Time plays funny tricks on your memory. And the older you get, the less funny they become to experience.
A few days ago, my mother me all the way from San Francisco where she and Father were visiting my brother Jack.
“We were going through some old boxes,” my mother’s static image told me. “Do you remember that time you were ten and we sent you to summer camp and you came down with the mumps?”
I looked up from my computer and frowned into the distance. I remembered neither event.
“I’ve never been to summer camp!” I said.
“Of course you have!” It was odd seeing my mother’s lips move while the words came through the speaker a few seconds later. “You were ten! And you were in a very expensive winter camp in Tasmania and you got mumps and you had to be quarantined but you were just dying to get out and come home!”
My mother might as well have been speaking Greek. This is what it must be like to have Alzheimer’s, I thought to myself. This is how it all starts.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I said. “You must have me confused with Jack. And anyway, why are you bringing this up at all?”
It turns out that a letter I had written when I was at this imaginary winter camp had surfaced from the box my parents had retrieved from Jack’s attic. Why my brother had that letter, I didn’t want to ask. He would probably say, “You gave it to me, don’t you remember?”
“I’ll scan it and email it to you,” Mother continued calmly. “I will say this though, you were such a manipulative monster! I have no idea where you got that from!”
later said that it’s amazing that I hadn’t grown up with more issues. I told her she should speak to Michelle who’s spent a small fortune in her lifetime on therapy.
“So, what’s the letter say?” asked.
It’s a two-page letter. The writing is mine and the tone is obnoxiously precocious, but even after reading the closely spaced words several times, I still have absolutely no memory of the events they recount. I really should have played the lead role in ‘Still Alice’. If I had, I would have been the one winning the Oscar and not Julianne Moore.
Dear Mother and Daddy,
Am I going to come home or not? This place I am in is driving me crazy. All the books I brought with me I have finished and I have nothing to do. The nurse brings me my food and that is the only person I see or hear all day long. No one comes and I have nothing to do but sleep. Every day I hope that you will send for me but you do not. The food is horrible and tasteless. The room doesn’t get any sun at all and is very cold. There isn’t room to do anything but sit or lay on the bed. At least there are not any rats to keep you awake.
My glands are about half the size they were, probably because they have gotten frozen at night. I am given a pill at night which is for sleep but it is too cold for pills in this dump. No thank you.
I have finished four books and all the others are packed. I think about you every minute of the day.
Send for me to come home. At least there will be someone to talk to.
All my love, Jason (in isolation)”
Under that, I had scrawled in big letters, “HELP ME”.
“Oh my God, you were adorable!” Amanda said, wiping the tears from her eyes. She’d laughed from beginning to end.
“For a ten year old, you were a really good speller!” observed.
“I just don’t understand why I don’t remember any of it!” I complained. “It must have been such a horrible experience I completely blocked it out.”
“Either that, or you really are getting Alzheimer’s,” said helpfully.
“Your mother is right though,” Amanda told me. “You were incredibly manipulative.”
As I write this, I have that letter by the laptop – an unexpected relic from my dimly lit past. A memory preserved from a time when people still put pen to paper and wrote letters. So much easier, I thought, if we’d had FaceTime back then, in which case there’d be no record of my embarrassing whining today. As it is, a lifetime has gone by, now nothing more than a well-written cry for help from a ten-year old boy that, try as I might, I no longer remember.