Sunday, February 20, 2005

It’s Still Ticking (Part XIV)

Lose me once…shame on me. Lose me twice…shame on you know who!
Well you know, they say that lightening never strikes twice in the same place. I guess that doesn’t apply to stupid lightening. Apparently my stupidity was a veritable lightening rod during that three-day trip with my brother Alex to Indianapolis — because I didn’t just lose him once — I lost him twice. That’s right, as if I hadn’t been scared shitless enough the first time at the airport in Dallas, I had to tempt fate a second time by leaving my brother unsupervised.

There is really no excuse for it, but I’ve always been pretty good at rationalizing just about any harebrained thought that rolls around between my ears. This is no different.

To set the scene once again, as you recall, we had just spent a grueling eight-hours of Alzheimer’s testing at IU Medical Center. We had just gotten back to our hotel room. I was tired; Alex was exahausted. We were also hungry, and it was Monday, so Monday Night Football would be on shortly. So I thought, what better way to de-compress than with that winning combo of Football and McDonald’s. I had been hankerin’ a Big Mac something fierce for awhile, and it would be a quick and easy fix for dinner (or so I thought).

I asked Alex what he wanted and I grabbed my coat and headed for the door. Again I had the momentary conversation with myself:
—“Aren’t you taking a bit of a chance leaving him here alone?”
— “Nah, he said he’d stay put, didn’t you hear him?”
— “Sure I did, but you know what Saraph told you about not leaving him alone…”
— “Look, he promised. Do you want me to tell him that I don’t trust him? Are you calling him a liar?”
— “No, I’m just saying maybe this isn’t such a good idea. Maybe you’ve already forgotten about what happened in Dallas at the airport?”
— “No, but that was different. His AD is out in the open now. He knows that I know. And he’s not THAT far gone that he doesn’t know what NOT to do. Geeze. Give the man some credit for petesakes. Besides, you don’t have a car. Think of how much longer this will take if you have to bring him along.
—“Alright, alright. I guess it’ll be okay.”

We had talked about the room key earlier. As is normal, we were issued two. It was the now standard card-reading type in which you slide it in and out of a slot on the door to open it electronically. He had difficulty in doing it correctly and asked me to show him how, which I had done the previous night when we arrived in Indianapolis. In retrospect I guess I didn’t do that great of a job of teaching.

As I left, Alex was already relaxed, sitting back on his bed watching TV. I felt assured I was making the right decision not asking him to come traipse through downtown Indy in search of a McDonald’s which at that point I still only hoped that I would find. But hey, this was a big city, and Mickey D’s are everywhere, right? Surely there would be one close by.

I soon found myself outside the entrance to the hotel. A brisk November wind reminded me that I might regret this whole harebrained idea if it ended up taking more than fifteen minutes or so. Which way should I go? I thought back to the cab ride from the airport the night before, trying to take in and get the lay of the land as we traveled through the late night urban stillness of vacant buildings and empty streets that was this portion of downtown Indianapolis. This was clearly an 8 to 5 area. There was little life on the streets and surrounding environs, even at the early hour of 6:30 PM. Far more people work in this area than actually live there. Consequently, there were no fast food establishments dotting the landscape. Nothing but a sparse flow of passing cars and well-lit but mostly empty office buildings.

Probably the only true concentration of life in the area was relatively close by, but well beyond my desire or intention to walk. The RCA Dome, where the Indianapolis Colts were getting set to host the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football was a mere six blocks or so from our location. We had seen dozens of fans displaying their various Vikings paraphernalia in our hotel lobby earlier as we came back from our day of testing. I had passed them again on my way out of the hotel. They appeared to be waiting en masse for their bus or whatever other transportation, to take them to the game. Dr. Farlow had mentioned earlier that afternoon that there were still good seats to be had for the game if we were so inclined. “Why, you buyin’?” I asked. “Um…no.” he responded with a smile.

Nevertheless, there was a certain electricity in the air that only a MNF game in a big city can generate. It was palpable. I was looking forward to watching the game in my hotel room with my little brother, knowing that we were only a mile and a half from where it was actually going on live.

