In my junior year of high school I was assigned a research report on something that was of interest. I was to write it and submit pamphlets for my AP English class. My classmates had interesting subjects and the teacher looked at me to inquire what research subject I would choose. We were in our high school library and I had no idea. Not very many things interested me.
As I sat looking through reference books I came across a phone number and wrote it down. That piece of paper sat in my backpack for over two weeks until I finally got the nerve to punch in the numbers to call the 800 number.
It was to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, MD.
The operator kindly took down my information and promised to send information about colon cancer and the research NCI conducted. A week later, the thick envelope arrived in the mail and I quietly wrote my research paper. Years later I realized my English teacher had given it to my counselor and it had determined the pathway I would take for the next eight years.
I find myself on the National Institutes of Health (NIH)/ National Institute on Aging (NIA) website.
The middle son continues to plot Punnett squares and is sent upstairs, by the hubs, to me. The man enjoys advanced mathematics and computer programming languages (he spent this last weekend creating clouds) but is stumped by genetics. What are the differences between mitosis and meiosis? this son asked the hubs and soon, his footfalls were heard trudging up the stairs. Perusing his book I found the section about color blindness; the genetic condition this son inherited from one of my X chromosomes. Reds and greens are not distinct for him and so I chose the above square to illustrate how I passed it down through meiosis. None of our other sons express or carry this gene. Only this one.
Early this morning, as I drove this son to his junior high for a field trip, we sat at the traffic light. He talked of his color vision deficiency and science. He is attending a math field trip at the professional hockey venue to learn how math and science is utilized in this sport. We talk of Punnett squares and I wondered if he could distinguish the colors of red and green on the light.
Science seems to be on my mind too.
Over the weekend we watched, The Theory of Everything; the film about Stephen Hawking’s life. The hubs and I had quietly sat while our sons remained in the den; plugged into their computers. We had been surprised when the middle son joined us; watching the entire movie. Last evening I finally watched Still Alice based on the book by the same name. Those who’ve watched it said to bring tissues and as I rushed into the theater I realized, I had none. When the lights came on two hours later I hadn’t needed them.
While amongst other moms at a birthday party yesterday the inevitable question asked was Did you have a nice Valentine’s day? I had gone to the supermarket on Saturday, considering what to cook for our family dinner. Each Valentine’s day we dare not venture out amongst the long dinner lines and happy couples with our three boys. Instead, we choose to make a fancy dinner at home. But the day had arrived and I had neither any Valentine’s gifts for my sons nor food in my fridge to constitute anything special. And so I had stood in the supermarket’s butcher counter considering my options after my heart healthy jog, that morning. The steady line of men came into the store purchasing flowers, cards and candy. When I grinned at them they sheepishly looked contrite; caught doing everything at the very last minute.
I, myself, had purchased the flowers at our local Costco the day before. The hubs loves carnations and myself, roses. When the hubs discovered this he looked at me questioningly. Amidst a busy day of going here and there I had returned home, briefly, and caught my household cleaning to attempt to surprise me. I had had no expectation for this day and was happy to discover their sentiment. After the dishes had been put away the hubs and I quietly sat. We have had years together with countless ways of celebrating our love for one another. I pointed out the flowers and he smiled. “Do you think our boys will remember our Valentine’s days?” he asked. I quickly answered no, they probably would not. His reply had surprised me.
Yes. They will.
He pointed to the flowers; the real reason I had most likely purchased them. He and I no longer need the popular notion of sending candy and flowers, though we are most happy for others who do this. We were already over the moon that my cousin was finally engaged to her long time companion who I always mistakenly introduce as her husband. She had sent the text with the picture above.
Why am I rambling about seeming unrelated topics, you ask?
The pieces of my jigsaw puzzle are finally fitting into place. My various lives are abutting together; disjoint as they sometimes are. I am becoming whole.
As disjoint as all the topics above are, they are relevant to who I am. For years I kept them distinctly separate, compartmentalized away into various regions of my subconscious. But the key to discovering who I am was to open these doors and to dwell within these memories. I am grateful that my hippocampus is intact and that these memories can still be retrieved. It is these things that define who we are. Without them life loses its meaning and you become a vacant vessel.
If you cannot remember the things that you love and did love, why live?
