Being in love with a person who has Alzheimer's can be like living on another planet. I, for example, had a 30-year relationship with Edward Theodoru, my beloved Romanian life partner, who later developed Alzheimer's.
Wiener Schnitzel Before Alzheimer's
I can't help but remember how gallant and chivalrous Ed had been when we dined out one evening early on in our relationship back in 1975. I remember how he kissed my hand when I opened the door of my apartment to greet him. That gesture and his smile felt slightly seductive that night.
When we reached Lenhardt's, a wonderful Austrian-Hungarian restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio, the hostess led us to a table covered with a starched white tablecloth and bearing a little vase of fresh daisies. What surprised me was that Ed pulled out my chair for me.
Gee, no man does that anymore.
"The service is usually r-r-really slow here, so we'll have for conversation a lot of time," Ed smiled.
The waiter arrived and we both ordered Wiener schnitzel, the restaurant's specialty.
I got a Salem from the pack I'd placed on the table and was again pleasantly surprised when he produced a lit match just at the instant I put the cigarette to my mouth.
What a gentleman!
Shortly thereafter, the hostess brought us some ice water. We went there often enough to know that she was from Hungary and spoke Romanian rather fluently. I loved her charming accent and mannerisms.
I wanted to kid Ed sometime and call him a jerk in his native language, so I asked her, "How do you say 'jerk' in Romanian?"
She answered instantly, dramatically flinging her right arm high into the air, "There are no jerks in R-r-romania!"
We all laughed.
Later, after some pleasant conversation, Ed asked me something that really pleased me.
"Ma-r-r-ie, would you let me sometime r-r-read your Master's thesis?"
"Of course," I said, beginning to really enjoy this 'dee-ner.' It never occurred to me that he might be flattering me as a means of seduction.
I took another cigarette out of the pack, which he lit as quickly and chivalrously as he'd lit the first one.
He then began telling me stories about his life as a defense attorney in Romania.
"Tell me another story," I said when there was a lull in the conversation.
I propped my elbows on the table and clasped my hands under my chin. I was enjoying this.
"OK," he said, pausing as if to think which of the many stories he had lived he wanted to tell me about next. "Oh, I know -- I'll tell you the 'Jeep-sie' story."
And that story was just as fascinating as the others he'd told me.
I was an opera fan and a little later I decided to find out if we shared that love.
"What about opera?" I asked, as the waiter approached our table only to veer off to diners at the table next to us. "Do you like it?"
"What -- opera? No. I hate it. I can't stand seeing the singers on stage with 'the mouth' open wide."
"But a funny thing happened one night when I was at the opera in Bucharest," he said. "They were performing R-r-rigoletto and I was bored to death so I decided to leave. I very slowly walked to the door and discretely opened it."
Then he laughed.
"Only thing was," he said, "it was the door to a closet. So there I was in front of all those people standing in a closet with a mop and a broom!"
We both laughed and simultaneously reached into the little basket for another slice of bread. Our hands almost touched.
The moment the waiter was out of earshot, Ed casually asked me in his deep bass voice, "Would you like to go to Italy on a vacation with me sometime?"
I was shocked by his brazenness. We'd only been dating for a few months and already he was inviting me to go to Europe with him!
I rested my cigarette in the ashtray and, as the smoke curled up toward the ceiling, just stared at him. I had no idea what to say. Finally a response came to me.
"I'll have to think about it," I said.
We continued with more pleasant conversation, but that startling, precipitous question stayed in my mind for an incredibly long time.
Wiener Schnitzel After Alzheimer's
Fast forward 30 years to 2005. Ed was showing many signs of Alzheimer's. He would later become one of the most loving, lovable and contented people you'd ever want to know -- even with Alzheimer's. But at that point in his illness he was like many people who are developing Alzheimer's. He was difficult to get along with and often behaved badly in public. The following Wiener schnitzel story is but one example of how drastically he had changed.
One evening we decided to go to Lenhart's, which had become our favorite restaurant. We hung up our coats and the owner's wife escorted us towards a table in the main room.
"No," Ed said. "We will in the other r-r-room sit."
He pointed to the more private room on the right.
His tone of voice had been polite enough, but I wished he'd said something like, "May we please sit in that room?" But that would have been asking too much those days.
She changed course and we followed. She seated us near a young couple with a child who was pounding his spoon on the table. I didn't think that seating arrangement was going to work. Ed never wanted to sit near children. Sure enough, after we'd been there five minutes, he motioned for the waitress. I knew what was coming.
"We want to move there," he said loudly, pointing to a table on the other side of the room. "The child is too loud."
I was embarrassed for the child's parents -- who certainly heard Ed -- and for myself, as we got up and walked to the new table.
A little later the waitress came to take our orders. A brunette in her mid-forties, this particular waitress, Jenny, had been serving us for years. She was consistently pleasant and put up with the rudeness Ed had been displaying in recent times. I was grateful and admired her for it.
We both ordered Wiener schnitzel, still their specialty. It's what we always ordered. A few moments later, Ed -- and I'd been afraid he'd do this -- decided he didn't like that table either.
He motioned for Jenny and when she arrived he said quite loudly in an angry tone of voice, "This table is drafty. We'll move over there."
I was embarrassed again, but not surprised. He'd been doing this "triple-table-changing routine" lately and I was used to it. So was she. We picked up our silverware and napkins; she took our water glasses; and the three of us paraded to the new table.
A little later Jenny arrived with our food and put it down on the table. The schnitzel smelled incredibly good, and steam was rising from the mashed potatoes.
After we ate Jenny brought our check. Ed tallied the numbers in his head but got confused so he passed the little slip to me. I added up the numbers and told him it was correct: $19.96. I figured the tip should be three dollars plus another dollar just for putting up with him.
"Leave four dollars for the tip," I told him.
"Four dollars?" he blurted out. "That's too much. What did she do that was so special she deserves four dollars?"
His voice was so loud that not only could everyone in the room hear him, I was sure that Jenny, who was just outside in the hallway, could hear him, too.
"Ed," I said as calmly as I could. "Just leave the tip and let's go."
"No. I will not leave four dollars. She doesn't deserve it," he shouted.
He'd made scenes like this in restaurants twice in the last three months, and this time something in me snapped. It was one thing if he yelled at me in private. But it was another if he embarrassed me and others like this in public -- Alzheimer's or not. I vowed right then and there that I would never take him to a restaurant again.
And I never did.
Surprisingly, he never asked me why we weren't going to restaurants anymore, and he never asked me to take him. He just seemed to forget that restaurants even existed. And as time passed his memory would only get worse and worse. Yes indeed. It was like living on another planet.
Marie Marley is the award-winning author of the uplifting book, Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer's and Joy. Her website, ComeBackEarlyToday.com, contains a wealth of helpful information for Alzheimer's caregivers.