I was waiting to get a tooth pulled the other day, breathing nitric oxide into my nose while my teeth were held in a kind of vise, when I had an epiphany of understanding…. I realized I was experiencing something akin to how Ralph lives everyday.
Sitting immobile in that over bright, antiseptic office I had nothing else to do but turn inward. And frankly ideas began to percolate. I became completely caught up in my flow of ideas—how to re-organize my novel-in-progress now that my first (Playing Botticelli) is getting re-formatted as an e-book and my second (Inheritance) is out being shopped; how to deal with the HVAC guy who put the wrong size AC unit into my house, causing unspeakable damage; how to organize a campaign against Donald Trump; how to improve this blog. I didn’t care that there was no way to articulate my thoughts or that they flew out of my brain and away like birds from an open cage.
Fifteen passed minutes , maybe five minutes, maybe half an hour while I floated in time. It occurred to me, not for the first time, how expansive time can be when untethered from routine. I was living totally inside my head, and time had temporarily had no weight. I knew the dentist would come in eventually, but I didn’t know when and I didn’t really care. My sense of living in the present, chemically created in the dental chair, may be as close as I can get to what I imagine Ralph and others living with his kind of memory loss dementia experience all the time.
Or I’d like to think so because I like to think that Ralph is experiencing a rich inner life of thoughts and feelings teven if he cannot hold on to them long enough to express them to me.
Last night, for instance, he talked on the phone to our daughter for what seemed to me a good half an hour. Sitting beside him, I watched his face full of animation as he listened to her sort through some issues she is having and offered his advice, as he laughed at things she said and made jokes of his own.
He was so fully involved in the conversation that I was frankly a little jealous, dying to talk to her myself. But I didn’t ask for the phone because it was better to let him be the parent she talked to for a change.I am sure my daughter hung up believing she and Ralph had completely connected.
As soon as he put the phone away, I immediately pounced, asking him the basic questions I knew she’d answered—like whether or not she was going to take the job she was telling him about, and when exactly was she arriving for her visit this week.
He shook his head. “I can’t remember if she said.”
Of course I can get the answers myself from a quick text back and forth. As for the gist of their conversation, and what I really wanted to know….
“It sounded like a good conversation. Did she seem happy?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I think so. It’s hard to tell. She didn’t have much to say. We only talked a minute.”