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When I was seven, my father killed himself. He woke upone morning in 1977 and swallowed a bottle of Valium thatmy mother's doctor, ironically, had prescribed to help hercope with with the stress of my father's depression. Well, theValium helped with the stress, all right. You could almostsay those pills solved the whole problem.
No one had told my mother that the pills could be fatal(although someone, obviously, had told my father), and asa result she hasn't trusted doctors since. So it was a fewmonths after she started losing her memory before she relentedand made an appointment with Dr. Snyder on ParkAvenue. It's nothing, Dr. Snyder assured her. You're notyoung anymore, and this is what we expect to see at yourage, a little memory loss. Everyone takes it hard.
She tried not to take it hard. Two months later she camehome from work to 105 East Twelfth Street and her house keywouldn't work. She tried another key. Stuck. It wasn't untilshe tried every key on her ring, twice, that she rememberedshe hadn't lived on Twelfth Street since 1977. She went backup to Dr. Snyder on Park Avenue. Now, Dr. Snyder said,we'll run some tests. It's normal, it's natural, it's just a smidgenmore than we expect to see at this age, it's progressinga little more rapidly than we would like and so we'll runsome tests, we'll run some very expensive tests and we'll see.
Evelyn, my mother, mentioned the visits to Dr. Snyderoffhandedly during one of our monthly phone calls, as regularas the full moon. I didn't know what to say so I asked,lamely, why she didn't tell me earlier.
"I didn't want you to worry," she said. "They said maybeit's my circulation, so I'm taking some pills. Herbs. Thatshould help. It's probably nothing, I just—well, I thought Ishould tell you. I thought you should know what's going on.It's probably nothing."
It was definitely not nothing. If it was nothing she wouldn'thave told me about it. I asked if there was anything I coulddo.
"Actually," she said, "there is something I'd like you do."The slight Brooklyn accent my mother had when I was a girlhas, without my father's WASPy Connecticut influence,thickened a little every year since he died. Now she speaksfrom her throat with drawn-out vowels and hard ts and youwould never know, listening to her, that she moved to Manhattanin 1961. She said: "We're having the holiday party atwork in a few weeks and I'd like you to come. Just in case—well,you know. In case I need some help."
No, this is not nothing.
Dr. Snyder said, we'll see. Now my mother tries to get adead person on the phone once a week and has twice moretried to go home to Twelfth Street and we haven't seen anything.Thousands of dollars worth of blood tests and neurologicalexams and we actually see less; one month ago wesaw a world of possibilities: we saw vitamin deficiencies;Alzheimer's; psychiatric disorders; alcohol abuse; drug abuse;blood-sugar conditions; brain tumors; head injury; encephalitis.Now almost every diagnosis Dr. Snyder and his team canthink of has been eliminated, and we see nothing at all.
Excerpted from Saturn's Return to New York by SARA GRAN. Copyright © 2001 by Sara Gran. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.