“Indeed,” says my father. “She was only thirty-nine when I noticed it for the first time. I remember: she gave me a look as though she did not understand what I had just said. Then I noticed that from time to time, she had trouble saying the names of her students. She seemed unsure about names. A year later, she could not remember the word Piano. Can you imagine that, Ben?”
I shrug, “Anyone can forget a word here and there.”
But he would not let me deny it.
“No,” he insists. “Not a woman with her musical gifts! The way she used to play, Natasha could have become world famous, one of the greatest concert pianists! How, how could that happen? Ben, how could your mom forget Piano?”
At a loss for a better answer, I suggest, “Maybe she was under stress?”
“She was terrified,” he says. “At first, they prescribed antidepressants. Then she took antibiotics for six months, to treat what doctors thought might be Lyme disease. The neurologist suggested an MRI scan, a scan of the brain. But then, when the results came in, they said that at this point, there was no way to tell whether there was anything wrong, or whether Natasha’s brain had always looked that way.”
Now I feel I cannot absorb, cannot take much more of this—but there is no stopping him. The sentences keep pouring out, as if a dam has broken in him.
“The most difficult aspect,” says my father, “was that we used to be a team—but now I had to start making the decisions on my own. All except one: she was determined to divorce me, which was my fault—but her mistake, because unfortunately, she deteriorated so much faster after that.”
“Stop right there,” I tell him. “It makes no sense to me! Why would she want to leave you right then, at the turning point of her life, when you could be there, by her side, fighting to hold her back, away from the brink?”
“This,” says my father, “is something I, too, do not understand. Up to that point Natasha has changed, quietly, and grown so much stronger than me, to the point that, no matter how hard I tried, there was no pleasing her. Then she got word, somehow, about my moment of weakness: my fling, this little, one-night thing—that was all it was, back then—with Anita.”
I look at him as if to say, Who cares about your moment of weakness? So far it has lasted ten years.
He looks away, saying, “Your mom, she was mad at me. She flared up in anger. It was painful. More painful than I had expected. Was she too proud to forgive me? Did she expect me to fight harder for her, so that she may take me back someday? There was no way to know. My God, she let me feel I was done, I was no longer needed.”
“But, dad,” I say, “did she believe she could face it alone, whatever it was? Was she willing to risk everything, and for what? For no better reason than pride?”
“God,” he says. “I wish I knew.”
Ben in Apart From Love
This dialog is the first time Ben learns that his mom is ill, and that it took years for the doctors to find out why she is forgetting things. The impact of early-onset Alzheimers on the family is complex in this case, because it adds blames and guilt to already strained father-son relationships.
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