I finally visited my grandmother, showed her my photos of Rome.  She asked me three different times if I had seen the pope.  She’s trying to politely inquire about my recent vacation.  But her brain is going, and she loses access to her “I just said that” file, and even the “grandchildren’s names” file, from time to time.  Mine has not been lost, so far, but it might help that we share a name (my first is her middle).

About two years ago, her memory blips and holes and loops were about the same, but she was much more frightened by it.  She showed her fear by snapping at people, insisting on the truth of her clearly zany proposition, or blaming someone else for her lost key.  Lately, that seems to have eased.  She’ll now say, “I can’t remember.  But oh, well, it’s not important.”  Usually it isn’t, really.  Who cares what year she got married?  We could look it up if we really wanted to know.

I drove home from the visit playing scenes from conflicts I’ve had with a friend.  Friend did this.  Did that.  I did this, which wasn’t good, but not nearly as bad as what Friend did.  Some of the scenes I played did not even include Friend.  I set up an ideal relationship, or a nightmare relationship, and then puzzled out how our conflict looked in contrast to ideals and nightmares.  About as productive as a Shakespearean bear baiting.

My grandma is moving out of the world where events connect logically, and you create a story for your life, and keep the events connected causally, and sort out current personalities and experiences according to your taste.

She is slowly dropping parts of her life story.  She can pick them up again for a minute, but they are too slippery for her, and they fall away again.  Events in her life are still connected causally, but with the holes, she has become more accepting of illogic.  Even her tastes seem to come and go.  While she will always like reuben sandwiches and dachshunds, her opinion of mandarin oranges varies wildly.  She may love them or hate them, depending on the moment.

Her world is so different from my world, where I will require restitution and reconciliation to heal my hurt feelings.  I will require conversation, and time, and the effort of forgiveness.  I will remember my anger, and why (to my taste) the conflict was bitter.  After being with my grandma, I wanted to say, look, why can’t I just drop things, let go, and move on?  While running all the churning mechanics of memory, I know that I can’t.

Mother Courage

Setting: An oral surgeon’s office in the second-wealthiest county in the United States.  On one wall are paintings of pitchers and bottles.  On another, a huge ugly abstract painting with a black frame.  In front of the black-framed picture sits a woman, 32, with blonde hair and dark roots, and dirty black patent-leather shoes.  She leans back, hitting her head on the black frame, then slouches forward.  Every so often, she does this again, as if she has forgotten.   A receptionist sits behind a counter, doing paperwork.  In the corner, an old man wearing a giant birthday cake hat sits grinning.  He is wearing turquoise pants.

Enter: A businessman in a trenchcoat with two teenage daughters.  The daughters wear Catholic-school uniforms.

Businessman: Hi, we’re here from Dr. Hobnob’s office to make an appointment with Dr. Soandso. 

Receptionist: Ah, yes.

The younger of the daughters eyes the woman.  The older of the daughters gives the receptionist an intense stare.  The younger daughter decides the woman has no children, is completely free.

Older daughter: They can put me to sleep, right?

Receptionist: Yes, dear, if that’s what you want.

Businessman: But they don’t, usually, do they? 

Receptionist: They can give her a local, too.  Whichever she prefers.

Businessman: We’d like something in December, if you have it, so she can get her braces on over Christmas break.

The woman smiles knowingly.  She had four teeth pulled before getting braces.  Younger daughter continues to look at the woman wistfully.  Then she notices old man with birthday hat.

Younger daughter: Is it your birthday?

Old man: It is.  I’m ninety-two today.

Businessman: Ninety-two?  Wow.  Good for you!

Old man: I tell you what the trick is.  I’ve been exercising all my life.

The woman smiles again.

Businessman: Is that so?  Wow.  Good for you.

Enter another man, about forty.  He wears blonde shoes, khaki pants.  He goes to the receptionist.

Khaki man: I’m here from Dr. Whoever’s office.  My dad is out in the car waiting for me because my car just broke down, and he’s lending me the money to get this done.  It’s so embarassing.

Receptionist (clearly not interested in his bizzare story): Okay, hon, just fill these out, please.

Khaki man sits down.

Receptionist: The fifteenth?  At two-thirty?

Businessman: That’ll work. 

Younger daughter: That’s my birthday!

Older daughter: Well, what does it matter if it’s your birthday?

Younger daughter shrugs.

Businessman: Thank you very much.  We’ll see you on the fifteenth.

Receptionist: Okay, then.

The old man, woman, and khaki man sit quietly for a moment.  Then the old man catches the woman’s eye.

Old man: You know I have all my own teeth?

Woman (half charmed and half annoyed): Really?

Old man: Yep.  My dentist– he’s gone now– he told me the secret, and I’ve told my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren.  You wanna know?

Woman: Sure.

Old man: You brush your gums.  When you’re done brushing your teeth, you just brush your gums.

Woman (smiling with teeth full of fillings, and an abscess, despite her brushing and flossing and fluoride rinses): I’ll have to remember that.

Enter an older woman, rushing in the door and seeming slightly flustered.  She wears black pants, a sweater, and delicate earrings.

Older woman: Honey, I’m sorry, I didn’t get your first message.

Woman (smiling with secret relief): That’s okay.  I would’ve been fine by myself.  It’s no big deal.  It should be just like when I got my other teeth pulled, you know, it’s a wisdom tooth, but it’s all the way out so they can grab it.  It’s not a surgical thing.

Older woman: That’s good.

Enter a short man, in his sixties, wearing a plaid shirt tucked into his jeans.

Short man (to woman): Well, hello again.

Woman: Hello.  (To older woman) We were both at Dr. Jibberjabber’s office today earlier. 

Short man: Yeah.  I’m his dad.  (He indicates khaki man, who smiles miserably.)  Let me ask you something.  (He sits.)  Do you think people should say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”? 

Woman: Well, if I know someone doesn’t celebrate Christmas, I’ll say, “Happy holidays,” but I also think if I tell them “Merry Christmas” I’m just trying to be nice, so they really shouldn’t be offended.

Short man (to older woman): What do you think?

Older woman: Well, I don’t know.  It’s not a big deal to me.

Short man: I think they should be able to say, “Merry Christmas.”  If they don’t, that’s taking away from our heritage.  I mean, I’m an agnostic, so I don’t care, but… (Snorts to himself)  See, this is what I do all day, go around to dentist’s offices and ask people questions to get their minds off their troubles.

Woman and older woman laugh politely.

Receptionist: Elizabeth?

Woman (stands up): Yes?

Receptionist: It’s time for you to go back.

Older woman takes hand of younger woman, they approach desk to exit scene.

Short man: Good luck!

Woman: Thanks.