Remember Dave? He was “Up” a tree back in March. Alice still sees him when she looks up. Right after Dave died in August of 2006, Alice explained her memory loss to me: “It’s like a curtain dropped and I can’t remember anything after that first year with Dave.” Pre-diagnosis, though with plenty of signs, I had hoped that mourning him had her stuck in 1954, the year they married. Looking back, it is clear that by then Alice had been falling slowly down the rabbit hole for several years. Dave had been worried about her memory, but when he was alive, she was grounded and she functioned. That he took over many of her tasks seemed a natural part of this kind man’s retirement.
Alice and Dave met in Chemistry class at Albany State Teacher’s College. She had lab early in the week. He had lab later. She worked in the cafeteria so he would come through the cafeteria line and check in about the lab. “I had a very pretty roommate, Betty, she was blond, you know. All the guys were after her so I was used to them getting to know me to get to her.” Alice ranked according to color. Dave did not.
At the ball game with Betty and the gang, Alice and Dave spent the entire game talking about Thomas Malthus’ Essay on the Principles of Population; in a nutshell, Malthus’ position was that unchecked, population growth is exponential while the growth of the food supply is arithmetical, dooming populations to outstrip their resources. In sum, Alice realized he might be interested in her. This tableau of my early beginnings always makes me think of Malthus as a kind of “straight man” to Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, who realized that evolutionary biology is all about sex. Alice and Dave’s first, serious conversation at the ball park eventually brought them to home base.
Alice became a biology teacher and the axioms of biology pervaded our home. When I was little, sometimes she would pat my head and tell me I had “hybrid vigor.” We all learned basic genetics on account of color blindness in the family. My father, like his maternal grandfather who raised him, my brother, and two of my sons, had this X-linked gene—a small mutation that keeps a person from being able to distinguish reds from greens but lets a person make close distinctions among all the shades of neutral. Dave loved the dappled light, the shimmering neutrals, of the forest. Now after many tumultuous years, Alice sees Dave, once again, in that light. She is again falling slowly, into love.