Alice escapes the captivity of Alzheimer’s through story. Pirates, the ultimate hostage takers, often lend her a hand. I haven’t seen these pirates myself, but it’s clear they are pirates with a dashing Johnny Depp-ness, or the crimson glow of the young Burt Lancaster. Alice sings with them. They laugh together on the ship or the island. Hints of another Burt Lancaster beach scene seem to linger about her after they let her go, famished but content. I like these pirates.
A few days ago, I was on the phone with a kind young woman from TIAA-CREF straightening out some mysteries Alzheimer’s had introduced into my mother’s retirement accounts. At the end of the transaction, she told me about her grandmother who had been trapped by Alzheimer’s in the year 1973. Alice floats around in time. When the pirates come, she is anchored around 1954, the year she graduated from college and got married at age twenty.
Was it lingering familial recognition that kept Alice from mistaking her three twenty-something year old grandsons for dashing pirates? Peter, their father, did not have the same luck. Once, when I was away, the pirates turned threatening and she made him into her fellow captive: “You get into that bed right now, because if I’m not pregnant by tomorrow morning, they’ll kill us both.”
When Peter told me, it was like someone just hoisted the Jolly Roger up the mast to warn us of new danger on board our mother ship.
Peter, calm even in captivity, told my mother, ”I’m sorry, Alice. That won’t work. I’m your son-in-law.”
She shifted course immediately. “Oh no. You’re right. That won’t work.” Then, a long pause. ”Who’s my daughter?”
“How old am I?”
Seventy-six trombones led the big parade. Alice sank the pirate float.