Just back from a trip to my desktop in my office upstairs to work on Quicken, which is not on my laptop. Coming back down to my usual night time chair across from Carol on the couch, I notice that the dog stayed in her bed instead of following me wherever I go as she usually does. She seems to have decided it’s not worth the energy to go upstairs with me.
A difficult day with Carol because she was not in the here and now for much of the time. Instead, she appeared to be fixed on whatever auditory hallucinations were occupying her brain. There are two results from times such as these. The first is they are distracting; the second is they augur a substantive change.
As for the first result, it is in a minor way irritating. It’s as though there’s an animated conversation occurring that on the level of noise is distracting when I am trying to read, do my puzzles, or work on the laptop. I grew up in an environment that conditioned me to ignore distracting noise. I rode the New York subways doing my assigned reading oblivious to the crowds shuffling on and off through opening and closing doors, or the screech of steel wheels on steel tracks, or the garbled voice coming through the speaker announcing the upcoming stations.
I think I have lost some of that hard shell.
Sometimes in her internal conversations, Carol actually screams. At other times, she yells out “OW!” as if suddenly in pain. If I ask what is hurting her, the best I get is some vague gesture.
In any case, her expressions of pain, or need, or anger demand my attention and take me away from whatever else I am doing. For the most part, that is of no consequence, but occasionally I might be on the phone dealing with some issue, such as possible credit card fraud, or quite often an insurance billing problem, that I must attend to.
The second result of this kind of behavior disconnected from the present moment is more troubling because it leads to a more important shift. On the immediate level, as much as I know in a rational way that she is arguing with, sometimes cursing out, an unknown person in her head, I respond as though the words were directed at me. That is a perfectly plausible consequence. We have been living together for thirty-five years. I naturally respond to her voice as though she is saying something to me. Worse, sometimes, in a sense, she is talking to me because she is addressing the Steve in her head, and uses his name, so reasonably I hear that and accept, for the moment, that she is actually conversing with, or as the case might be, yelling at me.
Today, there was a great deal of that kind of activity.
And it led me to a sudden unexpected, and unwanted, revelation.
I am changing.
I have been tracking the changes in Carol, as though I have remained as I had been.
But it occurred to me today with considerable force that my attitude toward our situation also moves along its own track. And that track will take me away from my attachment to the then and move me toward the now and past that to some sort of future.
This hit home this afternoon when I was down in the basement to bring up the storm doors to insert them in place of the screen doors. While in the furnace room where these doors are stored my eyes caught a faux leather, open box that contained a few CDs and framed pictures. I’m always looking for music so I first paid attention to the CDs. They didn’t interest me much. I didn’t recognize the artists or the music. But then I examined the photos. They were from our daughter’s early years. There was my beautiful, and most important, glowingly happy Carol.
That image pierced my let’s get this job done mood. That Carol is so not here, not even remotely. Physically she has not changed that much. In fact, her age has treated her gently.
But the woman whose smile glowed on the beach with our young daughter is no more.
And that intense feeling of loss, I realized, is moving me, however reluctantly, away from my grip on the used to be.
I am not happy about it. But it is probably a necessary separation.
Back from an appointment in town and in the library again. A little buzz of noise from a few kids, plus the librarians going about their chores. I have about forty-five minutes before I have to be back home to relieve the caregiver relief person.
I am reminded that Carol enjoyed coming to this library to do her writing in spite of the fact that we had set up several writing stations for her at home. Chief among these was the converted outer building, which was a one-horse stable for the previous owner, transformed into a rather nice, fully equipped office, complete with combination A/C and reverse cycle heating, and new furniture. In our house, before our daughter moved out, we had a desk for Carol in a couple of different locations. After our daughter left for college and then employment, we turned her bedroom into a full room office for Carol.
But still she often chose to pack her laptop into her attaché case and drive the six or seven miles to the library. I believe she was seeking company. That is a bit of a contradiction, but one that makes sense. She was easily distracted, thus the appeal of the isolated outer building where there would only be a little occasional noise from the road or tractors across the way in the orchards. On the other hand, however, she loved being among people. In some ways, the library offered, I suppose, a workable compromise: mostly quiet but people there for as much interaction as she wanted.
I now have a fuller understanding of that compromise. I am not nearly as distractible as she, nor do I crave company as she did. For most of my life, where I worked made little difference. When able, such as in my own house, I generally would have music playing although after a while when deep into my writing I would no longer hear it. Even now as I get into this piece the background noise from the kids in the library doesn’t really intrude into my consciousness.
But there is a huge difference in how I think about my work station now. I live so much alone, even when Carol is fifteen feet away from me. I thought about that fact as I drove into town. I always, now, drive alone. Maybe I should start taking the dog for company, as I see many single drivers do. In anticipating a long road trip to New York in March, I realize I have not done one of those by myself in many years. I love to drive, and I will have my music, but nobody to talk to.
Before I left for town today, I found myself talking to the caregiver relief person about personal matters having little direct connection to her responsibilities with Carol. I mentioned that I would stop at the library on the way back , this to inform her that I would not be coming back much before my time was up. But then I explained that while at the library, besides doing some writing, I was going to start researching possible choices for my next lease car, which I will have to choose in a couple of months.
I was happy to have a little conversation even with a woman who is little more than a stranger, the kind of conversation I would routinely have had with Carol. In fact she was the reason I began leasing cars when she was unhappy with the ‘95 Bonneville I was driving, then about twelve years old and beginning to show some signs of age-related problems.
At that time, each of us had our own car. That had been true in New York. We bought a all-wheel drive Subaru Forrester to be Carol’s car when we moved to the snows of northern Michigan, and after a while here we replaced the Bonneville with a leased Nissan Altima.
I know the registrations for each car were in the name of the primary driver. Registrations renew according to the birthday of the registrant, and so the Subaru came up for renewal on Carol’s birthday, the Nissan on mine.
The titles were in both our names. When we sold Carol’s Subaru to our niece because it had become clear that Carol would not be driving any more, I signed for her. Carol’s name is still on the Nissan title.
If Carol were now aware of these kinds of matters, she no doubt would want her name on the new lease car or added to the title should I decide to buy the present one. She did not give up driving easily. She would surrender her ownership in some form of a vehicle even more reluctantly.
I have to do that for her.
And I record these thoughts in the same library where a time ago she chose to come to work, and where I now appreciate the incidental social interaction offered to me here. I could write at home in my office, but I feel that would be a waste of my respite time, on the one hand, and I have a felt need to be out and among people on the other.
Like Carol did.
In a perverse and ironic sense, in some ways such as this, I now understand Carol better than before.
I could thank her disease for that gift.
But I think I will pass.
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