“Your mother,” he told us, “has multiple sclerosis.” Whatever that was.

I carried on with my day like any other on that trip, going swimming, having some beers by the beach. No discernible changes darkened my mood. Looking back, I ask: Had he failed to explain the disease? Had I glazed over as he spoke? Or listened without either grasping or processing the gravity of what he had shared? Or perhaps, somehow, I simply didn’t care? Beneath the apparent nonresponse, a part of me must have sensed the gravity of the revelation, but I had no inkling of the way this news, this disease, would become the dominant shaping force in my coming of age.

She said, “I am afraid that, when I die, if I keep declining this way, you won’t remember what I was like when I was healthy.”

I responded readily, at the time, with a confident “of course not, of course I’ll always remember you at your best, I’ll make sure of it.” But now I find myself, another decade later, attempting to write about her—trying to at once skip over memories and rush to her final moments and at the same time to prevaricate, to delay and indulge and meander in order to keep it at bay—I find myself unable to narrate how her symptoms developed in the years after my father’s revelation, simply because I cannot sufficiently access in my memory what she had been like before. Not even do old photographs allow me to imagine it, despite how vivid, in those images, is the evidence of her health. Nor through the old emails I still have (because her personality, her capacity to speak with confidence and enthusiasm, was also a victim of this disease) am I quite able to conjure a moving picture of who she was before. The door to that particular theatre is shut. I only remember that not long after we learned about the disease, her symptoms became more obvious. Was this because they were getting worse—more theatrical—or because she was putting less effort into hiding them, or were we simply becoming more attentive to what had been in plain view all along?

Read more on The Audacity.

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