When the kids were small, I always knew our best conversations happened in the car.Strapped in seatbelts the kids tended to open up more about their lives; now Ralph does the same. We were driving home from a visit to his dermatologist when he brought up an issue that has clearly been bothering him.
“My IQ score has dropped,” he announced out of the blue. “Is that normal?”
“How do you know that?”
“I saw it on my chart last visit.”
I don’t know how he saw this nugget of information (or even if he read it right), let alone remembered, but I realize that problems he cannot sort out seem to get stuck in his brain, like gum on the bottom on his shoe that he can’t shake off.
“Well memory probably affects IQ results.”
“117 is still above average though right?”
“Right.” My heart ached with protective affection.
On the other hand, Ralph and I have always had our worst conversations at night when we are tired and Ralph has had some drinks.
So last night while I was trying to relax after a long day by watching mindless TV at the kitchen table, Ralph stormed out of the bedroom.
“What was the name of that real estate agent who tricked you into selling too cheap?”
I told him the names of the agents we used, one a friend of his. He grumbled some more and went back to bed, only to return moments later and begin to rant about how we were cheated and I should have known better.
He was talking about some property we sold in 2013, the year he got his diagnosis and was still half running things. He had chosen the agent and begun the negotiations pre-diagnosis; I had completed the deal post-diagnosis. Ralph and I had discussed the terms exhaustively. I didn’t want to sell the building at the time but he insisted.
Those months were among the worst in my life, a time I’d rather not remember myself, filled with my mother’s precipitously failing health, Ralph’s heightened, often angry anxiety over his diagnosis, our desperation to sell our business profitably, the sharp learning curve I had to master while laid up in a cast after I crushed my ankle falling on black ice. I did not necessarily make stellar business decisions, but frankly I handled it all pretty damn well considering.
In Ralph’s head last night, we had sold the property just weeks ago and he was obviously obsessing over the numbers (which he had wrong). As he began to berate me, I pretended to be absorbed in Saturday Night Live. In fact I was stewing in resentment and in memories of Ralph during the middle years of our marriage when I often felt he bullied me.
Then he switched gears.
“Where’s our money now? Who are those people who supposedly manage our investments? How do you know they are not going to take our money? You need to make sure they can’t steal our money.”
What I felt as he ranted was about as far from protective affection as you can get—hot white hate tinged with damp self-pity that I was stuck with him until one of us died.
This morning Ralph brought me coffee in bed, as sweet as could be. The conversation has erased itself from his brain as if it never occurred. I wish I could say the same, but I can’t.
*A side note: as we were entering the examining room, the nurse behind the desk said to another nearby, “The Alzheimer’s patient is here now.” I clearly heard and am sure Ralph did too, but neither of us brought it up, not even in the car.