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Florence in Words

Memory, or how reading Iris Murdoch and Doris Lessing have made me think about it again

I am headed from the kitchen through the living room to the bedroom on a specific mission, but when I get there, I’ve forgotten why I came—just for a second—and then I remember that I want to pick up my iPhone which I had parked last night on its charger which rests atop a radio clock that stands on a table beside my bed. Is this occurrence ominous? It happens perhaps once a day, in varying routines. Sometimes I’m headed to the kitchen from the study for a glass of water, and then have to think for a minute when I get there about why I came and what I want.

Perhaps this happens to all women and even men at 83, but I don’t like it because it reminds me of my mother’s fate. By the time she was my age, she didn’t know much of anything, not only about time, but about where she was. And she had nine more years of not-knowingness before her death at 92.

I’d rather be dead right now.

Still, while I’m doing the Sunday crossword, even when I have to go to Google to search for things totally out of my ken (usually new pop culture or most sports), I feel hopeful and try to remember what a psychologist told me once, and I am not quoting her exactly: We’re all going to get it if we live long enough; only some of us are programmed to get it earlier than others. If we’re programmed to get it at 110, clearly we are more likely to die of other causes before then.
Yes, I found that heartening, not that I wish Alzheimer’s on more people, but that perhaps the idea might allow me to free myself from the threat of my mother’s fate.

I’ve also consulted a couple of doctors, asking for their opinions of the likelihood that I will succumb sooner rather than later to Alzheimer’s, and have been at least temporarily comforted by their responses: not likely, one said, and not a chance, the other. Still, I can’t eliminate the fear when a name can’t come to my brain, though I know that if I wait, or if I run down the filing cabinet in my mind’s eye, I will find the name. Sometimes I have to wait a few minutes; occasionally, more than that. But the name comes up in the end.

When I was seven, my grandfather taught me to read and write Yiddish and to read Hebrew. I could speak Yiddish then, and I learned to read and write it very quickly, perhaps within a month. It took longer for me to read Hebrew with the pace and the fluency he demanded. My grandfather died when I was 10 and I’ve had no lessons since.

Recently I joined the Jewish Community Center, chiefly, I thought, for the swimming pool, which I’ve been to twice already. But then I noticed that they offered Hebrew lessons, and I think I’ll register for them. Some additional insurance against the Alzheimer’s blight? Probably. The fear is phobic, not easily evaded. Might just as well fight it on some level turf.
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