where the writers are
Just a Memory: Part 8

As soon as we arrive to see Dr. Kim, the young internist arranges for a psychiatric evaluation right then and there. The psychiatrist, who makes people of slight builds look like professional bodybuilders, leads us into a small, windowless room that feels more like a large closet. This doctor, his toothpick leg crossed over the other, borders on sickly. His voice sounds like the nasal whine of the kid everyone made fun of in high school, and he wears the requisite nerd glasses to boot. The other psychiatrist is an overweight woman. Gary whispers to me that he doesn't like them at all. I implore him to give them a chance.

During the interview, Gary's words slip into gibberish and then back into real words as if he is bilingual. The poem "Jabberwocky" pops up in my mind. When Gary was a child, he had memorized this nonsense verse by LewisCarroll and still recites the poem like a child amused with each word:

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

As Gary talks to the doctor, I imagine that he sounds like Lewis Carroll while he was writing the poem: pronouncing out loud made-up words that in the end did not fit into the rhyme or meter. Gary stops and starts his sentences without finishing thoughts, shrugging his shoulders and groaning when he cannot come up with the words for ordinary objects. He asks the doctor to repeat questions and forgets what the doctor says. The doctors get a demo of the new problems that have appeared since his appointment a week ago, in addition to his depression. The psychiatrist tells us that Gary is not depressed, that his symptoms signal some unnamed neurological problem.

"I'm sending you for an MRI right now. We'll make an appointment for you to come to the neurology clinic tomorrow to get the results."

The appointment isn't until late afternoon the next day. More waiting. More time to fill. In one night, Gary’s word use worsens. I find it hard to hold a conversation with him. Is this Alzheimer's? I think of an idea of what we can do that morning to busy ourselves until the doctor appointment. I need to buy bookcases for my office—last minute home office tax deductions before 1997 ends in a few hours.

At the furniture store, Gary stands on one leg, then the other, surrounded by streamlined, contemporary oak and cherry furniture. His size 15 shoes appear out of proportion to his skinny legs. With one leg bent up, he looks like a flamingo. I try not to look over at him. I have brought to this furniture store and to other stops along the way today a man newly transformed into the village idiot complete with babbling. No, wait. He is an Oliver Sacks patient. But which one? I stop paging through Sacks' books in my mind to find that patient. I try to concentrate on delivery dates, dimensions and wood choices. Gary is a blur in the background. Every now and then, my focus goes from the bookcases to the teetering man several feet away. I adopt the tranquility of a person who has spent years meditating even though I could never practice an activity that would require me to stay still and think one, single thought—just so the saleswoman will think there is nothing amiss. Act normal.

The saleswoman glances over but she too pretends not to notice. We’ve entered into some tacit agreement. Sure, Gary and I seem mismatched in terms of our ages. To make it worse, I look younger than my age. I still get carded at restaurants and at wine stores. Maybe she’s trying to figure out the relationship. I imagine her list: Father? They don't look alike. Couple? Too much of an age difference and they don't act like it. Maybe this customer is some kind of health aide and this is her out-of-it ward. Lady, you’re right, he is not all there. I call Gary over to bring him into the conversation. As if his participation would return him to normal.

"I'm getting two 84-inch tall bookcases in cherry."

"Those aren't tall enough. You've already got one bookcase that height, and it didn't seem like enough." He groans. Gary has a deep groan that is part growl.

I remind him that I've got 10-foot high ceilings, surely 84-inch bookcases are perfect. He asks for a tape measure. He holds out the tape and shows me four feet.

"No, 84 inches."

"I know that." He glares at me. I'm sure he sees me as a village idiot. "Can't you see that they're not tall enough?"

"No, 84 inches." Some kind of bizarre dyslexia? Only instead of letters, he's transposing numbers.

The saleswoman watches us, mostly keeping her eyes on Gary, but tries not to stare. No doubt she is perplexed. Unfortunately, this yuppie furniture store doesn't have a measuring tape longer than six feet—not enough to make my 84-inch point. Gary extends the tape perpendicular to the ground so that I can see how high 84 inches is. The tape reaches my shoulder. He hands the saleswoman the tape.

"Women." Groan-growl. He walks away and starts his self-exam over again. Poses as a flaming, covers one eye and then cups his hand over the other. Left, right and then, left again.

I wonder whether to say something to the saleswoman. But what? What? That my friend here sees nothing and everything? That he knows something is not quite right but is unaware that he is not saying what he thinks he is saying? For that matter, all I know is that something is not quite right. I'd be better with a soda machine that gives you an orange soda when you have punched the root beer button. I'd tape up an "out of order" sign and call a repairman. I can't hang an "out of order" sign on Gary to confirm others' experience of him. He is indeed out of order, in disorder. But I can't dangle some three-word sign on him that explains, yes, his speech is incoherent and he can't remember. I could tell the saleswoman that we're off to see the Wizard, that Gary's the scarecrow and needs a brain. I tell myself to stop it. This is no time for wit. My mind sorts through the appropriate aside that would give the saleswoman a verbal wink to sum up in three or thirty words what is wrong with Gary. I don't know even which words to use. I have no name for it.

The sale done, we leave for the hospital.

Next: Gary is hospitalized

copyright 2008 Delia Cabe