No.

I’d like to die at home, in my sleep. Comfortable, sort of thing. My last day would be a good one. I’d eat. I’d read. I’d talk to my mother one last time. I’d curl up on my side and drift off, and my death wouldn’t wake me. It would just come and get me, and I’d never know.

A carefree death. I want that.

Y’know, I used to volunteer at this old folks’ home. Or, not an old folks’ home, exactly, but the geriatric ward of a hospital. Where you go, I suppose, when you don’t have kids, or your kids don’t have money, and there’s just nowhere left.

I’d come in on the weekends and clean up a bit, do some sweeping and mopping, make a few beds. I’d bring presents, wool for the ones who liked to knit, books and clothes for the ones who didn’t. I’d sit and chat, listen to stories, brush people’s hair, and when it got to be lunchtime, I’d wheel all the oldbies out of the TV room and into the cafeteria. I’d feed the ones who couldn’t feed themselves, wipe their faces, clear the tables, and wheel them back to their soaps.

I’m making it sound too nice. It was a horrible place, just old people sitting abandoned, parked in front of the telly with nothing to do. Some of them, they’d just leave in the halls. I’d walk by them on my way in, grandpas in wheelchairs staring into space. And the walls were this miserable beige, and the floors were green tile, and the view was a car park and the highway beyond. There wasn’t a library or a swimming pool, or puzzles or tennis courts. There wasn’t anything you’d want, riding out your back nine.

There was this one lady, well into her nineties and well into senility, and she’d grab my arm when I walked by. She’d pull me down next to her and look straight in my eyes, and she’d say “I can’t feel…I can’t feel…,” over and over again. It wasn’t a whole sentence. She was looking for a word. Trying to tell me what she couldn’t feel. And I’d say to her, I’d say, “what? What is it? Do you want to feel the sun? Do you want something soft? Hot tea? Cold lemonade?” I’d sit and I’d prompt her, everything I could think of, but I never got it right. She’d look at me and shake her head, with this awful disappointment on her face, and I never got it right.

I’m afraid of Alzheimer’s. Terrified of it. And everything’s linked to Alzheimer’s—allergy pills, heartburn pills, non-organic produce. Bad teeth. Being female. Not getting enough sleep. Getting too much sleep. Stress. Inactivity. Poverty. Not finishing university. Everything, man, everything. All roads lead to Alzheimer’s. I don’t want it. I don’t want it.

The worst part of Alzheimer’s would be the helplessness, the inability to advocate for yourself. Because sooner or later, someone would treat you with contempt. You’d soil yourself or drool down your front, and someone would look at you like you’d just ruined their day. Maybe it would end there. Maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe you’d recognise it, if not consciously, then on some instinctive level.

I don’t want to end my life frightened and ashamed.

It’s just, your dignity’s all you have, when there’s nothing else left. When you’re poor, y’know, when you’re a prisoner, when you’re at a social disadvantage, you can hold onto that. You can cloak yourself in serenity, speak sweetly and refuse to lose your temper. You can be king and be kind, and be noble, even if only in your head.

I don’t think I could do that if I couldn’t control my bowels. How do you stand up to someone who’s wiping your arse? How do you tell them to stop making that face, stop making that tchah sound, stop scrubbing so hard, and not sound ungrateful?

I don’t want nurses standing in corners, gossiping about my querulous old-lady voice, calling me Her Highness in a nasty way. I don’t want to get slapped or left in a hallway. I don’t want any of that.

It always smelt of carrots, that old folks’ home. Carrots, piss, and disinfectant, but mostly carrots. I hate carrots, at least the boiled sort. They’re okay raw, with a bit of oil and vinegar.

I have to get out of bed today. It’s been almost a week. I’m getting all…all…how would you put it? Not maudlin, exactly. I’m all down the rabbit hole, building nightmares from memories.

Oh. That reminds me. Time for our daily dose of that. 

It looks better upside-down, doesn’t it? They should replace the road with a reflecting pool. Let the cars go the long way, or have gondolas instead.

(Now, I have that song in my head, inochi mijikashi koi seyo otome…. “Gondola no Uta.” I like that song.)

I’m going to order some Greek food and do some exercise. Well, the exercise first. I’m not hungry yet. But I’m getting out of bed.

(Note to self: buy toilet paper.)

12 thoughts on “No.

  1. I’ve read somewhere that knowing more than one language is a pretty good defence against cognitive decline. Don’t remember if they mentioned Alzheimer specifically though.

    Senescence in general is terrifying, and part of what makes it so terrifying is the realisation that most people live without giving much thought to it (and they do have a point, why worry about the inevitable?). Still, reading things that echo your own fears is, partially, an oddly reassuring experience. Someone else knows. So there’s that (this is also a slightly forced attempt to find a positive angle… Although there isn’t one, really).

    Greek food sounds like a good idea.

    And that IS the best photo of the thing, yet.

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    1. I should be well-defended, then. I speak three languages well, two more badly. But I don’t use them that much, except for reading. I don’t actually TALK in any language but English, unless I’m commenting on a Facebook post. Do you have to speak to be protected, or is knowing a lot of words sufficient?

      I hope they come up with an effective treatment soon. You always assume, you know, by the time you’re old enough to worry about these things, someone will have fixed them. But time marches on, and they haven’t. All one can do is hope to avoid it, either die before it sets in or never get it at all.

