I called my parents last night. Dad answered the phone. I’m in the habit of thinking “Uh oh,” when that happens.
Sometimes he answers the phone then nothing. I don’t know whether he puts it down in his lap, whether he gets distracted by the television, or what. Once, when I needed to discuss something with Mom, I had to call my sister Carol on her cell phone and ask her to go get the phone from Dad, after I had exhausted my vocal chords by shouting into it to try to get him to hear me.
“How was your birthday?” Dad asks. I am surprised that he is speaking eloquently without the weighty pauses I’ve become accustomed to. “How are things in Cincinnati?” he asks.
“Did you get a lot of rain today?” he asks. “It rained all day here.”
I am completely taken aback. My dad who has become like the silent rock of ages that you have to practically chisel monosyllabic answers out of with a series of persistent inquiries is not only responding to the conversation, he is initiating it.
I feel tears well up in my eyes. I am listening to my dad over the phone, the man I never see any more. The man who has been replaced by the slow-moving, silent sleeper.
In some ways I feel like this is a cruel joke, making me remember him like this when I have built a solid defense around who he is now that doesn’t allow the memories of who he used to be to creep in.
Silence comes over the phone. Dad has run out of questions. “What did you have for dinner?” I ask to keep the now-stilted conversation going. “I don’t know,” he says. “Let me ask your mother.”
I hear him ask Mom in the background. “Jerry,” she says, “we just ate dinner a few minutes ago. What did you have to eat?”
“Macaroni,” Dad says.
“We had macaroni for lunch,” Mom says. And then she describes dinner for him.
This is an insidious disease.
Dad had a bad day last Tuesday, or maybe it was my mom who had the bad day.
First the buzzer for the kitchen timer went off. “Why is that timer going off?” my mom asked.
“I set it,” my dad said.
“Why did you do that?” Mom asked. She is afraid that if he is able to turn the timer on he is equally as able and likely to turn one of the burners on or the oven.
“All the books say not to ask someone with Alzheimer’s the question ‘why?’,” she told me. “I don’t know why I can’t remember not to ask him why.”
Later in the afternoon they went together into the family room. Mom noticed the telephone answering machine was turned off. “Why is the answering machine turned off?” she asked.
“I turned it off,” Dad said.
“Why did you do that?” she asked, even though she knows she’s not supposed to ask why.
I don’t know why, my mom doesn’t know why she continues to ask why.
Mostly, I just simply don’t know. . .why.