Friday, January 07, 2005

It’s Still Ticking (Part VIII)

Indiana wants me
On Sunday November 7th I flew to Dallas where Alex’s wife Seraph picked me up at Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport (DFW). There was about a two-hour separation between my arrival from Nashville and Alex’s and my departure to Indianapolis and they live only about 10 minutes from DFW, so we went back to their home in the nearby suburb of Grapevine.

Except for a three-year stint in Connecticut in the mid-90s, Saraph, Alex and their three children have lived in the Greater Dallas area since 1991. This was the site of Alex’s greatest success as an attorney for the large international law firm he worked for there. It is the place that his family has adopted as home, as my family has similarly done with Nashville.

Soon after it became apparent that something was seriously wrong with my brother, it was obvious that they would have to sell their former home and downsize to a more affordable mortgage. Fortunately they had no problem in finding a buyer and made a nice profit on the sale price. Even better, the less-expensive house they bought is nearly as big (still the four bedrooms as they had before) and is in a very nice neighborhood to boot.

As we pulled into their sub-division I looked around and said to Saraph, “This is a step down for you guys? I don’t see a lot of difference between this one and your old neighborhood!” She said they were pleasantly surprised and grateful to have been so fortunate, both in the way things worked out on the sale of the old house, and being able to find such a nice new place.

As we continued to drive to their house, Saraph went over the ground rules, talking about how I was going to need to look after Alex on this trip. “You’re going to have to be with him at all times you know,” she warned, “You can’t let him out of your sight, not even for a minute.”

“Really? Okay…” I said, thinking, “Well I really wasn’t planning on sending him out for smokes. I mean, is he really that bad?”

As we pulled into the driveway, she concluded the conversation saying, “He’s a lot different than he was the last time you saw him.”

THAT was an understatement.

The man who would soon greet me would look familiar, but sadly, a large part of that familiarity was the look in his eyes. It was the same look I had seen in our older brother David, some fifteen years ago, at our family reunion in Telluride, Colorado. At the time, David was about at the same point in his AD onset as Alex is now, and the faraway look that I saw in his eyes then, I would now see in my beloved little brother.

As I walked into the house, Alex emerged from around the corner, standing silent, smiling and staring as if he were looking right through me. We embraced and I knew instantly that this would not be an easy road trip. My normally effusive broheim was reserved and hesitant to speak. He seemed genuinely happy to see me, but the rigidity of his body told me that he was anything but comfortable. He welcomed me into their bright kitchen where the three of us we talked while Alex busied himself with his now incessant pastime of cleaning and household chores. We talked about the sale of their old house came down and how happy they were in their fine new home, which appeared to be less than five years old.

I was there just long enough to see the house, be introduced to their new golden retriever (who spent an inordinate amount of time introducing herself to my crotch), and also reintroduce myself to my two nieces. Alex’s eldest child, his 17 year-old son, was working so unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to see him. The girls, whom I hadn’t seen in two years and of course, had grown like proverbial weeds — very intelligent weeds I might add — were more talkative than I’ve ever known them to be.

The older of the two is a ninth grader and was proud to show me her budding computer graphic design skills, knowing that’s what I do for a living. She showed me a couple flyers she had done for school events, and they were pretty good. When I told her how impressed I was with her work, she gave me the biggest smile I think I’ve ever seen from her pretty, yet usually unemotional china-doll face.

Her little sister, the sixth grader, conversely has always been bubbly and chatty to a fault. She begged me to play checkers with her, a game she had recently gotten the hang of. Knowing how smart this little gal is, I instantly got the feeling that I was about to be played by a ringer, but I went along for the ride. Not surprisingly, after about 20 minutes the game finally ended in a stalemate when it was time for us to leave to return to the airport. Whew — saved by the bell!

While I was spending time with the girls, Saraph was busy pulling together Alex’s things. Soon we were heading out the door and I was hugging my nieces goodbye. Being unfamiliar with the vastness of DFW Airport and moreover that of the three separate American Airlines (which was our carrier) terminals there, I hadn’t stopped beforehand to find out which gate our flight would be departing from. So Saraph just dropped us off at the first terminal. Hugs and good-byes were exchanged as Alex’s wife wished us well. As I hugged her she whispered, “Thanks AJ. I really appreciate you doing this.”

I nodded and thought to myself, “How could I NOT do it?”

I have assigned my brother’s wife the pseudonym of Saraph because it is appropriate to her newly appointed role in the life of her family. She is surely now her husband’s guardian angel, as are all women who serve in such a capacity for their families.