Well it didn’t take long for me to realize that there would be no McDonald’s materializing out of thin air and suddenly appearing before me just down the street. But then I remembered that my brother Jack has worked in Indy all of his adult life and, being the original junkfood junkie, if anyone on God’s green Earth knows where a McDonald’s is in this town, it’s him.

So I called his number on my cell phone and explained my situation. As luck would have it, he and his wife Marnie were driving through town on their way to an evening function even as we spoke. He confirmed my suspicion that there were indeed no fast food locations near to where I was, but he was near one now, and would be happy to pick up my order and deliver it to me. Now I ask you, how’s THAT for brotherly love? I was ecstatic. Jack asked me about the day’s experiences and as I began to recount the details he stopped me short and asked me to give the details to Marnie, so that he wouldn’t have to interrupt me when he got to McDonald’s.

Apparently they were still a ways from downtown because I stood outside the hotel talking to Marnie about everything concerning Alex’s situation and Dr. Farlow’s affirmative Alzheimer’s diagnosis, to the possible implications for his children. We talked for a good twenty-five minutes. At about half-way into the conversation I could hear them going through the McDonald’s drive-thru line and placing our order. And in what seemed like only a few minutes later Marnie was telling me she’d spotted me in front of the hotel.

Through open mini-van windows we exchanged hugs. Jack handed me a tray of piping hot Mickey Dee’s. The faces of my eldest brother and his wife, along with that familiar aroma of those golden fries were warm comforts in that somewhat hostile foreign environment. As we had earlier decided in a phone conversation Sunday nght, we confirmed that tomorrow morning Jack would pick us up from the hotel. The three of us would go out for breakfast before he drove us back to the airport and our trip back home.

I handed Jack a ten spot and he tried to convince me he couldn’t take it. I insisted, but he insisted back. I relented but announced, “Okay then, but breakfast tomorrow is on me. No ifs ands or buts.” He reluctantly agreed and after a final thank you and goodbye to Marnie, they drove off.

Buoyed by the experience of spending a little time with Jack and Marnie, I passed the purple-and-yellow-clad Vikings partisans in the hotel lobby with a smile on my face and headed towards the elevator. A few inquired as to how much they owed me for “their” food and I just kept smiling — and walking. Unfortunately that smile would have a decidedly short life span.

Nightmare on West Michigan Street
As I slid the key card into the door slot, a thought flashed through my mind. “What if he’s not there?” As quickly as the thought was given birth, it was crushed beneath the heel of logic with “Shut UP you idiot! Of course he’s gonna be there.”

I turned the knob and announced that I had returned. The room was laid out in such a way that Alex’s was the near bed and was obscured on the right by the bathroom as you entered from the hall. I heard no reply and quickened the three or four strides it took to clear the wall and see around the corner into the main part of our room. His bed was empty. I quickly set the tray down on the dresser in the corner and sprinted for the bathroom. No surprise — he wasn’t there either.

I was now in full panic mode. “NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NOT AGAIN!”

As I double-checked my pocket to make sure I still had the room key, I rushed back into the hallway, first quickly checking one end of our floor to the other, before heading for the elevator. My stomach was bouncing around like a handball inside my abdomen. I was cursing the day I was born. Not again! Why didn’t I take him with me? Why couldn’t he just stay put? Why was I gone for 45 freaking minutes? All these thoughts and more whipped around in my head "like a motorcycle in a motor-drome," as the L.A. Lakers’ immortal play-by-play announcer, Chick Hearn would so often say in describing a shot that spun around on the rim then went out.

As it had in Dallas, my life flashed before my eyes once again. Things such as our mutual childhood love of the aforementioned Lakers’ announcer and his many amusing signature sayings. I thought of all the time we spent together as kids and adults, building families of our own. Also as in Dallas, I obsessed on whether this would be the final, devastating thought I would relive about Alex for the rest of my life, but this time it was even more ominous. The potential for disaster at DFW was lessened by the fact that there were other people around — lots of them. There was security. There was an airport public-address system that could have called out to him if necessary. Now, here in downtown Indy if Alex wasn’t in the hotel, he was in real danger. In talking to Marnie earlier, I learned that one reason there were so few people out and about was that this was not a safe place to be after dark, that people are routinely mugged in this area. My anxiety, as one might guess, was nearly off the scale.

