To better get what the hell it is I’m sounding off about, I’ll set the scene from fifteen year’s ago before the Parkinsonian sea engulfed us, before my husband declared himself trapped alive inside a sinking wreck.
I glanced up. Sitting in our living room, the fireplace spluttering pinon sparks, I moved the fireguard against the adobe orifice and settled back. Newsnight, a program my husband loved, glued him to the screen. Words tossed tired leaving the great big world unchanged. Not ours, though. Ours morphed that night, the night I noticed…
My husband David’s cheeks smooth as the TV screen, the corner of his lips devoid of curl, his eyes saucer round, nodding at the key points being argued in the interview, I assumed he was taking it all in.
Charlie Rose leaned forward, bushy eyebrows pulled close and down mantling personal thoughts. A smile disrupted the furrowed lines demarking his cheeks. He pushed his lips forward. It was easy to see Charlie was engaged. But my husband — was he engaged? His expression gave no hint. I picked up a cashew fragment from my lap, cast it with the doctor’s words into the flames. “Swaha,” I sighed. “Here’s to all we have this minute.” The fire-log like our future incinerated leaving only the present.
David looked the same as he did yesterday, the same sweet way he’s looked for the years we’ve been together, the same physically since his ten o’clock doctor’s appointment the previous morning. (Was that only thirty-six hours ago?) David’s face: Charlie Rose on the box. I looked from one to the other. Studied the contrast.
“You have what’s known as a Parkinson’s mask, an early symptom of the disease.”
The doctor’s words un-rumpled a list of symptoms…joint stiffness, tiredness, micrography, tremor, fears we’d scrunched inside. For a couple of months I noticed his voice. Its new sexy huskiness. And teased him. Then not so long ago, speed walking our favorite circuit behind his house, he stopped, waited for me to catch up.
“My left arm won’t swing,” he complained. “I wonder. Could I have I had a mini stroke?”
Next day at the doctor’s office, the doctor clicked his ballpoint pen. On. Off. On. Aligned the missile shape of it parallel between the two top lines of his notepad.
“You have Parkinson’s disease.” The clicking of his ballpoint spiked the silence.
The three syllables “Par-kin-sons” skimmed the surface of reality and sank beyond my conscious thought. The doctor’s words were just sounds, nothing meaningful about them. After all, the sky still shimmered cloudless, and the smudge grazing the horizon too far distant to define. I was too shocked to ask what lay ahead. Stepping from office to sunlight, we held hands, not talking. I closed my eyes felt the warmth of the sun.
Bloody ironic, David a doctor. All those nights slaving in the ER cranking extra dollars to live the poster retirement under a palm tree somewhere. Now just when he was free…
I didn’t burst into tears then. It took a week. Walking one early morning along the arroyo behind our house, I brushed against a cactus. The cruel pain of its barbs gave me reason. Broke my reserve. I wept and wept. If David cried, he cried when I was not about.
Caregivers, did you stiffen your spine like me on hearing your partner’s diagnosis? “Pointless dissolving into a crybaby…pull yourself together, girl,” I admonished myself. “Face what needs facing and bloody well get on with it.”
I didn’t admit to my feelings. I couldn’t. I didn’t recognize the nothing I felt covered emotions I was not strong enough to handle at that time. It’s a British thing. Denial. Our way of coping.
“Let’s take a trip. Go on an exploration.”
So we hiked into the desert silence of White Sands and lay together beneath the Milky Way and swam the waters of Elephant Butte. For two and a half months we toured Sri Lanka, and clocked ourselves into a Kerala nursing home, South India, to undergo a month’s Ayurveda treatment, then took six weeks in a half-built ocean resort recovering. It was a beautiful time, we agreed, riding waves twenty feet high in the Indian Ocean, strolling the Malabar coast hand in hand, eating vegetarian. We never looked or felt so healthy.
The future, not yet existent, nosing into the past kept us warm and down-coated. Nesting, we called our “do-you-remember-when-we…” stories.
But “Par-kin-sons” was there, three stones lying below the surface. Dark lumps on the pristine sand, one, two, three… I could see them through the water. Behavioral and physical changes like his indecipherable writing, more frequent stumbles, fading memory, curving posture, loomed unavoidable.
What David felt, he kept to himself.