Forgetting What You Know

Change of season. Pennsylvania, October 2011.

Arthur and I saw Man and Boy the other night. It’s a play about a father and a son, and their relationship during a crisis. That’s the short of it. But Arthur couldn’t follow.

"What’s going on? Do you know what’s going on?" Arthur asked out loud towards the end of the first act, as he likes to do. He doesn’t care that it’s silent, and that, in this show, a three-time Tony winner was up there on stage.

"I’ll explain at intermission," I whispered back.

And I did. But there was no aha moment. He shook his head.

"Why do you know what’s going on and I don’t? This is terrible.”

At the time, I think I grabbed his hand and tried my best to defuse the situation. Something to the effect of, “No no, I’m with you. The plot is tricky, and it’s tough with the English accents, too.” But it is terrible. Theater is what Arthur knows, and dementia is slowly but surely wiping that away.

When we got tickets to Man and Boy, Arthur knew it was a Terence Rattigan play. I know a little something about theater, but Terence who? I’m no expert. Arthur is. As a native New Yorker and an English professor and a theater-goer his whole life, his knowledge is extensive. In fact, most of the productions we go to are plays he’s seen already. Sometimes he saw them during their opening runs. He can recite lines, sing tunes, name playwrights and directors and casts. This is the first time he could not, at all, follow.

I forget things all the time — restaurant names, apartment numbers, that errand I was supposed to run after work. We all do. But to forget what you know? What you really know? Terrible.