When my elevator hit the lobby, I sprinted to the front desk to notify them that my brother was missing. I told them why we were here and that while he may not look it because he is so young, that Alex indeed has Alzheimer’s disease. I related this and his description to the head of hotel security. They asked if I had checked the food court area adjacent to the lobby. I replied no, but that’s where I would start and I headed down the breezeway, which lead toward it.

Directly off the breezeway was first the restaurant where Francesca had taken us for lunch earlier that day, but which was now closed. Next to that was a bar in which I could see a handful of patrons, but not much else going on. I stuck my head inside the door to make sure Alex hadn’t gone in for a quick beer. No dice.

Another twenty feet down I reached the hotel food court. It was a relatively large area, approximately 60'x30' in dimension. There was no one seated at the dozen or so tables that dotted the area and all of the fast food establishments had already closed for the day. Nevertheless I made a quick check of the area, all the way to the exit door on the far side. As I completed my survey I began again down the breezeway toward the hotel lobby. I looked up when I heard my name.
“AJ! We found him sir,” The voice of the security chief reverberated between the confines of glass and mahogany which bordered the long passage. “He was outside and just came back in,” the man called ahead, his left hand gently resting on Alex’s shoulder as he and one of his deputies led my brother toward me.

Alex was all smiles as we met and embraced for a long second or two.

“I was just out taking a walk. I’m fine,” Alex announced emphatically. “Really AJ. I just wanted to go out for a smoke.”

I looked up to give the security men a smile and wave of thanks as they turned and headed back toward the lobby. “Thanks you guys. I really appreciate it,” I called out. The security chief smiled and replied, “No problem at all sir — I’m glad we were able to find him.”

I stood there, nearly speechless for several seconds hugging Alex’s neck. Then I felt his shoulders slump as he began to pull away from me, walking in the opposite direction of the security men so as to keep them from hearing. “I was so scared, AJ. I was so very scared,” he said with a slight tremble in his voice. “I got lost. I was outside and I was lost. I had no idea where the hell I was. And I really don’t know how I found my way back here.”

“Why did you leave the room?” I asked him. “You told me you’d stay in the room.”
“Well,” he said, “I really wanted a smoke. I hadn’t had one all day…and I had the key, but when I left the room, I tried it out but couldn’t make it work. So I went outside, and then the next thing I knew, I was lost. So I just started walking.”
“Well where did you go?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” he replied. “I just walked.”

I hugged him again.

“I’m just glad you’re okay buddy,” I whispered. “But please, let’s not do this again, okay?”
Alex smiled and replied, “Oh no. I’m not letting you out of my sight from now on!”

“Hey our McDonald’s is up in the room gettin’ cold.” I said. “Let’s go eat!”

You deserve a break today…finally
The rest of the evening was thankfully uneventful. We enjoyed our respective dinners: his, a Double Quarter-Pounder with Cheese, and mine, the Classic Big Mac, which thankfully for my body, I don’t take the opportunity to enjoy too often.

We kicked back on our beds and enjoyed eating, drinking, and screaming obscenities at the Monday Night Football game, which turned out to be one of the best of the year, an all-out offensive war. The home team Colts defeated the visiting Vikings with a field goal in the game’s waning seconds. It was a lot of fun to hoot and holler with Alex over a game again just like old times. But it clearly wasn’t old times. What was then was years ago, and will never be again.

We made phone calls home, and also to Dad out in California, as I had promised him I would. It was so hard to not break down as I gave our Pop the bad news about Alex. But it was no surprise to him and he took it well. There was obviously a lot that I was hesitant to say to Dad in Alex’s presence, but I told him we would talk more, later.

After SportsCenter, we were both more than exhausted. As I flipped out the lights and settled my cheek into the thick cool pillow, I tried to survey in my mind all that had happened that day, but couldn’t. My head was still spinning. That proverbial motorcycle was still furiously tracking ‘round and ‘round the motordrome. I tried to reach out to slow it down, but couldn’t. I began to step back further and further from it. I heard the engine begin to sputter. It was running out of gas. As it’s rumble faded off into the distance, the sound continued to fade until it was simply no longer there.

As I drifted out of consciousness. My mind was still struggling to make sense of it all, but my body was demanding a reprieve. My body won.

Next: The morning after
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