To the question of how my Valentine’s day weekend went? It’s complicated and not at all about the flowers.
It got a kick start with sixteen women watching Fifty Shades of Grey; a book chosen by our bookclub several years back. We had all guffawed and enjoyed the break from the busy school year since the date of this bookclub had been in June. We didn’t have high expectations of the film but enjoyed the social outing. They had to kick us out of the theater after the movie, the next round of women queuing to enter the next showing.
On Saturday our family dinner came together. I wonder what our sons will take away from Valentine’s day. Most years I decorate my home for each season but time, this year, had gotten away from me. The boys dug into the candy, lit the candle and hungrily ate their dinner of steak and lobster; a rare treat. When asked what our favorite things about this day were, the hubs remarked he enjoyed trying to surprise me, with our sons, by cleaning the house (my favored love language of acts of service). My favorite thing had not occurred on Valentine’s day. I had been sick and congested and overwhelmed with the messy life I had (my car and home) last Tuesday. He had commanded that I drive my vehicle to a carwash; something he normally does not do. He’d rather clean it himself. It is amazing what a clean car can do for my psyche. It had spurred me on to complete other tasks; sick as I had been. I organized my computer area, answered emails and efficiently cleared my desk of stacks of paperwork. Grateful I had hugged my hubs, knowing this was why we were married. This was a gift.
The common theme I took away from watching The Theory of Everything and Still Alice was about love. Jane Hawking’s devotion to Stephen as his muscles deteriorated to motor neuron disease aka Lou Gehrig’s and the fictional Alice Howland’s deteriorating mind to early onset Alzheimer’s. After watching the Hawking movie, with us, the middle son laughingly joked that half of the movie I gripped the hubs’ arm in tears. When the hubs inquired about Still Alice, side-by-side in bed, I turned to him matter-of-factly. I forced my sleepy eyes to open and voiced the question aloud, once again.
I asked if he didn’t want to reconsider purchasing long term care insurance, should he ever need to place me in a locked care facility. For Alzheimer’s.
Watching Still Alice the question returned, would I want to be genetically tested? Although my own mother had late onset Alzheimer’s her marked decline was fairly rapid. There is a stronger genetic component to early onset Alzheimer’s; research suggesting the involvement of chromosomes 21 and 14. Late onset also has a genetic component but there is discussion that environmental factors may be instrumental in turning these genetic mutations on or off.
I have always known I would NOT choose to take the genetic test. I hope that my lifestyle choices and environment can factor against the likelihood of this happening to me. The Punnett squares visualized in my mind and I ponder if I will ever have a conversation about this with my three boys. I have a 50/50 chance.
The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s Care book is shown in the Still Alice movie several times and I was reminded of my time with the Alzheimer’s Association, meeting David Troxel who was affiliated with the local chapter’s board. I will always advocate for increased awareness, my purple pin upon my suit blazer since 1999. Currently I read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal; affirming my time when I too, spoke with geriatric parents’ families about end of life issues. I had been interning under a wonderful physician and walked the halls of County hospital.
This was/is the person I am, the one who delves into the darker places that people don’t care to trod. Aging. Mortality. At age sixteen this was the topic of my paper; a downer amongst my peers. Only one other person in this class wrote a paper that none could truly understand; an essay about black holes. She became our valedictorian and, to no one’s surprise, chose astrophysics as her major and matriculated to Cal Tech. Hawking was her idol.
The hubs turned to face me, his gaze direct. He knows my wishes to be placed in a locked facility; should my mind deteriorate like my own mother’s. He chooses NOT to place me and I vow to do the same. I have walked the halls of these places, both as a gerontologist and as a family member. My years in the neurolab taking data on hippocampal lesions in rats and histological slides on ApoE and fibrillary tangles were progress but there are still no guarantees for finding a cure. The hubs negates the need for long term care insurance and jokes that he’ll implant me with a microchip to track my whereabouts. Most likely he will find me in our local supermarket, chatting with the cashiers as I do now. He tucked me into bed and turned off the light.
This is real life; his depth of understanding and binding love the real take away from my weekend. This is what I think of when I see roses and carnations; attaching them as associative clues. I continue to catalog my memories and hope I will always be able to retrieve them.