HE I WE I HE WE WE I HE HE WE I HE I WE HE WE I HE WE I WE HE I HE WE HE
Ralph and I always were independent spirits. While he sent out a strong magnetic force, I fought to maintain my sense of self. I often lost, of course. Whether he was being charming or belligerent, his energy, could suck up all the air in a room; I’d find myself seething at my invisibility. So I fought playing second fiddle, and in many ways the struggle between us made me stronger as an individual. Just a few years before Ralph’s diagnosis, the two of us discovered a level mutual respect and appreciation. There was Ralph (him), there was Alice(me) and there was Ralph and Alice(us),which balanced the individuals Ralph and Alice and made us both surprisingly happy.
While it lasted, which wasn’t long. The pronouns say it all.
When I talk about Ralph now, I tend to say/write/think We have a doctor appointment or We have a problem remembering the day of the week or We don’t like to break our routine. It is unnerving when I catch myself and realize I’ve become like one of those people who refer to themselves in the third person. There is a blurring of of our identities and while I have a surface life away from Ralph, I’m less and less sure just who I am.
Of course, Ralph doesn’t worry about identity the same way at all. He has become more I-centered in his docile cognitive decline than he ever was in his aggressively self-centered prime. He has enough trouble keeping up with himself, holding on to an idea—I HAVE ART CLASS TODAY. DO I HAVE ART CLASS TODAY. I HAVE ART CLASS TODAY. I can almost see how hard his mind is working. He is not unlike loved ones I’ve watched struggling with major physical pain or a fatal illness. Ralph has no energy or capacity to worry about, or even be curious about others, especially me. His concentration on himself is a matter of survival, is beyond his power to change…
because IT IS ART CLASS DAY and WE are out of green paint and Ralph has been asking and asking all morning but can’t go himself and doesn’t want to leave his chair so guess who must go to the store (or become too guilt-riddled)…
…but I still resent the last 20 minutes each way plus 10 minutes buying and paying for his paint…Not only resent the time. Resent how I let myself be taken over by him. Resent the irony that Ralph is diminished and yet more center stage in my life than ever, that I carry so much of the weight and end up feeling invisible. That he defines my life.
That his life has become our life but not in the shared way I fantasized marriage would offer. That our pronouns do not tie us together in a bow but have become a tangle that leaves me both knotted and dangling.