Don’t you remember?
I had been standing in my brother’s kitchen when he asked me that question earlier today.
Well sure I remember, I think.
How could I forget?
My brother was looking at me with that exasperated look he used to give me when we were kids and I had misplaced his baseball glove after using it as a bed for my doll on the grass. Only now it included bewilderment as to how I could forget something so important.
Did I see concern in his eyes too?
“Of course, I remember, Brad,” I said with a small smile. “Time just got away from me and the bakery was closed.”
That was an outright lie, but how else could I explain not picking up my niece’s baby shower cake. The cake was pivotal as it was going to be revealing the gender to her, her husband and all their family and friends.
I could not tell Brad the truth. I have been flighty lately forgetting everything and anything. Last week it was picking up my son from soccer practice. The week before forgetting to wash my daughter’s lucky sweater before her big exam.
“Well Anna, it’s ok,” Brad said with a sigh, “because the shower isn’t until tomorrow.”
My face was hot with temper. Why would he tell me to pick something up that was not even going to be ready? Was this supposed to be some kind of joke?
As if reading my mind, my older brother shook his head slowly. Taking me by the arm, he sat me down at his kitchen table. Sitting across from me his face looked more somber than I have ever seen before. Which was saying a lot because Brad was always too serious.
“I am not trying to all of a sudden have a comical side Anna,” Brad folded his hands together. “It was a test for you. I have noticed some things the past six months and I had to see for myself before I sat you down to have a talk with you.”
“You did not write down the wrong address for the bakery. Like you did not lose track of time when you forgot to pick up Christian and all the other things that have happened.”
I scoffed and waved a dismissive hand. Brad seriously was not going to make a big issue out of this. I was not going to let him!
“This is ridiculous!” I cried. “You are going to make a big deal of me forgetting to do something. A thing which, I will remind, was not even happening. Stop messing with me. It is not funny.”
Brad put his head down as if he were trying to mentally assess my reaction and try to think of way to better approve things that would not end with me scratching his eyes out.
Unfortunately, he did not produce anything good.
“Anna, do you remember when mom died?”
Silence for a moment
“A little bit,” I said softly, “things are fuzzy. I was only 8 after all. You would remember better because you were twelve and being with dad when you found her. It is not like it was something discussed later in life”
Yes, when we were kids, we lost our mom. Kids do at an early age, but not all are like this. My mother was 32 years old. She had a loving husband in our father, two kids who adored her.
It was not enough to keep her from taking her own life.
Brad and our father found her. Dad never got over it. He was devastated, turning to solitude and alcohol to ease his pain.
Unfortunately, that made for us losing him far too soon as well leaving me with my grandparents in my teens while Brad went on to college.
One thing dad, or Brad, never talked about was mom.
Now, 40 years later, Brad is asking me if I remember.
“Maybe we should have,” my brother said matter-of-factly. “Yeah, we should have because this would not be so hard.
“Do you remember how mom died?”
“Yes,” I said bitterly, “she was selfish and killed herself because she could not take what was going on her dramatic and pitiful life. Everything was always about mom.”
My brother looked at me like I had grown and extra head.
“Mom was NEVER selfish! Mom made it about everyone else. You, me, Dad but never ever was anything about her. Where are you getting this from?”
“She was always in front of the mirror,” I wiped a tear of anger away, “brushing her hair, doing her make up, putting on perfume. Her and Dad were always out on the evenings. Aunt Mary babysat us all the time. Do you remember that?”
“Of course, I do!" Brad exclaimed. "Dad was working hard getting the business off the ground. Business dinners and dances, all for the sake of networking. Mom always went with him because she would boost Dad’s confidence and always charmed prospective clients and THEIR wives.
“It was never because Mom wanted all of that. It was to create the company I happen to run today. Where you are vice president. They were building out future.
“As for being in front of the mirror,” Brad’s voice was getting louder, “you were always sitting on her lap as she did your hair, your make, letting you walk around in her heels and clothes and laughing with delight. You do not remember that do you?”
Brad was right. I did not.
“This is what I mean,” Brad continued. “Why I am so worried about you. Dad protected us from the truth. As I got older, I remembered things and put things together until I could ask Grandma and Grandpa truth. I should have shared with you then, but I thought you would come to the realization yourself. We continued where dad left off. Never talking about it.”
I slammed my hands on the kitchen table.
“Damn it, Brad, what in the hell are you talking about? Mom killed herself because Dad was losing everything. I remember the hushed talks behind the bedroom doors that end with both crying. I remember Mom stopped playing dress up and getting depressed. I remember Dad being home everyday because there was nothing to do at work. Mom could not take the loss of prestige.”
