Talk, Talk, Talk

by Paige Capro on April 22nd, 2013

                I remember clearly the night I got my first real dose of Alzheimer’s.  I was in second grade and my grandparents had moved in with our family two months before hand.  My parents had prepared me for Nana’s Alzheimer’s, but there were still growing pains.
     We were all getting used to coexisting together within the same four walls.  No one could ever prepare  me  for how incredibly hard it was going to be.  My parents and grandfather danced around each other delicately as they completed their daily tasks, but I was a bit clumsier.  I was slightly resentful about sharing my bathroom and consequently having to give up playtime in the bath.  At least once a day, I nearly knocked my grandparents over as I zipped past them on the stairs.  But my biggest growing pains came over having to share my parents. 
     It was hard for me to learn how to share their time and attention with Nana and Pop Pop.  This was never more evident than when we were all gathered around the dinner table.  In a matter of days, I was unceremoniously debunked as “Queen of Conversation.”  With the arrival of Nana and Pop Pop, I had to share the conversational lime light and politely nod while Pop Pop talked about his golf game for what felt like the millionth time.
         On the night in question, I was determined not to spend the dinner hour pushing my peas around on my plate and listening to Pop Pop talk about putting and greens, two things I knew and cared little about.  Walking home from school earlier in the day, I had devised an ingenious plan to regain a total dictatorship of the table conversation.
“So then I slowly removed all the paint lids from their jars,” I regaled in glory, determined to take my time explaining the art project I had done at school that day.  “And then I lined them up next one another in order to stay organized.” 
     I looked around the room as my parents smiled at me with pride.  I had to admit that my grandfather seemed enthralled, too.  He didn’t even try to fight me for talking rights.  The only person who looked bored was Nana, but my mother had told me not to worry if she seemed distant.  It was the Alzheimer’s, I knew.
     “Finally, I was ready to begin,” I said, sitting up on my knees in an effort to appear taller in my chair.  “I carefully dipped the edge of my paint brush in the lilac purple paint.  I know it was lilac and not just purple because Ms. Rose showed us all a picture of lilacs before we started drawing.  She even explained that in any given color there are hundreds of different shades.”
     “Really,” my dad asked politely.  “I was an art major in college and I didn’t know that.”  But I think he did know.  He was just being polite.  “Yes,” I continued, basking in the glory of my uninterrupted monologue.  “And this summer I am thinking about discovering a whole new shade of purple and naming it after myself. And then-,”
     “TALK, TALK,  TALK!”  Nana blurted out as she reached up to cover her ears.  A disgruntled look etched its way across her face.  “All she ever does is talk, talk, talk.  Doesn’t that little brat ever shut up?!” 
     Well, you could have heard a pin drop in the room after that.  My parents were staring at each other in disbelief and my grandfather was staring at my grandmother in disbelief and absolutely no one was still looking at me.  Just like that, Nana had stolen the coveted dinner time limelight and my time was up.  I started to sniffle as the tears burned my eyes, and everyone jumped up to grab tissues at the same time.
“No, no, no,” my mother cooed, “she didn’t mean it.”
“Sweetie,” my dad chimed in, “she doesn’t know what she’s saying.”
“Just ignore the old bat,” my grandfather added.
     But I couldn’t.  I just couldn’t ignore the fact that she had “one-upped” me.  And at the dinner table no less.  What everyone failed to recognize was that I wasn’t upset about what she’d said.  I was upset that she’d stolen my time away from the people I loved.  I felt like she had robbed me of their much needed attention and I just couldn’t believe the injustice of it all. 
       Years later, I was able to look back on the memory and laugh.  It’s especially funny when my dad retells it because he is a great storyteller and knows just how to build the suspense.  But I still remember how uncertain that time was for me.  I was a small, unknowing little girl, thrown into the mix with a woman who was matter-of-factly losing her mind.
       Anyone who has ever dealt with Alzheimer’s disease on any level knows that mood swings come with the territory.  Sometimes these sudden changes in attitude can be blames on “a full moon” or “feeding off the tensions of caregivers,” but many times they come and go with the blink of an eye.  Without any warning or provoking you will find yourself the target of a momentarily hostile encounter.  Often, before you are able to wrap your head around what has happened, the culprit has already returned to his or her normal, docile, complacent self.  Perhaps that is what makes these moments so heart wrenching.  Just like the disease that produces them, they are unwarranted, unforeseen, and unmistakably painful.
Paige Capro is a teacher in Prince William County, VA

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