A mind is a terrible thing to lose. And I'm trying not to lose mine
My car is out there somewhere. Let me take another look.
There were a couple of moments last Wednesday where I thought about reaching into my coat pocket, grabbing my cell phone and calling Cindy. But she was a few miles away and en route to pick up Nolan from his after-school program. Really, what could she do to help me?
My car was parked somewhere in the downtown district – for full disclosure, in my hometown – but I could not for the life of me remember where. I walked to where I thought I’d parked it, and no, it wasn’t there. I walked in the opposite direction, then quickly realized I hadn’t parked anywhere near there, either. The calm expression on my face belied the inner turmoil in my brain as I walked toward where I’d been (“OK, I know I parked on a side street – yes, it was State Street. I saw a woman coming out of the apartment complex on the corner with her dog. She and the dog walked past my car after I’d parked. Did they walk by me in front of the apartment complex? Yeah, I’m pretty sure they did. That’s a tow-a-way zone in front of the apartment complex. There is no red Toyota Corolla parked in that tow-a-way zone. I parked in the tow-a-way zone! They towed my car! Wait, I crossed North 3rd Street after I parked. Go back toward North 3rd Street. The snow has made the sidewalk slippery. I have to piss very badly. Ciiinnndddyyy!”).
I found where I’d parked – on State Street, one block west of the apartment complex and on the other side of North 3rd Street – after walking for perhaps 10, maybe 15 minutes. The sense of relief I’d felt upon arriving at my car and sliding behind the steering wheel turned into embarrassment (“How the hell do you forget where you parked, IN A PART OF THE CITY WHERE YOU USED TO FREAKIN’ WORK, NO LESS??????”). Embarrassment turned into fear (“Is this what losing one’s mind looks like?”). Maybe next time I’d forget to pick up Nolan. And was I really sure that I wasn’t supposed to pick him up that night?
Last week was one of those weeks where my mother, if she still were alive, would have asked me if my head was attached. I didn’t misplace a 2,800-pound vehicle again, but I nearly walked out of a convenience store Thursday without the beverage I’d just purchased for Nolan. I walked out of the house Friday afternoon to get the mail and pick up Nolan at school, then remembered I’d forgotten his backup clothes for his after-school program. I went back in and got them, then nearly left home without locking the side door.
We all suffer bouts of temporary amnesia, just as some of us of a certain age find ourselves “resting our eyes” a little more than we used to after plopping down on the couch to watch television. But it seems like I’ve taken memory loss to a new level the last few months. I’ve noticed myself setting down my cell phone at home and trying to remember a few minutes later where it is. Checkout clerks have had to remind me to take with me the bag containing whatever I’d just purchased. Last summer I misplaced my wedding ring, only finding it a few days later after it fell out of the pocket of a pair of shorts I’d pulled out of the dryer. I was relieved, as was Cindy, who still admitted she was my wife even when it was missing.
I can’t blame my forgetfulness on the fact I’ve been thinking about – and sometimes consumed with – Nolan getting through his last year of middle school. I can’t blame last week’s brain farts on the fact Nolan hasn’t really slept worth a damn the entire month, although that sure didn’t help. No, I usually get myself in trouble when my brain is on overload; I have a laser-like focus on one particular thing and nothing else; or in my mind I’m well on my way to going from Point A to Point D when I really need to first make stops at Points B and C.
I’ve always had a lot squeezed into my three-pound brain on any given day – thoughts, worries, to-do lists. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I’d bet the fact I once lost track of where I’d parked my car in one of the campus lots when I was a college student was due to having a lot of homework and/or a paper to write, an upcoming exam, working more hours than I wanted as a sportswriter at the local daily newspaper, and likely a co-ed I’d been wanting to ask out. I once completely forgot how to transmit a story on the company laptop even though one of my co-workers had gone through the process with me step-by-step. All I could think about was doing my interviews at the event I was covering, writing my story, and making deadline, which is difficult to do when you can’t remember how to use the laptop. The same co-worker had to stop by the event I was covering and remind me it was helpful to actually have the phone line plugged into the computer.
Now that I’m the father of a special needs child, I have a lot more serious things to think about.
I go through a foot-long mental checklist every morning alone before the school bus comes (“Did I remember to give Nolan his meds?” “Did I pull a pair of socks out of his drawer?” “OK, did I really remember to give Nolan his meds?”). My goal when we stop to use the restroom and get a drink on the way to his after-school program is to make sure his jacket is back on and zipped – he always takes it off when he goes to the bathroom – we’re not in anybody’s way at the checkout counter, and we’re back in the car as quickly as possible. But it’s helpful to remember why you went in the store in the first place. I almost failed to do that last Thursday.
Even a seemingly fun half-hour visit last Wednesday to the record store, which is how I got into the mess I did, can get me in trouble. One minute I was celebrating finding a mono copy of Bob Dylan’s 1966 masterpiece, “Blonde on Blonde,” and Rick Danko’s long out-of-print 1977 solo album (Rick was the bassist for The Band, and I like him because he had the type of voice that could make a happy song like “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” sound melancholy). The next minute I was wandering around on a snowy evening, clutching my records in a plastic bag and feeling like Elaine Benes holding her dying goldfish as she, Jerry, George, and Kramer searched for Kramer’s car in the mall parking garage.
Do I worry about potentially having serious memory problems as I continue to age? You bet I do. Caring for Nolan will be a lifelong job. I don’t want Cindy to have to take care of me as well if I’m still above ground in 25 years. I know that a lot of times all it takes is stepping back, slowing down, and taking a breath before doing anything. Mom told me that a lot. I probably would avoid a lot of embarrassing situations if I’d just listen.
As much as I hope I don’t find myself in a similar situation to the one I dealt with last week, there’s always a chance I will. At least Cindy has told me I can call her and ask for help if I am in trouble. That is, if I haven’t forgotten where I left my phone.