From the early days after her Alzheimers diagnosis, Lena’s clothes-sense became … random. On a blazing-hot day, she’d choose her warmest winter jacket to go out. Or we’d be halfway down the road when I’d suddenly notice she’d forgotten to put one of her shoes on. And while I’m no expert when it comes to colour-matching, my kids agreed that Lena’s choices were becoming ‘original’.
At first we had little battles about it.
– You can’t possibly wear that.
– Yes I can. I want to wear it.
– But you’ll be boiling in it.
– No I won’t. I want this one. It’s my choice. I’m not a baby!
True, she wasn’t, and I gradually got better at respecting her wishes. It wasn’t worth fighting about. And what did it really matter if we got a few funny looks from T-shirt-clad passers-by when Lena was wearing two overcoats, one of them inside out. They probably thought she was religious.
It got easier when Lena forgot where the clothes were kept. Even when she found them, she couldn’t quite figure out where her various arms and legs were supposed to go. So nowadays, she leaves the dressing up to me.
I try to offer her choices.
– Look this one’s nice. Do you want to wear this one today? Or what about this one? Look, you haven’t worn this one for a while.
But alternatives are hard for her.
– This one? … or this one?
– This one. Den här.
She’s pointing at my nose.
And yet Lena hasn’t quite lost her sense of style. She knows what she likes, but now that words can’t properly do the job for her, she shows her appreciation in other ways. Touchy-feely ways often.
If you’re wearing a pretty necklace or an unusual ring, she notices it immediately and reaches out to touch it, eyes sparkling with interest. Perhaps you’re talking to me, but Lena’s concentration is unwavering. Her hand reaches toward you again.
If a child behaved like this, I’d have a sharp word with them. This isn’t the way we humans behave. Repress that curiosity.
But this is Lena, and Alzheimers has repressed so many of her emotions and instincts. When I see them flickering back into life, I desperately want to fan the flame.
– Oh yes, look at that. It’s lovely, isn’t it?
I hope you won’t be embarrassed.
But Lena spots other people’s bad style choices too, and sometimes that can give rise to … a situation.
We’re in the supermarket at my favourite area, the little section with today’s discounts. It’s always busy, with people looking for bargain buns and sandwiches for lunch. You never know what nice surprises you’ll find.
A little round guy shoves his way in front of me, and bends down to scan the cheeses and cold cuts on the bottom shelf, completely blocking my access. All we can really see now is what’s known in the trade as a builder’s bum. Not what we were looking for. Unappetising.
I glance at Lena and see the distaste on her face, her hand reaching out to him. I know what’s going to happen and hiss:
– Lena. No!
Her finger lands neatly in the crease that’s gaping at us.
The man shoots bolt upright, nearly catching Lena’s chin with the top of his head. I take a step back, pretending I have nothing to do with this shameless woman. He glares at her accusingly.
But he’s no match for Lena. She draws herself up to her full height, and fixes him with a look of steady withering disdain. No words are necessary. His eyes surrender and he shuffles away.
What is she feeling? Is that a little sign of triumph, that faint smile as she turns back to me? Did she notice my cowardice? In the old days, when we shared all our little secrets, we’d have talked about it and laughed. Those days have passed.
I take her hand and pull her close to keep her in check. I don’t want to take away her freedom, but there are limits. We have to draw the line somewhere – and it shouldn’t be along a stranger’s intergluteal cleft.
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