After almost a year of dragging my father around from one doctor to another, I finally learned that he has Diffuse Lewy Body Disease. It’s a form of dementia that’s a bit like Alzheimer’s and a bit like Parkinson’s. Dad is slow and his movements are shaky and shuffly and it takes him a long time to process what you say to him, but all things considered, his mind is actually still pretty good. I mean, you do find yourself having the same conversations over and over. We’ve repeatedly discussed the film version of The Wizard of Oz, it’s importance in cinematography, how Technicolor works, how brilliant the Kodak company was at the height of its success, how it didn’t keep up with the digital age – even though Kodak apparently invented the digital age – and how it’s all wound up now. I could probably have this conversation in my sleep, word for word. I ask the same questions. Dad tells the same anecdotes. It’s like we’re both having it for the first time. Like when Tristan insists that I tell him his favourite story again, and I have to pause when Goldilocks reaches the bears’ house so that Tristan can excitedly squeal “The bears aren’t home!” because that’s the way the story is told. It’s pleasant.
For my mother, Dad’s dementia is less entertaining. Apparently she doesn’t like having the same conversations every single day. And she already knows about the Kodak Company. Also, yes it is Monday. Yes, we did feed the cats already. Yes, it is sad that the dog died earlier this year. Yes, you told me about Kodak. Yes, you did take your Madopar. See how the Monday section of the Webster Pack is empty? That’s right, it’s Monday.
She just needs a break sometimes. So I decided to give her a break: I decided to have Dad stay with me for the weekend, while Mum went to visit her sister. It shouldn’t be that big a deal. Dad’s pretty self-sufficient. Like, he can dress himself and take his own medications and stuff, so it’s not like he’s a complete invalid. We’d talk about the Wizard of Oz and the decline of the Kodak Company. We’d drink tea and play with Tristan. It would be fun. His mind’s pretty good, after all.
“Yes, his mind is good,” Mum agreed. “He doesn’t wander or those other things that Alzheimer’s patients often do. I mean … he does sometimes get lost in the house.”
I almost choked. “He what?” He’s lived in that house for 30 years!
“He gets lost sometimes going from the bathroom to the bedroom,” Mum explained. “But he’s alright.”
“But the bedroom is next to the bathroom,” I pointed out. It would be hard to get lost even if you tried.
“And sometimes he gets lost trying to leave the bedroom,” Mum went on, continuing to reassure me of my father’s mental soundness. “I sometimes wake up to find him standing next to the wardrobe and he doesn’t know how to find the bedroom door, or get back to bed. But he never goes wandering.”
“Mum … ” I didn’t know what to say. I wondered if she and I had the same definition of “wandering”.
“But he’ll be fine at your house,” Mum said comfortingly. Because he’s never been there before, so clearly he’s going to have a much easier time of it than at the home he’s lived in for most of my lifetime. I made a mental note to get my mother checked out too. She seems to have some odd ideas.
Despite my anxiety at this newly-disclosed information, I had Dad come for the weekend anyway. Mum’s need for respite was clearly more desperate than I’d realised. I asked Dad about getting lost in his house and he vehemently denied the accusation. “I don’t get lost,” he insisted. “It’s just that your mother keeps the house dark and I can’t see.”
“When does she keep the house dark?” I wondered.
“At night time,” Dad explained.
So I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. With serious fears of Dad getting lost in my home and me waking to find him frozen in front of the linen cupboard and wondering where his bed had gone, I left all the lights in the house on. And Dad was right. He didn’t get lost in my home at all. With all the lights on he could see perfectly and he made his way to the bathroom and back without mishap. I know because I lay awake all night listening intently to every creak and groan in the house, in case it was my Dad wandering into the kitchen and falling into the sink, or trying to curl up in the laundry basket (wondering why the bed got smaller during his absence). But Dad’s mind was just fine. It was his eyesight that was the problem, apparently.
At 2am I did hear running feet. Little running feet. They ran right passed my bedroom and into the living room, and then ran back. And then I heard strange noises like someone was maybe jumping on the couch. So I got up to investigate. There was Tristan in the brightly lit living room with a collection of toys he’d ferried from his bedroom, playing happily, mismatched gumboots pulled on over his onesie, each one on the wrong foot. When he saw me he smiled hugely and said “Hey! Mummy! Want to watch a movie?”
I said “It’s the middle of the night. What are you doing?”
“It’s not night time,” Tristan told me, gesturing to the well-lit room, to the lights that I had left on because I was afraid of my father getting confused.
I had not reckoned on my toddler getting confused instead.
“Will you tell me a story?” Tristan asked.
I gave in. “Sure,” I told him, sitting on the couch and pulling him into my lap. “Have you ever heard of the Kodak Company?”