A deafening silence fell across us at that time. I swear I heard my own heartbeat in my ears for what seems like hours. The shock on Brad’s face made me realize that I was wrong.
I did not know the truth behind mom’s suicide.
A single tear ran down my brother’s face.
“No honey, that isn’t why,” he whispered. “Anna, Mom killed herself so she would not have to suffer. She was sick. She was going to die anyway. Dad was staying at home to take care of her.”
I shook my head in disbelief.
No, that could not be right. Brad was wrong!
“Don’t you remember?” Brad asked again. “She started forgetting things. Trivial things at first like letting the dog inside from rain. Picking me up from baseball practice.”
“Is this about Christian?” I asked, “If it is- “
“Then it was forgetting she drove to the store instead of walked,” Brad continued through my interruption. “You cried when she forgot to make you angel wings for the Christmas Pageant.
"That was when she started to get scared, but the final straw that made her go to the doctor was when she forgot dinner was in the oven and almost set the kitchen on fire.
“It was then Dad convinced her it was time to see the doctor. I think they both hoping that if they ignored it long enough it would go away. Apparently almost burning the house down with you and I in it was their limit.”
A lump was in my throat and chill down my spine. I did remember. I remembered it all. Dancing like a ballet dancer in my mother’s room wearing her scarf as a tutu while she played Swan Lake from her jewelry box. Laughing as she put her fake pearls over my head and dancing with me.
I remembered the pain in her eyes and her apologies about forgetting the angel’s wings. Her tired eyes brightening with a smile at my finding the wings waiting for me the next morning because she has stayed up all night to make the best wings in the pageant.
The firm grasp of her arms as she scooped me up and ran out of the house when the fire alarm went off.
Dad coming out with fire extinguisher to let us know everything was fine, but the roast had gone to better place than the burned-out oven. The next day Dad bought a stove with all kinds of timers that would go off to let us know when food was ready.
All of that happened because she was sick. It could not be. The Mom I remember was still young and beautiful. She was thirty-two. No wasting away that cancer often brings. No wincing of pain, no medications, and no therapy. Nothing that would have indicated that was sick. Other than…
…her memory loss.
“It was Early Onset Alzheimer’s Grandpa said,” Brad confirmed. “She never wanted us to know. Mom knew there was no cure, nothing she could do about the symptoms that were coming. What was to come. She did not want to put Dad, or us, through that. She told Grandma her greatest fear was to wake up one day and not know who her kids were.”
The tears were flowing down both of our faces freely. After all these years, we were finally talking about Mom.
How could I have remembered things so differently. I had made myself remember it that way. It was easier for a young mind to wrap her mind and anger around a selfish mother than a 32-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s taking her life.
Remembering things, the way I did was my escape from the truth. It gave me control. I would never hurt my family by committing suicide like my mother did.
I could say that confidently. What I could not say was I will never get Alzheimer’s like my mother did.
“So that’s what it is,” I said with sigh. “You think I am like mom. You think I have Early Onset Alzheimer’s.”
“The signs are all there, just like Mom,” Brad reached for my hand. “All I am saying is I want you to talk to your doctor. We both know things can do mess with our short-term memory. Even something as simple as our diet.
“We go to your doctor; see what kind of tests they can do on you to check your memory. Get the results and face whatever comes together.”
I pulled my hand away. I did not want to listen to it.
Grabbing my purse and keys, I walked out of my brother’s house and to my car.
I am sitting in my car now, for some reason I cannot go into my house.
Charles isn’t home from work yet. Christian will be studying for his SAT. Ella will be home for the summer soon. Chloe, our cat, is sitting in the living room window look at me. Curious as to why I haven’t come in yet.
Do you remember how to get in your house?
Of course, I do.
Do you remember who your mother really was?
I do now.
Do you remember you did not pick your son up from soccer?
Anna, do you remember Christian asking?
Do you remember any of things anyone has ask you to do these past few months?
Do you remember Brad thinks you have Alzheimer’s like your mom?
Do you remember that you should call your doctor and make an appointment?
Good, it is time to go into the house.
I drop my bags at the bench we keep in the foyer for sitting down and putting on shoes. I always tell the kids and Charles not to do that, but here I am doing it.
See, I remember that.
I go into the kitchen and get dinner started. Christian comes in to let me know he is going out for pizza with friends. I slip him a $20 bill, he thanks me and kisses my cheek as he takes my car keys and heads out the door.
Walking into the living room with a cup of hot coffee, I curl up on my favourite chair and grab the book I have been reading.
After an hour or so I put my book down and see my address book. I picked up and a thought crosses my mind.
Was I supposed to call someone?
No, I would not forget something like that.