My dull brain is wrought with things forgotten

Right now, and for maintenance purposes only, I’m referring to what has lately been happening to me as ‘blurring’ -a useful metaphor which avoids the use of such patronizing terms as ‘forgetful’, or the ever-frightening ‘early-stage dementia’ one. Of course, it’s all the fashion nowadays to blame this kind of stuff on Covid restrictions; you can hardly turn around without someone scapegoating the virus for something or other. I don’t want to be left behind.

But it seems a little too facile, a little too naïve -a bit like hiding under the covers, I suppose. And yet, I’d rather believe in Covid than aging, so I suppose it’s better to hang out with the devil you figure might be curable…

I’m not clear on when my blurring first started -but of course I wouldn’t be, would I? I think it seems to be particularly noticeable on those occasions when I’m trying to concentrate, trying to remember why I went into the kitchen, trying to figure out why I should be -figuring it out, that is.

And yet, if I happen to find myself in an interesting conversation with a stranger waiting in a socially distanced line, for example, I am a goldmine of information, a tongue that never stops, the life of a dinner party that I forget why I never used to get invited to.

I wonder about this disconnect sometimes, but usually it is more curiosity than concern. Is it simply the lack of stimulation by friends and strangers in my current life; the worry that I should be craving something more than company -something intellectual to enrich my quotidial environment? Or, more worrisome, that I’m not laying down enough new and novel synaptic connections in my brain and it’s losing its plasticity more quickly than with age alone…? Existential stuff.

I realize I am not alone in my angst, of course. It seems that silence, and sudden loss of expressive words is now phone protocol. Mind you, those individuals who still use phones to talk rather than text are a growing minority, largely confined to people my age. Robert actually announced his name to me when I answered the phone the other day, no doubt forgetting that it showed up on my screen (he refuses the argotique of ‘Bob’ and rejects ‘Robbie’ as jejune). Anyway, he said he simply wanted to know how I was doing; in fact, I rather think he was spreading the word that he was still alive and was proud of it.

“Good to hear your… voice again, G,” he stumbled, unnecessarily using italics. “It’s Robert.” But it was only an opening gambit and hardly a fair estimate of the cadence to come, I rationalized.

“Robert,” I almost shouted into the phone. “I haven’t heard from you in …” It was my turn to hesitate while my tongue sorted through sundry alternatives to ‘ages’. In fact, I wondered if mention of that length of time might sully our friendship, implying as it should, that we were not actually close friends and so didn’t really deserve frequent reassurance of our mutual wellbeing. I finally settled on ‘ages’, though -what the heck. I didn’t really like him anyway.

There was an uncomfortable pause on the line. “Actually, I’ve not been, well, good lately.”

He left the subsequent space blank; it was clearly my cue to clarify what he meant. A quick mental appraisal of ‘good’ did not suggest any moral or ethical excursions, on his part I’m pretty sure, and anyway the chances he had been caught in flagrante delicto in the elder care facility to which he had been relegated seemed vanishingly small -although I’m sure he would have been flattered with the idea. No, he wanted to tell me there was a change in his health which I might want to know about for some reason.

“So what…”-once again, I found myself bereft of appropriate questions that would maintain the dignity of his advanced age, and yet exhibit sympathy for him even though he knew I thought he had always been a rather poor specimen. I started again. “So how long have you been that way?”

I could hear him harrumph into his phone as he gathered the words to respond. “I didn’t even explain what’s going on…”

“Sorry, Robert… I guess I…”

“Jumped the gun again…?” He sounded peeved. “You haven’t changed… G,” he added, trying to disguise the fact that he’d already forgotten my name, I think. He was always like that when he was annoyed. It’s probably why we weren’t close friends. It’s probably also why I hadn’t heard from him in ages, I suppose. I waited for him to continue, feeling guilty as well as newly curious.

“As I was going to tell you, G… I’ve not been good lately…”

I think he might have written the words down because it was identical to his opening remark. But I had learned from my earlier mistake. “I’m sorry to hear that, Robert,” I said, empathetically, and yet not effusively. “What’s going on…?” What I really wanted to ask was why was he calling me in particular, to complain, but I didn’t want to break his obviously tenuous line of thought. Maybe he had nobody else to talk to, though. I suddenly felt honoured. Special.

“This isolation stuff is… well, I’m tired of having to stay in my room here…”

I was surprised at that. “They’re keeping you isolated in your room, Robert…?” I could feel, rather than hear him nod at the other end of the line. “Didn’t you get vaccinated?”

“Yes, we all did…”

I waited for him to continue, but he was obviously waiting for inspiration before he continued.

“We both did, actually, but she’s now sick and they think hers… didn’t take… or something. Anyway, they shipped her off to the… hospital… just for a few days, though -she’s back in isolation -in her room in our building now,” he added in case I wasn’t following his story.

Robert has never been married, so that was a surprise. I wasn’t sure how to phrase my next question, so I threw caution to the wind. “Who’s she, Robert?”

“A friend, G… just a friend…” But he was a little too adamant in his reply, and I distinctly heard him italicize the word. He used to do that when we talked in the student lounge back in university when he was embarrassed. I think I may have been his only friend in those days -I can’t imagine much has changed since then, frankly.

But while I remained silently choosing my reply, he decided to rephrase his initial explanation. “I only snuck in there for a while, G…”

Snuck? The man doth protest too much, methinks.

“And she promised not to tell anybody…” he added, defiantly.

My god, he sounded like a teenager. I felt like congratulating him -I’m sure he only phoned to brag, but I suddenly realized how insensitive that seemed, under the circumstances… “I’m sorry about your friend, Robert… I hope you’re not getting sick, though.”

“No, not at all G. But I am feeling… guilty…”

I was speechless for a moment. Then, “I can imagine…”

There was a prolonged pause before he answered. “But it wasn’t like a first date in high school, or anything -we took precautions, you know… we both wore masks…”

He just wanted to get it off his chest, I think, because he hung up shortly after he confessed. I suppose Covid affects us all differently though: I no longer feel quite as blurred…

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