She is as headstrong as any woman I have ever known, and that aspect of her personality has not always endeared her to some in our family, but she and I have always gotten along well. And though I may not have always understood her, I have always loved and respected her strength. That strength is now the only thing that stands between total chaos and a normal life for herself and her children. In my three days spent with Alex, I got only a small taste of what her life is now like on a daily basis.

As we began going through security, I got my first glimpse.

Genesis 4:9-12
Then the LORD said to Cain, " Where is Abel thy brother?" And he said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?"

That Bible passage began flooding through my mind as I watched Alex nervously fidgeting, first with the contents of his pockets, then with his shoes, which we were asked to remove, wondering what to do next as we prepared our carry-on belongings for passage through the x-ray machines.

It was so hard to fathom seeing him in this context. Even though I was older, Alex had long since passed me up as leader on our journey down the road of life. He was always so self-assured, so confident. Now he would wait for instructions, looking to follow my lead. This was the last time he voluntarily went on before me to do anything on this trip. He always wanted me to go first; to see where I was going to go and what I was going to do, so that he could follow without having to ask. I knew that he was aware of his difficulties. There will come a time, hopefully not too soon, when his frustration will be all but gone, when he won’t know or care what he can or can’t do. But now, this is hard for him; and hard for me to see. Throughout our time together to this point the mention of Alzheimer’s Disease had yet to be uttered between us. As far as I knew, he was still convinced that his troubles were all related to depression. I knew we would have to talk about it eventually, but I just didn’t know how to broach the subject without insulting him.

Once we passed through security we got a look at the terminal monitors and found our flight’s gate number. Just our luck it was in the second of the three AA terminals, some 28 gates away from our current position. Time-wise we were still in great shape, but I wanted to just get to the gate and have all our ducks in a row as soon as possible.

After a few minutes of walking through the terminal at an uncomfortably brisk pace with our single, but bulky bags across our shoulders, we were fortunate to have a terminal ‘people cart’ driver pull up beside and ask us if we needed a ride. “Oh yeah,” I said. As we sat down and relaxed for a few minutes, riding along on a trek that would have easily taken an additional 10-15 minutes on foot, Alex turned to me and said, “AJ, I didn’t want to say anything, but I was really getting tired back there. I fatigue so easily now. Let’s not do something like that again, okay?”
“Thanks for the info bro,” I smiled. “We’ll take it slow from now on.”

We arrived at our gate, C-28 and as the driver was retrieving our bags from the back of the cart, Alex fumbled for his wallet and pulled out a couple bucks to tip the guy, which was something that didn’t even enter my mind. But Alex was a seasoned traveler and a class guy. He always did things right. He handed the driver the money and we both thanked him. “You gotta treat these guys right,” he said with a half grin.

We grabbed our bags and sat down in the waiting area. It was still over an hour before our flight and the gate’s current flight passengers were still waiting to board. I went up to the check-in desk to make sure we at the right gate, since our flight’s number and destination info had yet to be posted. I made sure not to lose sight of Alex, who I could clearly see from the desk.

Learning that we were indeed in the right place I returned to where we had been sitting to find Alex talking with a late-twentysomething woman seated across from us. She was traveling with two small children, a toddler and a baby in a stroller who looked to be around 18 months old. Alex was fawning over the baby and making small-talk with Mom, a fairly rough-looking bleach blonde wearing a skin-tight blue short-sleeve top featuring the words, “What Boyfriend?” emblazoned across her ample bosom.

As I sat down I couldn’t help but turn my glance to the woman tending to her kids, who were both noisily making an incredible mess eating and playing with whatever the snacks were that they had at their disposal. The woman and I acknowledged each other’s presence and she again turned her attention to her kids. Alex turned toward me, grinned and rolled his eyes.

“This must be Dallas,” I whispered.

“You would be right, Sir,” He whispered back.

For the next 15 minutes or so, the two of us made restrained small talk, interspersed by 1-2 minute periods of silence. Besides the fact that we were surrounded by people well-within earshot of hearing every word out of our mouths, I still hadn’t figured out how to really talk to my brother about what this trip meant; what we were going to do, and why it was so important. My stomach was beginning to feel unsettled. I was tense. Eventually we were going to have to talk about things. I just didn’t know when that time would be. Fortunately — or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, I didn’t have too much longer to wait for the opportunity.

Next: “Dallas, we have a problem…”
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