The prompt this time was twofold: I had just seen the film, Still Alice, starring Julianne Moore, and just a few nights later, I offered these prompts to the writers in my workshop:
Remembering and forgetting
So this is what love is
Still, it haunts you
The trailer for the movie, as well as what I wrote, are below.
During the film, I had to pee. There was no way I was going to make it through the entire movie; that big cup of chai from Peet’s was working its way through me. About thirty-five minutes in, I had to get up and go. Before Julianne Moore peed herself, I had to pee; I had to get up and leave Alice behind.
We were already sliding deep into her dementia—Alice—this character from a book, adapted into a script for this very actress. Alice, a fifty-year-old professor, a mother of three; I saw myself in her and her children: early onset dementia. I knew what the film was about. I wasn’t innocent or naïve, not anymore, not for a long time.
I didn’t want to go, didn’t want to leave Alice, but in the bathroom mirror, while hastily washing my hands, I had to remind myself: It’s only a movie. It’s only a movie. Like I had just left a horror film, or worse, had just awakened from a nightmare, and was about to fall back down into it again.
There were parallels: the teacher who just turned fifty, the genetic marker that I may or may not have, that my siblings may or may not have. There was Alice’s youngest child who knows something is wrong with her mother. There were parallels. But I didn’t get pulled back into the fear and sorrow the way I would have—the way I often did—ten or fifteen years ago. No. Now I was mourning for Alice and everything she was losing. Her words. A linguist without words. And I was mourning for her husband, too terrified to admit what he was most afraid of. I mourned for Alice and her family.
After the movie, I had to take myself out, I had to take myself out to a loud bar and drink vodka, and sit on the sidelines watching the other gay men dance. The familiar disco ball and the video screens full of performers half my age. I numbed myself to stay in one place: here. Numbed myself to that old sorrow that I have greeted over and over again. All that we lost when Mama got sick: the lunch dates and the phone calls, the sense of being seen and loved and known for a lifetime—hers and mine—cut off at that terrible place by that terrible disease.
I sometimes welcome that old sorrow, my old friend, the part of me that survived her, survived it. I navigated my way back to pop songs and bright pink Cosmopolitans, to handsome men named Michael, who ask you to dance, to come in from the sidelines, and hug you goodbye, because we all have to get up in the morning, don’t we? We have to get up in the morning and begin this remembering and forgetting all over again.