I. Who will have it?
1. My great grandfather (who had it)
Though I wasn’t there.
My grandmother was. On his last night, alone with him, he remembered her, though they’re unrelated. He told her I love you. Had to tell someone before the words could be taken away from him. Had to pass them on.
That’s how she used to tell it anyways.
2. My grandmother (who has it)
Now it’s her turn to say I love you.
You ask a question, she echoes it.
You okay? Okay.
It hurts? Hurts.
My questions come back to me out of tune, out of muscles. But the words she says without being asked, those are the ones she fought and still fights so hard not to let A’s steal. Even on video call, she can say it.
I love you so so so sososo ssss.
Her tongue lags after since A’s pins it down, but still she smiles because she said it. Perhaps those are the three words that A’s could never beat.
3. My father (who might have it)
Today he asked me: what do you think of her state? What changes since six months ago?
Very technical questions. He might as well have added a “Doctor” at the end.
It's the uneasiness, I know. Don’t ask about the feelings! Just stick to the questions you know the answer to. So as to check that I understand that when he tells me he has to go visit this summer, I should say I’m coming too.
He won’t say it. He won’t say the three little words either. But that’s cause A’s hasn’t come yet to make him realize they are the biggest thing he can pass on.
I didn’t have it, and I don’t have it now, and I’m not at risk of having it soon. And I didn’t even go to the care home or the hospital to see her once. And I didn’t come with him for Christmas when I had the chance.
So, Grandma, I hope it’s still fine if I write of it. So that when you’ll forget yourself, and we’ll forget it happened, I’ll have something to not forget you. A poem, a song, a face to connect the three words to, when I’ll have forgotten everything else: I love you.
II. Read this Letter Every Night at 9:00 PM
Dear future self,
Our name is Jacques, like in the song “Frère Jacques” mama used to sing to us so that we would fall asleep:
Sonnez les matines
Sonnez les matines
Ding ding dong
Ding ding dong
I read that music can really help us remember. Perhaps, if you listen to this song, you will be able to be a child again, and wonder and ask questions. Don’t ever stop asking questions.
Our name is Jacques, and like the song, we are a brother, a brother of one sister. She is in a care home, like I will be and like you are. Her name is Cecile. Better not ask her how her life is, the move hasn’t done her well. Let’s say it’s just that she misses her children, or the idea she had of them. They don’t bother visiting. Our situation shouldn’t be as bad. We don’t have children, so we don’t have anybody to miss. Just think of the name care home and think of it as home.
Our name is Jacques, we have an older sister named Cecile, and a wife named Aline. Aline is pretty sad about you and us. She won’t come very often to see us, cause she lives abroad, but she’s thinking of us every night. Right now, she’s thinking of you, and if you close your eyes, you’ll see her. Just imagine the best human flying about on Earth, and that’s her. She insisted on doing this daily prayer, thinking it would help. With this disease, the best thing you can do is to remember your name every night.
Our name is Jacques, we have a sister, Cecile, and a wife, Aline, who both love us but can’t visit us, and we love them too. We love to read. We love to write. We have even published loads of books. Indeed, we have led our dream life. Just think of something you wish we’d have done, and I promise you that we have done it. Just dream of it, and it will form a memory, your first memory of today. And you can tell the nurse that now you remember something. The nurse, who even though she doesn’t look at you or reply, listens, I promise you. Even when you are unable to talk and they are unable to listen, someone’s listening, I promise you.
Our name is Jacques, we love our sister Cecile and our wife Aline as much as we are loved, we are happy, we had a wonderful life, we have Alzheimer’s.
Now dream, because if there is one thing this condition can do, is allow us to write our own life any way we want, each day.
I don’t want you to hold on to me. I want you to hold on to this, to Cecile and Aline, to the happy life, the published books, and mama singing you Frère Jacques.
Your past self,
III. Alzheimer’s Musicians
They are bored.
Monique (Patient) walks around the corridors with a toilet roll in hand, crying that she lost her bedroom.
Frank (Patient) tries to stop nurses (Workers) passing in the hallways to tell them the story of his life, which by now they all know too well. From the impressive grades at school to the one-night affair.
Ivonne (Patient) is playing a card game with her husband (Relative). That’s all the 53-years-married couple does all day cause she lost her tongue, but never does one lose the game instinct. Yann the husband (Relative) has been at this for months, coming every day from opening to closing time. That’s a keeper. He does the nurses (Workers) a great service.
All of them (Patients) were given markers and blank illustrations to colour today. Only a couple picked them up. Though Thierry (Patient) is still trying but his shaking hand isn’t much help. Oscar (Worker) was gonna help him, but then Sara (Worker) told him: “let him, it will occupy him longer than drawing would.” And she has a point. Though it pains Oscar (Worker) to see Thierry (Patient) look at his own hand as a stranger’s.
Dana (Worker) hears deformed voices coming from room 216, lamenting what might just be a happy song. Indeed, through the door she sees Jean (Worker) playing the one-hand version of some song you must know from the olden-days’ radio while Robert (Patient) and Lucy (Patient) mumble the lyrics. They look right through the nurse (Worker), at the music that puppeteers them to follow in its flow, stronger than the mist on their minds. They (Patients) are both drunk but in a much better way than when left alone to the disease, which does with them what no one else knows. With music, they’re in trusted hands. Dana (Worker) leaves them alone to it.
