting the end of one glyph to the beginning of the another, with a stroke that was so fine, truly, fine to the point of becoming invisible, almost. It had such a consistent slant, just like that monogram, embroidered on her silk sheets.
But then, this note—the last note she sent me—which I can see before my eyes as if it were right here, rustling in my hands, this one, I must admit, was different. It had none of these delicate pen strokes.
On the contrary, here was an ugly mess. The words were scattered. Some of them were scratched over, as if some frenzied chickens got loose on the page. What happened? What could possibly explain this unusual sloppiness?
After many years of absence Ben returns to his childhood home, and finds himself faced with a truth that he has so far managed to hide from himself: his mother, a gifted pianist with a training in memorization technique, has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. His father, Lenny, who has kept this a secret until now, has a hard time relating this fact to his estranged son, and during their first conversation they cast heated accusations at each other, in an explosive exchange of guilt and blame. In this excerpt he uses the deterioration in her penmanship to point out a symptom of her infliction, a proof that Ben might accept.
★ Love reading? Treat yourself to a family saga ★
The complete series:
Volume I & II, woven together:
"A feast for the armchair psychologist.
Reveals insights that can touch and frighten each of us"