In her academic essay, “Aberrant Decoding: Dementia and the Collision of Television with Reality,” published in the Fall 2012 issue of Intima, Dr. Catherine Jenkins talks about how reality and television can collide for those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (the most common form of dementia), which affects nearly 10 percent of people over the age of 65.
She talks about a specific episode with her mother, who conflates a story she sees on the news and a detail about the retirement home she lives in, with memories from earlier in her life. This brings her mother to a state of terror as she prepares for an evacuation. It sounds like this is early on in her mother’s disease (or maybe before it was even apparent that she had it) and Jenkins doesn’t yet know that her interpretations of events can’t be trusted.
Jenkins is able to trace back to what caused this episode, which is what I try to do in my poem, “All the Girls Were There, and Gorgeous,” as I imagine what this sentence, said by my grandmother with Alzheimer’s, might be referring to. Although most of what my grandma said during this time was incoherent, brief sentences made sense, and some, like this one with its strangeness and musicality, stayed with me.
In Mansfield Park, Jane Austen reflects on memory. She says: “If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences.”
She continues: “The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! We are, to be sure, a miracle every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out.” Jenkins, however, is able to find out how her mother’s misinterpretation of events arose, and I appreciate this inclusion of a personal story in academic writing.
Memory may seem even more mysterious when there’s less of it—why do we remember this and not that? Other times, it seems to make perfect sense, especially with Alzheimer’s patients, who often remember earlier memories and forget later ones. My grandmother named the baby dolls we gave her Prudence, her mother’s name.
Carlene Kucharczyk is a freelance writer currently living in Connecticut. She earned her MFA in Poetry from North Carolina State University and BA in Literature from Wagner College. Her work has appeared in Tupelo Quarterly and Strange Horizons, and she is the recipient of a scholarship from The Frost Place Poetry Seminar. She is interested in the role narrative plays in creating empathy.
© 2017 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine