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I LOVE YOU…WHAT’S YOUR NAME?

by Rose Madeline Mula

In her late 70s my life-long friend (I’ll call her Muriel) has found a new love. How wonderful!

Yes. And no. Because Muriel found her new love only after losing her mental acuity.

Until fairly recently, Muriel’s memory was legendary. She remembered everything that had ever happened to her since leaving the womb. And she had little patience for those of us who weren’t similarly blessed. She simply could not understand, for example, why I had not recognized a former classmate whom we hadn’t seen since kindergarten, seven decades before. “How could you not know her?” she asked. “She still has the same look about the eyes.” She could tell you which actress won the Oscar in any year since 1939 — and even what the winner was wearing when she accepted the award. She remembered details about my adolescence that I have long since forgotten (and would have preferred not to be reminded of). She could recite the day-to-day itinerary of our first trip to Europe forty years before. In short, if she had seen it, experienced it, read it, or heard about it, she remembered it.

A couple of years ago, however, snippets of Muriel’s memory started deserting her. She forgot how to order oil for her furnace and spent a four-day cold wave hugging an electric space heater that she kept on day and night, despite warnings that it could start a fire. She had an accident with her car and told four wildly-diverse versions of what had happened. She stashed thousands of dollars all over her house and then forgot the hiding places. She left a stove burner on and fried the cord of her telephone; but that was okay because she had forgotten how to dial a number.

Such incidents increased, becoming more and more bizarre, until one of them precipitated Muriel’s admission to the dementia unit of an assisted living facility. There she lost her freedom but found her new love, another resident. Unfortunately, she can’t remember his name. She refers to him as “The fellow I go with” or “You know — the man I’m in love with.” She also usually forgets that he has a wife — apparently a very understanding woman who visits her husband, and Muriel, frequently and also invites Muriel to family holiday get-togethers at her home.

This relationship is extremely uncharacteristic for Muriel, who has always lived by a strict moral code. In her youth she had been married, not very happily, to a man she steadfastly refused to divorce, even though they stopped living together after a few years. “Divorce isn’t right,” she would assert. And I’m sure she never cheated. Now widowed, she is finally free, though “the fellow she goes with” isn’t.

Sometimes she’s painfully aware of that fact and says she should “break up with him” because a dalliance with a married man certainly is wrong. But then she rationalizes that he’s not really married. She may be right. Maybe he is divorced, or maybe his wife has come to terms with her husband’s condition and is pleased that he is happy, which is true. He is definitely smitten.

How far has this relationship gone? They’re very open about holding hands and kissing in front of everyone; and the facility staff claims to keep careful check that it goes no further, but who knows?

Unfortunately, though Muriel enjoys her new boy friend’s attention, it isn’t enough to distract her from stubbornly remembering the one thing we all wish she would forget — that she desperately wants to go home. I tell her, “But you’d miss George.” (Yes, he does have a name — though that’s not it.)

She has a solution for that. “I’m taking him with me,” she says. “But I’ve told him that I’m not having any babies.”

©2010 Rose Mula for SeniorWomen.com

Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through Amazon.com and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.

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