It happened … one day last weekend…. I was driving down our street with Bill, my husband who has dementia, and he said, “that’s our place there on the right.”
Rather dryly I responded ,“yes I know. I’ve been there many times.”
“You have?” he asked.
At that point I turned to look at him directly to see if he was kidding me. He wasn’t. His face was straight and serious.
“Do you know who I am,” I asked. “No,” he said. “Who are you?”
I can’t describe how I felt at that moment. Panic-stricken I guess. Friends had been asking me if Bill still recognized me and I had been shrugging it off with a quick “of course.” I wonder if I’ve been in denial about his dementia for the past two years.
As we pulled into the driveway I decided to resort to one of my two regular defence mechanisms: humour and faking it. I chose faking it.
We came in and unloaded a couple of groceries. Because it was a wet and chilly day, I put on the fireplace and we sat down in the living room to work on our jigsaw puzzle.
After a few minutes of silence Bill said, “You’re a very nice person.”
I nodded a sort of thank-you. Then he picked up the TV clicker and tried to dial out with it (he often gets it mixed up with the phone).
“Who are you trying to call?”
“Pauline. It’s not like her to not call on her way home.”
Now I was really in a panic.
I finally said, “I am Pauline, your wife. We’ve been married for 22 years.”
The look that came back at me was absolutely incredulous.
“You are? We have? Why didn’t I know?”
So I went back to silence and found a few more jigsaw puzzle pieces that fit. Hell, I needed something to fit!
After dinner, Bill started it again, saying he really loved his wife and if it weren’t for her, he would be quite interested in me because I’m so nice. But he wanted me to know that we could never have anything together because he’s happily married.
Realizing it was almost bedtime, a wave of fear washed over me. If he doesn’t think I’m his wife, and he’s so faithful to her (I did smile to myself at that thought), then where are we going to sleep? Would he try to push me out of bed?
I stayed as normal as possible, got into my pajamas and threw my clothes into the laundry basket, as usual.
Bill said, “Pauline does all our laundry. She’ll wonder about those clothes in there.”
“Oh, I’m sure she’ll be fine with it,” I said.
The actual showdown came when I got into bed. He stood in the middle of the room and asked what I was doing. I said I was going to sleep, to which he replied, “but you can’t sleep there. That’s my wife’s place.”
Taking a big gamble I said, “I know you don’t understand this, because you have a disease in your brain and you can’t help it, but I am your wife. I am Pauline. If you don’t want to sleep with me, you can go to sleep in the spare room. I don’t plan to give up my bed.”
“Oh,” Bill said and came to bed quietly (Phew!)
The next day nothing more was said on the subject. I didn’t know who I was that day and I was afraid to ask.
Today I’m back to being Pauline.
For how long I wonder?
Pauline Buck is a local blogger and columnist at www.homeontheranch.info