Trust No One DAY FOUR
No, you haven’t lost day two and day three—in fact you can remember them clearly (though you did misplace your coffee and Sandra found it out by the pool, which is weird because you don’t even have a pool).
Eva came over on the weekend, and there’s big news. She’s getting married. You’ve known for a while it was probably going to happen, but that didn’t make it any less of a surprise. It’s hard to sum up what you felt in that moment. You were excited, of course you were, but you felt a sense of loss, one that’s hard to explain, a sense Eva was moving on with her life and out of yours, and there’s a sense of loss because there will be grandchildren you may not get to meet, or if you do, you may end up forgetting them.
She came over on Sunday morning and popped the news. She and What’s His Name got engaged on Saturday night. There was no way you and Sandra could tell her about the Big A, not then, but you will soon, of course you will. You’ll need some explanation as to why you keep putting your pants on backwards and trying to speak Klingon. Just kidding. Speaking of kidding, you do have a pool, but you sure don’t remember walking down to it, because it’s winter, but hey, there you go.
So day two and three went by, and you’re not really dealing with the news any better. Before we get into what happened on the Day at the Doctor, first let me do what I said I would do on Day One, and that’s tell you how it all began.
It was at Matt’s Christmas party two years ago. Christ, you probably don’t even remember Matt. He’s what you would call a background character, somebody who pops into your life every few months or so, mostly after you’ve run into him at the mall, but he does throw a pretty good Christmas shindig. You and Sandra went along, you socialized, you mingled, it’s what you do, and then it happened—Matt’s brother and sister-in-law showed up and introduced themselves, Hi, I’m James and this is Karen, and then you, Hi, I’m Jerry and this is my wife . . . and that was it. This is your wife. Sandra, of course, filled in the blank. This is your wife, Sandra. She didn’t know it was a blank—she thought it was you trying to be funny. But no, Mr. Memory Banks, from which you’d withdrawn her name thousands of times over the nearly thirty years you’ve loved her, had blocked your account. The moment was so quick, and what was it you put it down to? The alcohol. And why not? Your dad had been a raging drunk back in his day, and it only made sense that was rubbing off on you a little—and after all you were standing there with a G&T in your hand, your third for the night.
Actually, just for the record, your honor, don’t go getting the wrong impression about your past self. You only drink a couple of times a year—your dad used to imbibe more in a day than you would in a year. He drank himself to death—literally. It was awful, and one memory that seems unlikely to ever fade is the one of your mother calling you, sounding so hysterical you couldn’t make out what she was saying down the phone, yet not needing to as her tone was telling you everything you needed to know. It wouldn’t be until you got to their house you found out he had been drinking by the pool. He rolled into it to cool down and couldn’t get himself back out.
So you forgot your wife’s name and why wouldn’t you think it was anything other than the booze? Sure, you were always losing your keys, but if society threw around the Big A label to anybody who didn’t know where their keys were then the whole world would be suffering from Alzheimer’s. Yes—there was the car keys getting lost, but they would get found too, wouldn’t they? Be it in the fridge, or in the pantry, or once (hello, irony) by the pool. Sure, you lost your dad in a pool, you left your coffee there, and your keys, but that’s just carelessness—after all, you do have a world full of people living inside your head looking for a voice, remember? All those characters? Serial killers and rapists and bank robbers, and of course then there’s the bad guys too (that’s a joke). With all that going on inside, of course you’re going to lose your keys. And your wallet. And your jacket. And even your car—well you didn’t lose it, not really—which is a story that had you calling This Is My Wife . . . Sandra, Is It? from the mall and, thankfully, not the police to report it stolen. She came and picked you up, and she spotted it on the way out of the parking lot exactly where you had left it, and you, well, you’d been looking for the car you used to own five years prior to that. You both had a good laugh about it. A concerned kind of laugh. And it reminded you of the time you had forgotten her name, and it reminded you of when you used to renovate houses before the crime writing took off, back when you would paint rooms and put in new kitchens, lay tiles and put in new bathrooms, and through it all you would lose the screwdriver or the hammer (and there was no pool back then to look around). And just where. The hell. Were they? Well sometimes you never did find them.
Sandra thought the solution was to have A Place for Everything. She emptied a shelf near the front door, and when you came inside you would empty your pockets, putting your phone and keys and wallet and watch there—at least that was the plan. The shelf didn’t work for one very simple reason. It wasn’t so much that you couldn’t remember where you were putting these things, it was that you had no memory of even putting them down. It was like when you reach your destination and can’t remember the drive. You can’t use A Place for Everything when you’re not aware of even taking your keys out of your pocket. Then you would forget birthdays. You would forget important dates. So that and that and all that other stuff—then you forgot Sandra’s name again. Just. Like. That. You were filling in passport forms. You were sitting beside each other, and Sandra was filling hers in and you said . . . get this, this will make you laugh or cry, but you said to her Why are you writing down Sandra in the name box? Because that’s what she was doing—of course that’s what she was doing—it’s what any Sandra would do, but you asked because, in that moment, you had no clue. Your wife’s name was . . . what? You didn’t know. You didn’t know you didn’t know that—you just knew it wasn’t Sandra, of course not, it was . . .
