My husband disguised it well, but I knew. I had known for the last seven or eight years. He was sixty-five and I was forty-seven. We had been married for sixteen years. The eighteen years between us never made a difference. His sense of humor, wit, intelligence, and gift of gab were incomparable, his laughter contagious. He was a knight in shining armor for me and for his family. He had always surpassed me mentally and physically. Until 1991 when my husband was demoted, without notice or explanation, from his new position as president of a furniture company that spans three states. Within one month of the demotion, he quit the furniture company and took a job in airborne laser mapping. The new job required him to commute out-of-state during the week and fly home on the weekends. One weekend, without warning, Red could not remember our home address. His short-term memory loss was obvious, and his grammar and comprehension were declining. Weeping like a baby, he declared, “Something is wrong with my brain.”
In the mid-1990s, Red was screened for Alzheimer’s disease. The screening amounted to no more than a short mathematical and verbal memory assessment. As far as his primary care physician was concerned, he passed with flying colors. I vocally rejected his doctor’s opinion, but to no avail. Aw shucks, I’m just the little missus. What do I know?
As the days turned to months, months into years, his good judgment waned and he became socially uninhibited. I would come home from work to find complete strangers on a tour of our home, chatting with Red over tea and crumpets. He would carry our financial portfolio with him in a briefcase for show and tell. He would fixate on bald gentlemen, point and laugh. Spitting and passing gas in stores became a daily, exhilarating event for him. Red would no longer urinate in the toilet, only a sink. I once caught him drinking water teaspoon by teaspoon from the kitchen faucet. For two years, all he ate was store-bought fried chicken. He forgot the names of familiar objects and people. Was I imagining this? My husband of sixteen years was acting out like a three-year-old. Red was scared and confused. In lucid moments, he talked of committing suicide.
On October 13, 1998, my fear was realized. After days of testing at the Mayo Clinic, our lives went to hell with the diagnosis of one word: dementia. I had a clinical diagnosis and MRI to back up what I had known for years. With the doctor’s declaration, I launched into profanity. I suppose it would have been more tasteful to sit silently and weep. Truth be told, I envisioned turning over office furniture and throwing every chair in the room out the window. That might have been in bad taste, but . . . I would have felt better.
The diagnosis did not faze my husband.