Archive for the ‘Writing in Progress’ category

First, Don’t Panic: Three Views of My Brain

July 26, 2009

DRAFT: A fictional short story by Mariah Burton Nelson, copyright 2009

Comments welcome!

Mariah@MariahBurtonNelson.com

January 8, 2007

My disease was discovered by a German: Dr. Alzheimer. What happens is the brain cells can’t communicate with each other like they should, because they’re dying, because they get tangled up in little messes called packets or maybe plaque, like on your teeth? As a result, my brain is going downhill. When I was in medical school, it was called senility.

If I can explain that, which brain cells am I using?

But did I explain it?

The women in this institution are small and bent over, like turtles. Some of the men are really out of it. I try to be patient. We’re all elderly.

We all have daughters. That’s why we’re here. Our daughters live nearby. You don’t need to remember a man’s name, or whether he used to be a judge or dentist. You can just say, “How’s your daughter?”

My daughter has a wife. I don’t know her name. Sometimes I do. When I remember it, I’m proud of myself, isn’t that funny? Such a simple thing. Andrea. There it is. Sometimes if I talk long enough I remember a word, but usually if I talk long enough I forget the whole point. My daughter laughs and I laugh. What a relief. Good thing I’m retired.

Andrea’s family invites me to their house for turkey dinners. I’m not sure who the people are but there are kids who play musical instruments for us. Very charming, very bright. The piano, for one.

When my daughter told me she likes girls, we were on vacation. She bent paper clips while she talked, breaking them into sharp thingies in her hands. There was a girl on her sports team. She had wanted to tell us for years.

“Don’t worry, this is not a surprise,” I said. She was 24 and had never brought a boy home. Just girl basketball players with short hair and sneakers. None of the girls had boyfriends. I’m not as sharp as I used to be but I used to be pretty sharp.

I was a doctor. Urologist.

“Why urology?” Everyone asked that one question.

“Oh, I enjoy handling the genitals of strangers,” I’d say.

Actually, I enjoyed surgery – the precision, the simple solution to painful problems — especially prostate or testicular cancer. And the variety — bladder infections, infertility, incontinence. I enjoyed the patients. If you want to inspire love and gratitude, remove someone’s painful kidney stone.

People will pay a lot for that, too.

Now I suffer from incompetence. Not sure why. Enlarged prostate, pressing on the bladder? Funny, because I used to be a urologist. Can’t fix it, though.

My daughter bought me diapers. She called them something else to spare us the embarrassment. “Let me read you the package directions,” she said.

I can still read, but the words don’t make sense. Even menus confuse me.

My daughter said, “Let me just read what it says here on the package.”

“Okay,” I said.

“It says men should point the penis downward,” she read.

I was a urologist. Still, I’d prefer to keep my penis private from my daughter for as long as possible.

“Point the what?” I asked, teasing.

She looked down at the package, blushing.

“Men should point the penis downward,” she read again.

“I’ll point my penis wherever I damn well please,” I said.

Her face turned from red to white. Then she saw that I was joking.

She threw the diaper at me.

“It’s okay, Honey.” I said. “I can figure out the diaper.”

Truth is, though, I can’t. There are two kinds. One is just a strip, like women wear for their monthly period. It has two sides. One is sticky. I can’t tell which. There are also arrows. They must mean something, but what?

The other kind you step into and pull up like big padded underpants. They have a front and a back. I get that wrong too.

Then, when I try to stick the strip inside the padded underpants, it sticks to the wrong place, and yanks on my pubic hair.

Later my daughter says, “Dad, you’re supposed to throw them away. I found them in the kitchen again.”

Penis-pointing: the least of my problems.

My ex-wife called me after I moved here. We had not spoken in a long time. She said, “When we were married I wasn’t very nice to you. I apologize.”

I said, “Oh, I don’t remember any of that.”

She laughed.

We talked about our kids when they were young: water balloons, birthday cakes with little fires. Fireflies. I used to create treasure hunts. Little clues that rhymed, each clue leading to another clue up in a tree fort or in the little graveyard where we buried all the dead goldfish and hamsters.

I said, “Our kids are successful now because you used to read to them when they were little.”

She said, “Well, you’re the one who used to buy them all the books they wanted.”

It was nice.

Our son lives in California. He has two kids (three kids?) with funny names. If he had named them ordinary things like John or Mary it would have given me a better chance of remembering them, but he gave them weird California names.

I told my ex-wife that our kids are successful because she used to read to them.

She said, “Well, you bought them all the books they wanted.”

I never really understood why my ex-wife left – except she used to call me an emotional retard. Or was that the other ex-wife?

I’m even dumber now.

At least I can still get myself shaved and dressed.

My ex-wife is old too. She seems to be doing okay – still swimming. She tells me about her doctor. That’s what old people talk about: doctors and diseases.

The other wife left me when my brain started to go downhill.

“We’re moving into a retirement home,” she said, but then she never showed up. “I’ll sell our house first,” she said. Then she sent over a skinny guy carrying divorce papers. I gave him a piece of my mind – but just a piece, unfortunately. He ran away like one of those nervous little animals with a long tail.

I didn’t like that place. It smelled like old people. My daughter got me out of there.