      I’m waiting for a very rainy day, to see if I can get a picture of its reflection in a puddle. That seems appropriate, somehow.

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      1. I would assume that just being able to think in them is enough, it is, after all, a mental exercise. Maybe, knowing many languages liberates us from verbal thinking to a degree, because most of our (largely unconscious) thinking isn’t done in words, or even pictures… And if you realise that a concept/unit of meaning isn’t identical with the word that signifies it, and that you can slap on any label you’d like, you gain a better grasp of it and, hopefully, better insight into your thought processes, or maybe even the processes that underlie them. However it may, there was a study that showed that we think better in our second language, or at least, with more logical detachment.

        A ladder a day… Every time trying to take a unique and original shot…? You may have done the impossible and extracted some artistic mileage out of that thing. 🤓

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        1. I can’t imagine I’ll keep up with a ladder a day for long, but I do feel a certain poisonous need to inflict it on everyone else. Make them see what I see. But I can’t resist the impulse to try and catch it in a flattering light, which may rather defeat the purpose.

          That’s interesting, the idea that knowing several languages might allow you to focus more clearly on the subject, as it’s not bound to just one word. It would make sense, if that was the mechanism behind avoiding cognitive decline, forcing yourself to think more about the item or concept, and less about the words you’re using to describe it. If that’s the case, thinking or reading should, indeed, be enough to get some benefit.

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          1. You see, we still have the advantage of the ladder being served in small portions, with inventive framing. So as poisonous as the need may be, we’re still not getting, ah, the full experience.)) *

            *This is the Russian/introverted version of a smiley.

            There is one depressing caveat though, mathematicians, who pretty much live and breathe in the “pure concept” territory, do all their best work in early youth and often experience a sharp decline of mathematical prowess with advancing age (notably Paul Erdos’ gravestone read “Finally, I am not getting any stupider”).
            Hope is better than nothing though. Maybe.

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            1. Were I truly spiteful, I’d set up a twenty-four-hour ladder stream, showing nothing but my window and the ladder. And the weather, I suppose, but mostly the ladder. That would be closer to the full experience, but without the added annoyance of its reflection in EVERY shiny surface.

              Augh. I wish you hadn’t told me that, about mathematicians. Age just takes everything away. I’m glad I’m not a mathematician. I can’t imagine much that would be more painful than spending most of your life knowing your most notable achievements are almost certainly behind you. Artists and writers seem to have the opposite career trajectory, by and large: fifty years of nonsense, maybe ten at the end, worthwhile. (Or, you know, maybe not THAT bad a ratio, but it takes a while to be worth anything.)

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              1. True that. The “every shiny surface” bit though, that sounds like the worst part. If it’s just outside your window or on the screen you can just turn away, tune it out. But when it invades every reflection… Eugh. That said, bring on the ladder (maybe, if someone started a petition to remove it, on the ground that it, say, attracts lightning and makes that area more dangerous, it might gain traction… But that is an unreliable, desperate, last ditch move (and maybe, just maybe, the ladder deserves its little modelling career)).

                You’re right about artists. Beethoven wrote all his best music practically on his death-bed (and deaf to boot), Rembrandt got better with age, e.t.c… Decline, when it did happen, always was a regrettable accident rather than inevitability. Fiction (and I’m including music and visuals here), does require more kinds of intelligence than just logic. Besides, they say witty and malicious people stay sharp the longest.)

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                1. I’m not sure what it’s made of, or if it DOES attract lightning. You’d think it would, being metal, but some metals are better conductors than others. And I suppose if lightning is striking the ladder, it’s not striking surrounding buildings. But its reflection really IS everywhere. I can’t even microwave a cup of soup without seeing it. I mean, I can’t see it in the bathroom, or that one tiny, windowless room at the back of my flat, but everywhere else, there it is.

                  I like to think about people who did great things even in the arms of death. It’s a hopeful sort of feeling. (Perhaps also a counter for the bad-dog feeling, knowing there’s hope of evolving into the good dog. Ha, ha.)

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                  1. All dogs go to heaven though.

                    Whenever people mention the whole in spite of death thing, I automatically think of Arthur Rackham, who did his last set of illustrations (for “Wind in the Willows”) while ill with stomach cancer. I believe you can see a shade of the strain and tiredness in the illustrations, it doesn’t make them worse, and you won’t notice it if you don’t know about it. But it’s there.

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                    1. Ha, even bad dogs? Man, I’m Cujo. (Well, not really. Not that bad. I don’t bite.)

                      You know, I had no idea Rackham was ill when he did those. I’ve always admired them. I wouldn’t have guessed anything was wrong. But looking at them again, having heard that, maybe I do see something. The sense of a last journey down the Riverbank. Knowing something’s the last is never pleasant.

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                    2. Even bad dogs.) You could always choose to be a bad rat though, they don’t owe anyone anything and can get anywhere they want (so heaven is reachable by sneaky doorways).

                      It was Rackham’s dream project though, so there’s that too. It’s not bad as far as last journeys go.

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                    3. Very true. I’d rather not be a dog. People treat dogs like, well…dogs. Not that we’re so charitable with rats. Maybe I’d rather be an alien. One with a long, healthy lifespan and no version of senility.

                      We should all hope our last project should be our dream project, eh? I wonder what mine will be….

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