It was Sandra. It was the moment. When things changed.
That’s how it started—or at least that’s when it started showing up. Who knows when it started? Birth? In utero? That concussion you got when you were sixteen and you stumbled down a flight of stairs at school? How about twenty years ago when you took Sandra and Eva camping? You were chasing Eva around the campsite, pretending to be a grizzly bear and she was giggling and you were going roar, roar, and your throat was getting raw and your hands were forming claws and you ran right into a branch and knocked yourself out cold. Or maybe it was that time you were fourteen and your dad punched you for the first and only time in his life (he was normally a happy drunk) because he was angry, he was mad, he was what he got sometimes when the normally wasn’t in play and the darkness was creeping in. Kind of like the darkness you’ve got coming and, thinking about it, maybe he wasn’t as drunk as it seemed—maybe your disease was his disease. It could be one of those things, or none of them, or, as you thought in the beginning, just the Universe balancing the scales for giving you the life you wanted.
Soon you won’t remember your favorite TV show, your favorite food. Soon you’re going to start slurring your speech and forgetting people, only you’re not going to know most of this. Your Brain the Vault is going to turn into Your Brain the Sieve, and all those people, all those characters you’ve created, their world and their futures are going to drain away, and soon . . . well, hey, in a hundred years you would have been dead anyway.
That moment when things changed, well, Sandra said you had to go and see Doctor Goodstory. Which led to more doctors. Which led to news of the Big A on Big F—that’s how you think of that Friday now, as the Big F, the Day at the Doctor, and really you think that’s a pretty appropriate name for it, right? You’d been hoping for something simple, something changing your diet and spending more time outside soaking up vitamin D could fix. Instead the Big F brought the exact news you were hoping you wouldn’t hear.
What do you want to know about that day? Do you want to know you cried that night in Sandra’s arms when you got home? Not the Big F day—that was the result day. But the first time, back when all Doctor Goodstory said was We’re going to have to run some tests. Sure, we’ll get to the bottom of it. No, don’t worry about it, Jerry—these were things he didn’t say. He asked if you were depressed. You said sure, what author isn’t after reading some of his reviews? He asked you to be serious, so then you were, and no, you weren’t depressed. How was your appetite? It was good. Were you sleeping much? Not a lot but enough. Diet? How was your diet? It was good, you were getting your vitamins, you were staying healthy and hitting the gym a couple of times a week. Were you drinking much? Maybe the odd gin and tonic or two. He said he’d run some tests, and that’s what he did. Tests, and a referral to a specialist.
Then came the trips to the hospital. There was the MRI scan, there were blood tests, memory tests, there were forms to fill in, not just for you, but for Sandra—she was to observe you, and still you kept this from Eva. Then the Big F, Doctor Goodstory had the results and would you please come in and speak to him, so you did . . . well, you know the news. Just take a look in the mirror. Early onset dementia. Alzheimer’s. Maybe in the future there’s a cure, because there sure as hell isn’t one now, and maybe this journal can be inspiration for your next book—maybe you’ve written fifty books by now and this was just that time in your life, Jerry Grey with his Dark Period, the same way Picasso had his Blue Period and The Beatles had their White.
You have slowly progressive dementia. The Big A. Dementia in people under sixty-five is not common, Goodstory said, which makes you a statistic. There are drugs to take for the anxiety and the depression that is, he assured you, on its way—but there aren’t drugs you can take for the disease itself.
We can’t accurately map the rate at which things are going to change for you, Doctor Goodstory said. The thing is, the brain—the brain still has a lot of mysteries. As your doctor, and as your friend, I’m telling you there might be five or ten okay years ahead for you, or you could be full-blown crazy by Christmas. My advice is to use that gun of yours and blow your brains out while you still know how.
Okay, he didn’t say that, that’s just you reading between the lines. You spent half an hour talking about the future with him. Soon a stranger is going to be living inside your body. You, Future Jerry, may even be that stranger. Bad days are coming, days when you will wander from the house and get lost at the mall, days where you will forget what your parents looked like, days where you’ll no longer be able to drive. Other than the journal, your writing days are over. And that’s only the beginning. The days will get so dark that in the end you won’t know who Sandra is, or that you have a daughter. You may not even know your own name. There will be things you can’t remember, and there will be things you can remember that never actually happened. There will be simple things that no longer make any sense. The day is coming when your world will be without logic, without any kind of sense, without any awareness. You won’t be able to hold Sandra’s hand and watch her smile. You won’t be able to chase Eva and pretend you’re a grizzly bear. That day . . . Doctor Goodstory couldn’t tell you when it would be. Not tomorrow. That’s the good news here. All you have to do is make sure that day will never be tomorrow.