My mom and Kenneth are already at the dinner table when I arrive for a visit at 4 PM on a Saturday. They’re not saying much, just waiting for their food, which will be served at 5 if they’re lucky, but more likely at 5:30 or even 6 PM.
I get the feeling they’re moving out of the honeymoon phase, when couples seem to relish being together. These days, he sometimes acts annoyed by her clinginess, and she gets increasingly frustrated by his endless circuitous business strategy talk.
“The bottom line is we really basically, basically know we have different, various areas. Okay? Because I’m game.”
“What?!” she asks.
“I’m just trying to get a sense,” he says.
“Well, who are you trying to get it from?” she asks, perplexed.
“Exactly,” he says. “So are you going to buy in?”
And she shakes her head, not understanding a word.
I watch this perpetual miscommunication and wonder if they ever understand anything the other is saying. And then I think, what do they mean to each other?
He seems to think she’s his business partner. Sometimes he’ll point to her and say, “This gentleman over here … is doing great things.”
“I’m not a gentleman!” my mom will respond, usually with laughter. He’ll look confused, because she must be a gentleman, and they must be colleagues because why else would they spend so much time together?
“He’s not my boyfriend,” my mom will say when he doesn’t want to join us for a walk around the unit and she feels dejected. But other times she’ll refer to him as her husband and say she met him long before she ever entered the Hebrew Home.
But there are also times when she forgets he even exists. Like when Kathy called and asked about Kenneth.
“Who’s Kenneth?” my mom responded.
“You know — your friend,” she said. “Isn’t his name Kenneth?”
“I think there are a lot of Kenneths here,” my mom answered, maybe trying to work out why the name sounded so familiar when she couldn’t attach a person to it. Even if he is the person she spends most of her time with (and clearly wants to).
When I accompanied my mom on a Hebrew Home trip to a local museum, Kenneth wasn’t authorized to go. I had to practically pry them apart to get her off the unit.
“I want him to come, too!” she said.
“Come where?” he asked, looking down. “Wait a minute. So you’re going?”
“We’ll see you later, Ken,” I said, leading my mom quickly down the hall to her room so she could get her coat.
My mom wasn’t happy, at least not at first. She didn’t want to be apart from him. But within half an hour, he receded from her mind. She got caught up in the sights from the bus window (“Boy, that’s a tall building; I’d be afraid to live there because I might fall out of the window!”), and then she enjoyed the exhibits.
“We should do this more often,” she said to the docent, a smile on her face.
When we got back to the home a couple of hours later, she was a little confused but not distressed. Then she saw Kenneth.
“There he is!” she said, her gait quickening to meet him.
He threw his arms up in the air, and when they met, they embraced and kissed.
“Your wife is back,” said the aide Kenneth was sitting with.
They smiled and held onto each other’s hands. And they looked happy and comfortable and at home with each other.
And then I realized, it doesn’t matter if they don’t understand each other or even remember each other. It’s the senses that matter — they see each other and feel happy, and when they touch, they communicate. And through touch, they remember.