I don’t usually remember my dreams but in the last week I had two about Ralph.
I am in a school building with Ralph When he heads to the boy’s bathroom, I can’t follow him. But he doesn’t come out, and he doesn’t come out. I decide I must have been pre-occupied and not noticed him come through the door. Or maybe in the dream I am pre-occupied, enjoying myself, and then I realize I have I missed him coming out the door. I start to search for him, walking down various corridors but stopping along the way to have small happy adventures. I never find him and wonder how I’ll explain to people that I mislaid him. When I woke I felt unsettled, as if the dream needed to be finished. I felt the need to double check that Ralph was indeed in the bed, safely asleep.
Ralph announces he has fallen in love with another woman and asks my permission to get a divorce. The woman and I talk. I ask if she is prepared to take care of Ralph if/when his condition worsens. She says yes. She seems perfectly nice and normal, but I find it odd that Ralph says this woman, whom I evidently know slightly, is his intellectual soul mate. I feel a little hurt since before we married or even dated we were intellectual buddies.
My stronger reaction, though, is curiosity. I ask Ralph what he talks about to the woman, who wears a 1950s-style black dress and wide brimmed hat. After all, he and I don’t have more than perfunctory conversations most of the time. Ralph tells me they talk about real estate, the subject that used to obsess him but that he now avoids discussing—somehow in the dream I think to myself about our awake life. We are in a room together, maybe a restaurant, where I begin to worry about the woman’s motives–is she after his money [that part of the dream probably comes from reading Anne Patchett’s The Dutch House in which a second wife cuts her husband’s kids out of their inheritance]. Suddenly I realize Ralph’s kids are protected by his will. Relieved, I decide to let the divorce happen. He and the woman are very grateful. I am glad to be making Ralph happy and also happy that now I can move to a smaller house and live alone.
One dream of losing Ralph physically, one of losing him emotionally. Losing or chasing to lose. What these dreams reveal is both obvious and murky: ambivalence, ambivalence, ambivalence.
No surprise, Ralph’s subscription to Alzheimer’s has been renewed. I know the analogy is illogical but that’s how I sometimes think of his annual mental check up.
Does that seem blasé?
It’s just that every July the routine is so similar. We get to the building after a long anxious car ride, Ralph takes the standard hour long test while I meet with our Nurse Practitioner Stephanie privately, I tell her (every time) that I sense Ralph growing less engaged, Ralph joins us after his test and Stephanie checks the results before telling us that he has pretty much held steady. Some element of the test usually shows what she calls “a little slippage” from the previous year but never as much slippage as I expected or think I’ve noticed.
For instance, this year his tests results showed that compared to last year, he forgot three more words on the word retention section or two connection on the connect-number-and letters section (a test I found difficult myself when I took it as a part of Emory’s healthy aging study). Stephanie seemed less concerned about those scores than she was that he had answered two more answers denoting possible depression than he had last year. So we have upped his lexapro back to what it was a few years ago when in retrospect he seemed almost jolly.
I think Stephanie is wonderful, perceptive and caring. I think so particularly after she specifically asked if I still travelled to see my grandson; I said yes with a bit of embarrassed hesitancy, remembering a call from a friend who with best of intentions told me Ralph seemed lonely.
“Well you definitely should,” Stephanie began and in that half second before the next word I groaned to myself that she’d found me out as a caregiver will to abandon her caregivee), “continue those trips.”
So I love and believe totally in Stephanie.
But after four or is it five years, I’ve finally acknowledged to myself that the annual test is limited in its efficacy. My personal test results for Ralph were a little different this year. What I noted were two concrete-ish differences from a year ago and maybe a third.
- On our to Emory Ralph told me he was beginning to feel foggy more often. “Foggy” is a term he used a lot before he went on his medications way back when he was first diagnosed but has not used much since. I was a little, if not exactly alarmed, concerned. (Of course, when I brought up what he’d said in front of Stephanie, he didn’t remember saying any such thing and denied any new fogginess.)
- Two or three years ago, Ralph happily agreed when I suggested we pick up Cuban sandwich at a funky joint nearby that we used to frequent when we lived in the city. The next year he became less enthusiastic about the inconvenience of going out of our way to a restaurant. Instead we fell into the habit of dropping by the on-site café every time we came to Emory, which was quite frequent while Ralph was in his now defunct Merck study. But after this visit when I suggested the café, he demurred, not exactly adamant but firm. He wanted to swing through a drive-through, lately pretty much the only place he’ll reluctantly eat away from home. The Emory café is nothing special but the food is relatively healthy and I have always looked forward to that little break in our routine, a little moment of civilized social normalcy. That his unwillingness to eat in a café was upset me may say more about me than Ralph. Food has always been kind of passion. I feel the loss of eating out sharply. It was one of the few activity we always shared as a couple, both of us adventurous and willing to try pretty much anything, both of us fascinated by the culture of food, both of us drawn to both high and low cuisine. I briefly thought of insisting we go to the café, and maybe I should have. Instead I acquiesced and swung us into a Burger King. But I was resentful. After ordering Ralph his sandwich and soda, I passive-aggressively ordered only a diet soda for myself, while reminding Ralph, “I’m on a diet and there is nothing on the menu I could eat.” (Oh, please, I was starving by then dying for a greasy burger.)
- Bonus difference point, He didn’t notice I was upset. Me being passive-aggressive and resentful is nothing new in our relationship. It may have been the bedrock of our relationship: whenever I got passive-aggressively resentful, Ralph more than noticed and would turn surly and aggressive back. So I honestly don’t know if change number three is for the better or worse….