Something has happened. You can always tell. You come to and find
wreckage: a smashed lamp, a devastated human face that shivers on
the verge of being recognizable. Occasionally someone in uniform: a
paramedic, a nurse. A hand extended with a pill. Or poised to insert a
This time, I am in a room, sitting on a cold metal folding chair. The
room is not familiar, but I am used to that. I look for clues. An office-like
setting, long and crowded with desks and computers, messy with
papers. No windows.
I can barely make out the pale green of the walls, so many posters, clippings,
and bulletins tacked up. Fluorescent lighting casting a pall. Men
and women talking; to one another, not to me. Some wearing baggy
suits, some in jeans. And more uniforms. My guess is that a smile would
be inappropriate. Fear might not be.
I can still read, I'm not that far gone, not yet. No books anymore, but
newspaper articles. Magazine pieces, if they're short enough. I have a
system. I take a sheet of lined paper. I write down notes, just like in
When I get confused, I read my notes. I refer back to them. I can
take two hours to get through a single Tribune article, half a day to get
through The New York Times. Now, as I sit at the table, I pick up a paper
someone discarded, a pencil. I write in the margins as I read. These are
Band-Aid solutions. The violent flare-ups continue. They have reaped what they
sowed and should repent.
Afterward, I look at these notes but am left with nothing but a sense of
unease, of uncontrol. A heavy man in blue is hovering, his hand inches
away from my upper arm. Ready to grab. Restrain.
Do you understand the rights I have just read to you? With these rights in mind,
do you wish to speak to me?
I want to go home. I want to go home. Am I in Philadelphia. There was
the house on Walnut Lane. We played kickball in the streets.
No, this is Chicago. Ward Forty-three, Precinct Twenty-one. We have called your
son and daughter. You can decide at any time from this moment on to terminate
the interview and exercise these rights.
I wish to terminate. Yes.
A large sign is taped to the kitchen wall. The words, written in thick black
marker in a tremulous hand, slope off the poster board: My name is Dr. Jennifer
White. I am sixty-four years old. I have dementia. My son, Mark, is twenty-nine.
My daughter, Fiona, twenty-four. A caregiver, Magdalena, lives with me.
It is all clear. So who are all these other people in my house? People,
strangers, everywhere. A blond woman I don't recognize in my kitchen
drinking tea. A glimpse of movement from the den. Then I turn the corner
into the living room and find yet another face. I ask, So who are you? Who
are all the others? Do you know her? I point to the kitchen, and they laugh.
I am her, they say. I was there, now I'm here. I am the only one in the
house other than you. They ask if I want tea. They ask if I want to go
for a walk. Am I a baby? I say. I am tired of the questions. You know me,
don't you? Don't you remember? Magdalena. Your friend.
The notebook is a way of communicating with myself, and with others.
Of filling in the blank periods. When all is in a fog, when someone
refers to an event or conversation that I can't recall, I leaf through the
pages. Sometimes it comforts me to read what's there. Sometimes not.
It is my Bible of consciousness. It lives on the kitchen table: large and
square, with an embossed leather cover and heavy creamy paper. Each
entry has a date on it. A nice lady sits me down in front of it.
She writes, January 20, 2009. Jennifer's notes. She hands the pen to me.
She says, Write what happened today. Write about your childhood. Write whatever
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