Now I live in an institution with trees. I’m not sure what state we’re in but it’s close to the house of the person at the very top of the whole country.

At the doctor’s, they ask you what state you live in, what day it is. It’s depressing. My daughter cries. The doctor says I had more brain cells than most people to start with. But I still flunk those tests.

One time they gave me an empty circle, and asked me to draw a clock. “Your picture looks like someone dropped the clock, Dad,” said my daughter. We laugh at everything, even when it’s not funny.

The last test is “write a sentence, any sentence.” My sentence is, “I hope to God I die of something else.”

I didn’t want to have three kids. I thought two was enough. Two kids would fit in cars. But my wife wanted an “insurance child,” so in case one died, we would still have two. Now the insurance child lives near me and takes me out to lunch. She drives.

I gave up driving. Just in time. One time I couldn’t find my house. Apparently I was looking right at it. A neighbor came out and asked me if I was having car trouble. “No, brain trouble,” I said.

My daughter makes sure the nurses are giving me the right medicines, I hope. (Are they? Ask my daughter.) (Also, am I getting chubby?)

My second wife does not call me, and I do not call her. The machine has too many buttons. When it rings I pick it up. That part works okay.

Now my lady friend is _____. We talk about the news – the new president trying to fix everything, or the weird singer who died, or the wars that go on and on. They are not like the war I was in, because no one is ever going to surrender.

Another woman (__________) eats with us; her grandchildren come visit — with her daughter. Everyone has a daughter; that’s why they’re here. You hear that a lot: Thank God for daughters.

Before I moved here _________ had another boyfriend. When he could not dress himself, he had to move down to the other floor. Then he died, I think. A lot of people die here.

I walk outside, around the building, but an alarm goes off when I leave. That’s because one time I walked down the street. Someone from the institution drove up: “Are you lost?”

“No,” I explained. “I’m wandering up and down!”

Still, I had to get in the car.

There were old people on the porch, watching me return, like a bad kid who skipped school. I bet they get lost too. We’re all in the same boat.

I used to love to read: military history, medical mysteries. Now when I turn a page it erases everything, like that red square toy the kids used to have, with the gray in the middle.

I still walk around the building, doing laps. “How can you remember how many laps you’ve walked?” a lady asked me. I can remember some things. All is not lost.

Also, “First, don’t panic.” That’s what else I learned in the military.

They bring me my medicine. (How do they know it’s mine?) The nurse (or something like a nurse) watches me. I can’t tell you what a single pill is for, isn’t that funny?

I can actually feel my brain cells dying. It reminds me of when I was a boy. I used to lie on the field at night and listen to the chirpers and watch the sky. Clouds floated in front of the stars until there were no stars, just black.

January 8, 2010

Tonight we’re having a party tonight.

Excuse me, someone’s knocking at the – –

A doctor. I was a doctor.

I can still put on my pants. I can shave. I watch the radio, to keep up with what’s happening in the world.

Are we having a party tonight? What time? Should I go downstairs?

I live on Floor 4, near the little room that goes up and down.

I keep up with what’s happening in the world by watching the radio. There are hot red thingies in California, burning thingies, near where my son lives, I think. How close is this commotion to him? What would he do if? On the radio I see houses burning down. Next time he calls I will ask.

The phone rang. There’s a party tonight, I’m not sure why. She said, “Just stay put, we’ll pick you up.”

I said, “Is it written on my, you know?”

She said, “Yes, but don’t worry about it, I’ll come get you.”

I go to parties. I think there might be a party. I’ll have to check on that. (How?)

The phone is ringing, but when I answered the door, no one was there.

Is she coming today?

I’m worried about my son because of the flames. Houses burn down – I watch them burn. What about his house?

I weigh about 1800, or 1803, I think. Too chubby?

I live on fourth floor, near that little room where you push the buttons to go up and down.

Last night I went to the show. It was about history: How things went, and then what happened. It was pretty good.

Tonight we have a party. I don’t know where to sit, but then I find a bouncy thing to put my behind on. My daughter says, “Dad, do you know how old you are?”

“Eighty and a half.” She laughs, so I laugh back.

A woman comes over and gives me a kiss. I don’t think we’ve met before. She whispers, “Pam got into Stanford, Dad!”

Is “Dad” my real name, or just sometimes?

The party moves very fast: Why so many people? A whole group-dee-do. Too much food and talking. A whole group-dee-do. They keep passing me plates. I’m not sure what to do with them.

“Which one of these things should I use to eat this thing?” I point to a bowl.

A young boy with skinny arms kneels on his seat. He laughs at me. “Poppy, you can’t eat soup with a fork!”

We wear pointy hats with string. I’ve always liked hats, even before I went bald.

My brother is there. He’s tall for his age. His pointy hat gets knocked off by the ceiling fan. We all get a kick out of that.

He leans over and says, “Dad, would you like some help with shaving?”

I don’t know what the party was for, but no one asked me. Fortunately, it was not a test.

January 8, 2013

The words: flying around in my mouth like bees or bigger things with wings and can we fly over to you, because talking is happening? But talking is not really happening, because words cannot fly around if the little engine that could. I want to sing the song, the words to the song, because they bring me pills, fortunately. I used to be married to my wife, not the other wife. Is that all there is?

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