Okay so I got a little furious at Ralph last night. That’s an oxymoron, isn’t it? Furious implies more than a little anger. But dealing with Ralph since his MCI means that any given moment I cannot allow myself more than a little anger, a little resentment, a little impatience.
Be warned what follows is my little rant. Even as the words show up on my screen, I see how “little” the incidents were that set me off. But if you are dealing with a loved one with cognitive impairment (or anyone who has ever been married), you know the way those little moments build.
Ralph and I drove into Atlanta yesterday so Ralph could try on a new suit for our daughter’s wedding. He said he didn’t want to go (“too complicated” as usual), but once we were at the store with our daughter, he started enjoying himself. He basked in our compliments about how good he looked, he told the salesman stories about his wild youth. Back at my daughter’s house, she and I got on the computer to order wedding knickknacks while Ralph relaxed with a glass of wine (and a smoke on the porch).
Since the three of us were laughing away, having more fun together than we have in ages, my daughter and I assumed that when her fiancé got home, we would all share an early dinner at one of their neighborhood restaurants. I had mentioned the plans in a vague way to Ralph, the way I have learned to mention most plans ahead of time, and he had seemed amendable.
But when my daughter made the understandable mistake of asking Ralph directly whether he was willing to hang out another half an hour, he said, “No, I want to get home to my dog.”
My heart sank. I knew that if we’d waited to mention dinner until the arrival of my daughter’s fiancé, whom Ralph is crazy about, Ralph would have gone along with the idea and then had a great time. But it was too late now. When I gently suggested that dinner out might be a nice change of pace, he became adamant about going home. I didn’t push. So at the height of Atlanta rush hour, we got in the car.
Slipping into the driver’s seat I asked, only half joking and barely pleasantly, if we were ever going to eat out in Atlanta again. He answered with the rhetorical question, why would we want to. Well that’s easy, I thought but did not say out loud, because we have always loved going to restaurants together, because I am as obsessed with food as I was when he me, because I am sick of cooking every night, then sitting in front of Jeopardy while we eat. I bit my tongue and said only that it might be a nice change of pace.
For the next few minutes we drove in seemingly pleasant silence—Ralph oblivious to my private stewing over being cheated out of a good meal—but then I suggested we take a different route to the interstate, one I know but Ralph doesn’t remember, so we would avoid the heavy traffic that comes after five.
A big mistake. Since I was driving I should have kept my mouth shut and just gone the way I wanted. Ralph again became adamant. He said my way was further than his way, that I was wrong about the time it would take. His voice rose with his anxiety. Before his diagnosis, I would have argued back, and screaming would have ensued. Instead I followed his route knowing it would be a disaster.
The tension barometer in our car rose not helped by my audible sigh with each minutes that clicked by. After sitting in the same line of unmoving cars for thirty minutes, Ralph turned to me and full of contrition said, “I forgot how back traffic gets. Next time you should just override me because you know better.”
Guilt immediately washed over me. How could I be mad at a guy who so willingly apologized and acknowledged his limitations?
Well, I could. I might be guilty about it but I was still mad. Mad because I was craving a nice meal out. Mad because planning the wedding has been a difficult but special time for all of us and I wanted this chance to share a sense of celebration with the two lovebirds. Mad because we were now stuck in traffic when we could be halfway home if I’d taken that left turn I’d wanted (and we’d be halfway through dinner by now if gone out with the kids). I was mad because I gave in unnecessarily. Oh wait, was I mad at him or myself?
I began writing this post with threads of resentment still clinging to my psyche. Petty bickering and small issues that blow out of proportion are part of most marriages; they were certainly part of ours before Ralph’s diagnosis. But they feel different now, complicated by moments of condescending pity knotted with bursts of affection and flashes of appreciation for the man Ralph remains. Complicated most of all by my own ambivalence at becoming what I always thought I wanted: the one in power, the one in control.