Yesterday I took Michael out for breakfast. He has not been out of the house since we ended therapy and I thought that a ride in the car and a meal out will do him good. He isn’t eating much these days but he loves to go a diner and have breakfast.

His mind drifts and wanders and it becomes increasingly difficult to get him to focus or share my world. I feel like he is in an underground tunnel sometimes or under water or in some netherworld that I don’t know and don’t understand.

He switches on lights in the middle of the night…the floodlights outside and peeks out to see if anything is out there. Before he got sick he was the one who walked around behind everyone shutting off lights and heat and air conditioning. Now he turns everything up in the middle of the night. I wake up to 90 degree rooms ablaze in light at 3 am. I turn everything off and when I wake up at 6, they’re all back on again.

Yesterday in the diner he was talking gibberish. I had no idea what he was talking about. Then the waitress asked if we wanted pies. They had just made fresh pies for Thanksgiving. They had peach pie. His favorite. He ordered some. When she walked away I said, “Do you want cheese on that?” and he laughed.

We were once on a wonderful motorcycle trip in Vermont. We stopped at a nice restaurant and ordered apple pie. The waitress asked if we wanted cheese on it. We both said, “Cheese? On apple pie?” And she shrugged and said, “I don’t know. It’s a New England thing.” Michael was not having any of that. He said “I’m from New England (Boston) and I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

Do you want cheese on that? became an inside joke with us. We ask it/say it about everything. Turkey, ice cream, donuts. It’s always random. One of us will just say, “Do you want cheese on that?” and we’ll both laugh. The kids never understand why we both think that’s funny.

We have a lot of inside jokes and, at first, I thought I was just using them all the time to share them as much as I can. But I’ve discovered that when he’s in his hazy world, an inside joke will pop him out and he has no problem understanding what I’m talking about as he does with present day conversation. It not only keeps us connected but it restores his memory. However briefly.

When we lived in California I answered the phone one day and the person asked for Mike. I said he’s not home. He said this was so and so liquors and his beer order was ready. Michael doesn’t really drink (2-3 beers a YEAR!) so I couldn’t understand what he was ordering beer for. Was there some kind of party I didn’t know about? This was a huge order. I said, “I don’t understand why he would order so much beer.” The guy said, “Are you the same lady he was in the store with yesterday?” and I said “WHAT?” and he said “Is this Mike something something’s house?” and I said no. He said is this telephone number blah blah and I said no (it was one number off). Bizarre.

So when he came home I told him everything except the last few sentences and I said, “Do you want to tell me who you were in the liquor store with buying beer?” and he said “Oh you caught me. Her name is Lilac and she lives down the street.” and then he burst into laughter. And I did too.

So from then on we had “the beer lady” joke. I would say, “What are you doing today?” and he would say, “Not much, just gonna hang out with the beer lady.” Or I would say, “Where were you? Out with the beer lady?”

Another inside joke has been when one of us has to report, to the other, something one of the kids did that isn’t going to be a welcome thing. When the reaction is, “They did WHAT?” or some kind of negative reaction to the other parent, we would say, “I don’t make the news, I just report it.” We started to use that about everything. And we’re the only two who find it particularly hilarious.

Last night he asked me for one of our guide books to California. He suddenly likes to read my Italy and California books. They’ve sat on the bookshelves for years and he has never opened any of them. Lately he’s asking for a book a day from one place or the other. He says it takes him back to a time when he was happy and healthy. So I brought him the California book and he said something weird like it shouldn’t be light at 4 o’clock in the morning (it was 8 pm and it wasn’t light out). I said, “Here’s your book honey. You know, the beer lady’s number isn’t in there.” and he laughed and popped right back to reality. Suddenly he knew it was 8 pm at night.

Today he was circling the rooms calling for Gina who was in school. I kept saying she was in school but he kept calling for her. I repeated several times that she was in school. He kept calling.

I asked him if he wanted some cereal and he said okay. I brought it to him and said, “Want some cheese with that?” He smiled. Then he said, “What time does Gina get home from school?”

Memory.

It’s a funny thing.

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