Memories

Lately, it seems, Alzheimer’s is the disease of the day. It’s surrounding me in strange ways. First, my friend Amy lent me a copy of Nicholas Sparks’s novel The Notebook.* For those of you not in the know, this is what Amazon has to say about it:

“Somewhere,” muses Noah Calhoun, while sitting on his porch in the moonight, “there were people making love.” Anyway, head elsewhere for Great Literature, but if you’re in the market to get your heartstrings plucked, look no further. The Notebook, a Southern-fried story of love-lost-and-found-again, revolves around a single time-honored romantic dilemma: will beautiful Allison Nelson stay with Mr. Respectability (to whom she happens to be engaged), or will she hook up with Noah, the romantic rascal she left so many years ago? We’re not telling, but you have two guesses and the first one doesn’t count. Decades later, after Allison develops Alzheimer’s, her beau uses “the notebook” to read her the story of the great love she’s plumb forgot. The Notebook–film rights already sold, thank you very much–is a little glazed doughnut of a book: sticky- sweet, satisfying, not much nourishment. But who cares? Take an extra vitamin and indulge.

That was the first Alzheimer’s moment of the past week. Next was Ronald Reagan’s death. Now, I’m no fan of the former president – not by any stretch of the imagination. But you’ve got to admit that he died a rather undignified death. Alzheimer’s took this once-vibrant former leader of the free world and robbed him of his memory, of his very existence. Granted, I suppose that for me, if I’d have done what he did, losing my memory might be a damn blessing, but you can’t pick and choose what you lose. So not only did he lose the memories that would haunt me (the responsibility for the deaths of thousands of people in Latin America, the hatred of poor, undereducated, lower-class people), but he also lost the knowledge that he loved his wife and children. And that is a travesty.

Finally, just tonight, I left my house to take the dog for a walk and ran into my neighbor, Eryc. His family is one of the families in the PBS series The Forgetting – which airs again on June 16 (Wednesday!) His sister died 6 months ago, and he seems so sad. He got tested to find out if he carries the genetic mutation for Alzheimer’s that runs in his family, and he does not. His mom and a sister have now died of this disease, and his brother lives with it. I can’t imagine having to live with that kind of fear.

So I don’t really have anything profound to say about memory – more that I’m glad I have mine, and that my heart goes out to those who are losing their memories due to diseases like Alzheimer’s.

* The book itself is pure schmaltz. Readable schmaltz, and schmaltz that made me a bit weepy, but schmaltz nonetheless. I felt a little dirty when I was done reading it, like when I read The Bridges of Madison County. They made that into a movie too.