My mom is in a retirement community -- about half of the residents are "independent" and the other half are "assisted." My mother is very proud that she's in independent living and makes sure she mentions it at least twice in every conversation: "I'll have a bowl of soup, and speaking of soup, did I mention that I was in independent living?" I didn't say her transitions were graceful.
Being a great liberal (I would have gone to Woodstock if I hadn't been doing a term paper), I told my mom that there wasn't a big difference between the assisted residents and the independents. Usually, the assisted residents just needed a little more help getting around.
Proud of my open-minded position, I went to visit my mom one day and found her eating lunch with Sarah, an assisted-living resident. (The names of the wonderful women at the facility have been changed to protect their privacy, and also because the author is a little afraid of them.) Sarah was cheerful and funny, but about the third time she asked, "She's your mother?" I realized Sarah may have a very mild form of Alzheimer's. The thing is, my mom really liked her, and it shouldn't have bothered me, but unfortunately it did.
I know Alzheimer's isn't catching -- I'm not a total idiot (just 95%). Vice President Joe Biden hasn't warned us to stay off crowded planes and subways because there may be people with Alzheimer's on them.
However, I remembered reading an article on how to ward off Alzheimer's, or at least slow it down. I know there have been no definitive studies -- actually some of the studies have been downright confusing and conflicting -- but this one said to eat fish, leafy vegetables and fruit, exercise and have mental stimulation. It made a lot of sense. I imagined my mom eating salmon, spinach and an apple while playing ping-pong and having an intellectual conversation.
It was the mental-stimulation part I was worried about. I didn't think my mom would get it from Sarah. And so I went about finding someone my mother could talk to about important things like politics, literature and whether George Clooney will ever get married.
I was kind of like an EHarmony anti-Alzheimer's matchmaker. I was relentless in my search, and finally spotted Irene, an 84-year-old who is bright, personable and watches MSNBC. It was a match made in Keith Olbermann heaven.
Every time I visited my mom, I went about steering her toward Irene. We would "accidentally" bump into her, and I would suggest that we all have lunch together, or maybe just sit down on a couch and talk, or maybe the three of us could go for a walk. It was kind of like "When Harry and Harry's Mom Met Sally." This went on for about two weeks, and my plan was working -- my mom and Irene were becoming good friends.
I thought everything was going well until one day my mom excused herself from the dining room table to go to the bathroom. Irene quickly put her hand on mine and said, "We can't go on meeting like this."
"Huh?" was my eloquent response.
"I know you have a little crush on me," she said, "but you're not my type."
Before I knew what I was saying, I replied, "Why not?"
"I know this may sound shallow," Irene said, "but you're a little chunky, and I like my men lean."
You lecherous devil, I thought to myself. However, out loud I said, "Somehow I'll get over you."
"I know it will be difficult," she said as she gave my chunky arm a little squeeze.
"But you and my mom can still be good friends," I said in a slightly pleading tone.
"I think we should break it off completely," Irene replied. "That way you'll get over me quicker."
At the end of the meal, in a scene reminiscent of "Casablanca," Irene walked out of my mom's and my life.
Maybe I shouldn't have been so obsessed about the whole Alzheimer's thing, but, of course, I'm worried that my mother, who is a very bright woman, will eventually be hit by this terrible disease. And I hate to admit this because it sounds so self-centered, but I'm getting up there in years and scared that if it happens to my mom, it will eventually happen to me. The unpredictability and devastation of this illness is terrifying.
The fear of Alzheimer's can drive anybody crazy -- and for me, it's just a short drive.
My mom is now back hanging out with Sarah. They really do enjoy each other's company. They laugh, they joke, they reminisce, and if Sarah occasionally forgets things and repeats herself, so what? At least Sarah doesn't think I have a crush on her.
And more important, she doesn't think I'm chunky.
Sy Rosen, who has written for "The Bob Newhart Show," "The Wonder Years," "Frasier" and many other television shows, is a playwright in Los Angeles.