Sunday, January 25, 2009

brainy girl

when I was a little girl, I heard over and over again that beauty fades but a smart girl will always have her wits. I listened and believed. not that I eschewed all things girly and pretty and (later) sexy and glamorous, but I had an arrogance and confidence that I would have some serious edge and staying power due to intelligence and a voracious love of learning.

you know what? they lied. the mind is a slippery thing. and it gets more slippery, less dependable, less elastic as the years go by. it starts with words that are plucked unexpectedly from your lifelong vocabulary at the most inopportune moments (teaching a class, testifying in court, trying to convince a boss). once you catch on, you compensate: always have notes with you, speak less, listen more with that look that says, "I'm seriously considering this" while you are really just frantically searching for the dictionary in your brain that some mind minion has run off with, engaging you in a vicious game of hide-and-seek through the catacombs in your head.

then come the incidents of misplacing, forgetting, dumbness. for me, it started with a panic-stricken four minutes of not remembering which switch (knob?! button?! incantation?!) turned off the headlights in the car I have driven for six years. and after, sitting there in stillness and fear, tears falling with the realization that this was serious and freakin' scary.

my paternal grandmother, whom I am most like, lived well into her eighties with skin that could rival most 30-year-olds (thanks gram!) and pretty good physical health. she left this world accompanied by the cruelty that is alzheimer's disease. my memories of her prior to her mental decline include her quirkiness, anxiety, a smile that was almost always uncertain. she knew.

do I know now what lies ahead for me? and what do I do about it? how can I stop it? since the headlight incident, I have paid more attention to mental fitness: doing daily puzzles, increasing vitamin intake for my body and rescue remedy for the anxiety, playing memory (above), a game intended for a 3-year-old.

but there is still the panic. and the grief for the impending loss of my most cherished attribute. it is deep and profound. I feel suddenly betrayed when all my life I was certain I picked the best pony to ride in this life.

and all of this I can hide behind luminous, wrinkle-free skin and a dazzling smile. oh, the irony.