I am not a fan of people. I don’t go out of my way to avoid them, but neither do I encourage their approach. When I am out and about, I carry within me all the humanity I need. Which is not to say that I do not have the ability to be a pleasant and friendly person; I just do not find that ability to be particularly valuable most moments. I have found that friendly pleasantness results in extra humanity worming its way under my skin like small sentient needled burrs with needs and expectations and words of judgment.
I imagine them tunneling like rats beneath the rug of my skin.
Mark tells me I travel amongst strangers as though I am in a giant rolling hamster-ball of hostility.
So anyway, we’re at this event the other night and I am being surly and evasive as is my normal. There is a loud and effusive woman making the rounds of the room, and for some reason, she manages to mention her son’s name in almost every sentence she speaks. Her son’s name is Cole. She is Cole’s mother. Her son’s name is Cole. Cole, yes . . . Cole’s her son!
Mark nudges me, “That’s Cole’s mother.”
I turn to stare at him with wonder and admiration, “Seriously? How’d you work that out?”
He ignores my sarcasm, “You know, Cole . . . Kallan talks about him all the time.”
I think back through all the words Kallan has ever spoken to me, and I do not remember Cole coming up in conversation. Ever. Great . . . dementia has chosen this moment to reveal itself to me. What the fuck else have I forgotten?
Mark is thoughtful, “We met her once not long after we moved here. She and Cole don’t actually live that far from us.” He takes my hand, “We should go say hello.”
I pull my hand from his and stare at the woman; I have no memory of ever having met this woman before. Is this how dementia works? One moment you are rolling around in your hamster ball avoiding people, and the next moment the people you have failed to avoid over the course of your life simply slip from your memory, one by one? “I don’t remember Kallan ever mentioning a boy named Cole.”
Mark sips his drink, “No big deal. I pay attention to stuff.”
“I pay attention to stuff . . . are you sure I met her? Maybe you met her without me?” The woman who is mother to Cole moves through the crowd and away from us, saving me the embarrassment of having to pretend to know who she is. I reach back through the memories that are left to me and try to retrieve Cole and Cole’s mother. Nothing. Just empty space. “Seriously, babe . . . I have no memory of that woman or her son.”
“She lives just up the street. You met her.”
She lives just up the street? What the fuck? “And Kallan has mentioned her son to us?”
“Bunch of times, yes. Cole.”
So then I am all disconcerted and alarmed and worried that some of the strangers in this room are not actually strangers at all. What if I know all of these people? What have I been doing and saying in the memories that no longer exist? WHO AM I?
I tighten the latches on my hamster ball and speak to no one for the rest of the evening. That had already been my plan, but there is a new urgency to my hostility; no one must be allowed to approach me with upsetting knowledge of my forgotten past. I stare at Cole’s mother again . . . she is not a forgettable woman . . . how did I forget her?
Who is Cole?
Mark grows tired of my obsessive gnawing on the concept of Cole’s existence, “It doesn’t matter. You forgot that you met someone. You didn’t listen when Kallan talked about a kid in the neighborhood. It’s not a big deal.”
Later that evening, I lie in bed and practice for Alzheimer’s.
It’s not that upsetting to lose memories. It’s as though they never were, and one cannot be sad about what never was. Yes, the thought of losing memories is terrifying, but the actual loss of them turns out to be a fairly stress-free experience. So I no longer have Cole and his mother . . . so what? Who are they to me, anyway? Nobody. Pretty sure they are nobody. Pretty sure.
The next day is Saturday, and the four of us pile into the car and head out to run some errands. As we drive down the street, I think to myself, “Oh, this must be where Cole and his mother live.” And then I think how weird it is that I remember Cole’s mother and Cole’s name from last night, but not from earlier meetings or conversations. Memory loss is a tricky and capricious thing, apparently.
No reason to scare the children with the news of their mother’s fading cognitive skills, and so I turn, all falsely cheerful and competent, to Kallan, “Isn’t this where your friend Cole lives? Somewhere around here?”
Kallan’s voice is puzzled, “Huh?”
I wave my hand to indicate the houses around us, “Cole . . . doesn’t he live around here somewhere?”
Wait just a fucking minute . . . I turn to Mark, “Did you hear that, babe? Kallan doesn’t know who Cole is either. Weird, right?”
Mark turns down the radio and points out the car window, “Kallan, come on . . . stop messing with your mother. The boy who lives in that house right there. Cole.”
Kallan is confused, and she turns to look at the house Mark has indicated as we drive by, “You mean Porter?”
I stare at Mark, “Yes, babe. Do you perhaps mean Porter?” Porter who I have heard Kallan mention several times and Porter’s mother who I met at a neighborhood picnic a while back. Porter.
Mark laughs, “I guess I do mean Porter.”
Kallan pats Mark on the shoulder, “Wow, Daddy. Just . . . wow.”
Kallan goes back to her iPod (Maj never left hers), leaving me to voice my incredulity and triumph, “So that woman last night . . . I’ve never met her?”
“Huh. I guess not.”
“And you’ve never met her?”
“Huh. I guess not.”
“So you were completely wrong and I was completely right?”
“Long as we’re clear.”
Mark continues driving for a moment, and then he explains, “I blame Cole Porter for my confusion.”
“You blame Cole Porter?”
“Yes. I heard Cole and then I thought Porter and then Porter became Cole. This is all Cole Porter’s fault.”
I think for a moment, “Didn’t he write that song, I’ve Got You Under My Skin?
I sit back happily in my seat, “When I get a moment, I am going to roll Cole Porter and Morgellon’s Disease and social anxiety and memory loss all up in a carpet of dysfunction, and you are going to come out looking rather lame.”
Mark sighs and then laughs and turns up the radio, “Maybe just for this post, you could refer to me as Twain.”