A dad's Alzheimer's

J. Michael Walker and his father.

So: Alzheimer's. That ghost weaving in and out of sight in the shadow of the doorway....

My father now at 83: age spots trickle up from his spine like vines on a tree, tracing pathways along his neck and throat, edging past hairline and jaw onto his forehead and cheeks. His blue eyes cloudy, absorbing rather than reflecting light.

Since October he resides in a small full-care home with nine other elders at different stages of absentia/dementia, not sure where he is but understanding that it's where he needs to be. His roommate passed away a week ago and was replaced by another fellow 98 years old: my father shows no signs of having noticed the change.

We engage one another for an hour or two: I listen and wait for his questions, then listen and wait for his replies. The lower jaw moves as though speaking, the eyes searching for words; then the facial muscles seek the steps needed to form the sounds.

Last night my stepmom passed on to me a handful of old documents from my father's past: his parents' marriage certificate, his War Bonds collection, and so on. A small booklet from his high school graduation featured a questionnaire, partially filled-in - Favorite actor, favorite actress, favorite singer... For favorite song he had penciled in "Slow Boat to China."

I recalled a video I saw earlier this year, featuring neurologist Oliver Sacks, of a daughter organizing a playlist of her elderly father's favorite songs: when the iPod and ear-buds are given to her dad, the un-engaged man suddenly pops "alive," awakened by the soundtrack to his life.

So now, in this warm, dreary living room, as five fellow residents sleep, open-mouthed, in the residence's Barcaloungers; while the wide-screen TV blares some inane cable interview program; I open up YouTube on my iPad, type in "Slow Boat," and there appears an old black and white film of Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians performing my dad's high school favorite song before a fashionably dressed crowd of diners and dancers. I check the volume, place the ear-buds in his ears, tap "full-screen" on the iPad, and set it on his lap.

Slowly a smile emerges, his eyes come alert, transfixed on the screen, his lips occasionally moving with the lyrics. He looks up at me - at whoever I am for him at the moment - and says, "This is neat. This is really neat," and then returns to the music, drinking it all in, alive in some part of his world.

J. Michael Walker is an artist and author in Northeast LA. He previously contributed Driving into Downtown to Native Intelligence.

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