I’ve been so sick since Monday, and with the exception of work and a movie outing, I’ve been bed ridden. Some sort of stomach bug. It’s one of the least enjoyable of the manageable illnesses (not that any are enjoyable, really) because you don’t even get to indulge in any of your favourite comfort foods to make you feel better. I had to cancel two engagements.
So in cases like this, you’re essentially in bed, in pain, disgusting, and stewing in your own thoughts – waiting it out. On one of my better nights, I ventured to the Varsity theatre and took in a movie. Still Alice: an interesting pick for a Friday night. It was raw. Heart wrenching. Genuine. Tragic and afflictive. If you’re unaware of what it’s about, Julianne Moore plays a wife and mother of three who gets diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. The film closely follows her struggle to grasp onto her once vibrant and successful self as the illness takes over all aspects of her life. So sick, in bed, I thought about this. I thought a lot about this.
As someone who grips onto the past a little more tightly than some, this seems like such an inconceivable notion. How can you not be in charge of your own brain? How can you no longer be in charge of the data stored in your mind? Oftentimes we find our brains store information that we just want to rid ourselves of! To think that there is a disease that can rob us of the ability to consciously retrieve memories from our vast cranial treasure chests so we can no longer relive them as we please is unimaginable.
Unimaginable, but so real.
I remember going to the big Quonset on our family farmyard with my sister in the summertime and building huge wooden airplanes with my Grandpa. They would obviously never fly because of the weight, the dimensions, the proportions, the materials – but we spray painted them gold and ran around the driveway, holding them above our heads.
I remember living in a tiny house in Dugald, Manitoba up until I was about four. The steps in front of the house were broken and the ceiling was so low that whenever my Dad would go down to the rec room, he’d scrape his head. Remember rec rooms?! Remember OV lights in rec rooms?!
I remember having rabbits. Lots of rabbits. At different times. One was named Nibblers. One was Princess. One was Fluffy Tail and one was Jack. One peed in different colours.
I remember when my Dad took me and my friend (both ten-ish years old) to Edge Fest ’99 and someone threw a bottle at Courtney Love. I remember not really knowing who Courtney Love was.
I remember my baba used to put socks over our mittens so we wouldn’t get snow in our sleeves when we played outside. She also put tins of mustard seeds in those socks so we could shake them at our dogs when they tried to nibble at our mittens.
I remember my first kisses and the first time I drank alcohol and the first time I got sick from alcohol. I remember my first true heartbreak. I remember my ears popping SO MUCH when I flew in a plane over Santa Cruz, Bolivia. I remember the first time I saw Aerosmith. I remember the fifth time I saw Aerosmith.
I remember having dinner with my boyfriend halfway through the long distance portion of our relationship in a tiny Thai restaurant on Bloor St. West in Toronto. I remember the narrow halls and the dimly lit walls.
I remember helping my Baba make hundreds and hundreds of perogies and laying them out on the bed in the spare bedroom. We used to boil just the rounds of dough, cover them in butter and call them ‘Nothings’. And damn, they were delicious.
I remember. And this doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what I remember. The memories started taking shape 20+ years ago and they’re still being born, to the second. Every inch of our past makes us who we are today. Sometimes those thoughts get blurry (with age), but if we dig deep – they’re still there.
last night I was awoken by myself
stapling memories on a piece of crushed velvet
my fingers rising and falling in a hypersonic blur upon completion, flashbacks, raised to the touch razor blades and radiance
conceptual images of my own rock opera
nine hundred thousand and twenty-four chapters and a refrain
liquid pearls of limelight from my eyes
and as i ceased to fasten my memories to this fabric to this framework of my life
– A journal entry excerpt, 2005
Alzheimer’s, dementia, any cognitive disease – they aren’t just playing with fire – they are fire. Crippling and damaging. You have no access to your memories and typically there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s a cruel, indiscriminate reality.
Love to the fullest. So much that it hurts. Savour each flavor, each moment. Write it down. Document document document but not so much that you are NOT present. Revisit those memories. Create as many as you can. Nurture yourself with laughter and experience. Nurture others. Always remind people what you feel. Understand what they feel. Leave a mark. Be remembered for what you did, not what you didn’t do.
“Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you.”
– Simon & Garfunkel, 1968