Tonight, Fred (Worker), the new recreationist, organises a wheelchair bean bag toss competition. He gets fiery but no one else follows. The patients’ bean bags fall vertically rather than fly horizontally. Like all of their hands and minds, they (Patients) forgot how to fly.
In the speaker, little notes play. It’s a playlist made especially for boomers and those before, with songs they must have danced to in their twenties and have learned to love to in their teens. Some lips still mime the lyrics to those memories, some fingers still tap the tempo to those young heartbeats.
More bean bags drop. They (Patients) are tired, but not their lips and fingers which to the music learn to fly again slowly.
It’s a symphonic band playing an unscripted concert that will end only when the conductor (Alzheimer) will dismiss each musician. Even after their solo is done, and they (Patients) have packed their instruments, and no sensible notes come out of the ensemble, they must give in to the symphony as the conductor’s hands still beat the rhythm, as she (Alzheimer) swallows through her wide ears and open mouth their music; swallows not them, but notes and chords.
So some (Patients) wait, some (Patients) play any sound still in them, until she (Alzheimer) will swallow them (Patients) up.
Not just swallow parts of their luggage and instrument, not just swallow a memory here and there, not just swallow voices and tongues, not just swallow muscles and coloured eyes and ears, but swallow them (Patients) to end this silent out-of-breath concert, to fly away.
Before then, the conductor (Alzheimer) is busy forming a bouquet with the swallowed chords of their minds. While they (Patients) play their emptied out lungs.
They (Alzheimer’s musicians) are bored.
IV. Alzheimer: Your Boat?
They say: You all belong to the same You-zone. There are a dozen of You in this section of the hospital. You-isolated-in-(Your?)-yellow-box don't ever see the other Yous. Same goes for You-in-(Your?)-smaller-box, and You-in-(Your?)-box-with-a-window. But You know each other by (Your?) connected smell-feeling. You are all undulating reflections of the same past. When You ask the Nurse about (Your?) past, she tells You a quick-quick story. The same story she told another You next door. That is how You know You are all cloned-clown-copies of each other’s lives.
You all eat the same foodthings so You all smell the same. A green-gray breath. The Nurse don't like it.
You all drink the same schedules so You all wanna pee at the same time. That one smell is yellow. Yellow and orange. The Nurse never like it.
You all always see the same door-bed-wall-Nurse. You call them all Nurse, they call You all You. It's fair so the Nurse don’t like or dislike it.
Everyday, You sink a little more into (Your?) bed. Until You won't see its tail any more. Like a fish You will have eaten. That day, You will drown. The Nurse will like it.
You know You are unlucky. You know this from the way the Nurse look at You like that teenage-swimming-teacher trying to teach You how to swim when You were four. End of the lessons: she said You are a lost-cause. You only learned to float. And that is what You still do. In that blue blouse and those blue sheets, wet in sweat: You Row Row Row (Your?) Boat Gently Down The Stream Merrily Merrily Merrily Merrily Life Is But A Dream.
The Nurse too are unlucky: Not-even-six-Nurse-for-all-You-lot, Not-enough-pay-for-all-our-work. Nurse said that to Nurse. Like the teenage-swimming-teacher.
Extended arms, flat belly, flat back, extended legs: You do the Star pose. The teenage-swimming-teacher-Nurse says good, that's how You float.
Now, the says-everything-twice Man enters. The same says-everything-twice Man from when You were four. He would speak slow: don’t-colour-outside-the-lines, don’t-colourcolour-outsideoutside-the-lineslines. You remember and tell (Your?) memory to them. But no eyes on You. They don’t wanna know about when You were four and life was but a dream.
The Man’s words are Crayola inside the lines. He wants You to be four again. No-no-no. To the Nurse: Yes-You-Yes-You-Yes. Lost-cause, they say like the teenage-swimming-teacher.
The Man and Nurse leave see another You in another room-box. That other You says Hello. Hello, You reply. Door closes: You can't hear that You anymore. You can't hear You.
Eyes Closed: You Row Row Row (Your?) Boat Gently Down The Stream Merrily Merrily Merrily Merrily Life Is But A Dream.
Sink into the stink, loneliness hits You, do the Star: You float.
Now, pressure in your lower sack: You wanna pee. That other You and another You also want to.
One of You does a joke, because You just remembered how You once did a joke: it had to do with peeing in a pool. Now You do the joke to get closer to that past You moment. You swim towards (Your?) child memory. Memory-memory! You stop doing the Star: You move (Your?) arms. You swim. The Nurse don't like it.
Unlucky Stars don't float. They stink in the sink. No one sees (Your?) tail drowned in the blue bed. The Nurse’s faces sink. The Man’s face sinks. The teenage-swimming-teacher's face sinks. She says: Lost-cause, You won't need to swim to get through (Your?) life anyways. Now, End-of-Lesson.
By Ana Lambert-Bernal