Monday, November 26, 2007

Two Tales of One City...or Somethin’ Like That (Part IV)

The Long Goodbye — Prologue
Perhaps a better title for this post might be The Long Layoff. It’s been over a month since my last entry in this series, and while it was always my intention to separate the two main subjects of my recent trip to Dallas a bit, I really hadn’t planned on making the time-gap quite this wide.

Admittedly these two stories could have been (and in retrospect, perhaps should have been) totally separate series, given that the subject matter of each part was so emotionally divergent for me.

On the front end there was the 2007 Webmaster Jam Session, a wonderfully enlightening and heady experience. The flavor of those two days was almost transcendent. I was so buoyed by the camaraderie and positive reinforcement of a group of like-minded individuals of whom I felt a small, but inclusive part. It was comforting to know that I was a part of a community, a movement of professionals seeking to have a real impact, not only upon the livelihood they’ve chosen, but to actually make the world a better place, giving high import to the way that everyone, regardless of physical handicap or station in life, operates and navigates the now ubiquitous world wide web.

It was a pretty tasty bit of pie-in-the-sky that my associate Trey and I enjoyed along with our Starbuck’s that Friday and Saturday in late September.

Sunday, however, was something else altogether.

Immediately upon learning that Trey had secured permission for us to attend the weekend conference, my first thought was of possibly using the final day to visit my brother Alex, who lives in the Dallas Metroplex area, and then take a late flight back to Nashville. So Sunday morning, while everyone else was rushing bleary-eyed to the airport to catch a return flight home, I was headed to Budget Rent-a-car for a ride to catch a few rare hours with my brother.

After losing my way on three consecutive occasions, I finally gained my bearings and at last found the way to Alex’s house, where we would spend the afternoon hanging out and watching football together for what could well be the very last time.

Although I’ve seen him at least once in each of the past three years, the sands of time are rapidly slipping away with regard to Alex’s condition; it’s uncertain as to how many more of my visits my beloved little bro will really be cognizant of.

As you probably know, Alex is the second of my four brothers unfortunate enough to carry the genetic mutation passed down from our Mother for Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease. He’ll be 48 years old this coming May — the same age our Mom was when she succumbed to complications from that horrible malady back in 1968.

The good news is that Alex, as of late 2004 has been on the two leading AD-inhibiting drugs, Aracept and Namenda, which have been effective in slowing down the progress of the disease’s ongoing efforts to shut down his brain.

As was in the case of our Mom and my other afflicted brother, David, the fatality of Alzheimer’s doesn’t necessarily lie in the disease itself, but in the complications that develop as a result. In nearly all of the seven cases of Alzheimer’s-related deaths in my extended family throughout the years, pneumonia has been the actual cause.

AD first begins its path of destruction by sabotaging the transfer of chemicals between brain cells, disrupting thought and memory processes. The literal suffocation of brain cells by the formation of ‘senile plaques’ covering the neurons eventually causes the brain to atrophy, leading to the eventual breakdown of motor skills and overall body functions. In the end, most AD sufferers are left bed-ridden and hence susceptible to things like pneumonia as that which ultimately claims their lives.

And while Alex is still extremely vital, physically, this latest visit to see him made me realize how quickly he’s deteriorating overall.

In each of my past two visits to Dallas to spend time with Alex and his family, my Dad and I made the trip together. This time, however — in a big way — I’m glad that it was just me; it was a pretty tough scene.

But as hard as it was for me to see my brother in the condition in which he currently exists, it was indeed a special time. There’s an awful lot of the old Alex still in there, and we had a wonderful, if brief time together.

But again, it’s hard to say just how many more opportunities I’ll have to look into his eyes and know that Alex sees me back. I don’t know how many more times I’ll be able to say some of the things I was able to say to him that Sunday afternoon, and know that he understands, as I know he did this time. I dread the future for my brother; I dread it for his family, and selfishly, I dread it for myself.

I’ve avoided saying this — or even thinking it, but as of this visit I’ve finally begun making that sad, long goodbye to my life’s best friend.

I’ve avoided thinking about it to the point that in each of the last three visits I’ve made to Dallas following the trip in which I accompanied Alex to Indianapolis in 2004, I’ve not written about the events that surrounded them. No blogs, no personal journals; only hand-scribbled notes — pages of them — most of which I have yet to read, let alone transcribe.

And therein lays the true reason this ‘second tale of one city’ has taken so long to surface. The fact is, I just don’t want to write it. I don’t want to put it all into words because I don’t want them to be true. I don’t want it to be out there, staring me in the face in all its obnoxious, pugnacious reality. I’d rather it remain off to the side; swept under the rug; out of sight and out of mind.

However that’s not reality. Alex is sick, and it’s time, now, to talk about it; I don’t want it to be, but it is.

It’s time to chronicle all that I’ve seen and observed as Alex’s condition has regressed over the past three years. It’s time to begin to close the book on this shell of former brilliance that now walks in his place. It’s time to say what needs to be said, so that it can be over and done with and never dwelt upon again.

I look forward to spending a lot more time later on talking about the real Alex; the brother who gave me my definition of brotherhood; the little kid that I looked up to as much as he looked up to me.

That’s a story that’ll never be finished.

Next: The Long Goodbye — Part One
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