Hi Aunt M, you look great.
She laughs because that is what she does when she doesn’t know what to say.
B? Okay. B Who?
And so it goes with Alzheimers.
My parents moved to New Jersey from Bay Ridge Brooklyn when I was 1. I am and always will be a Jersey Girl. Every summer growing up, my parents dropped my sister and I off at our cousin’s house in Bay Ridge for a week. It was the best time of our lives.
New Jersey was grass and bikes and kickball in the cul-de-sac. Brooklyn was dodging cars, walking to the corner store for Archie comics and lots of candy.
Although when my cousins visited us in New Jersey, we went bowling, to the movies and the beach, it wasn’t the same. In Brooklyn, we walked everywhere. There was no waiting for my parents to get home from work and drive us. Brooklyn meant no parental supervision and although we weren’t exactly rebels, we relished the freedom. Everything about Brooklyn was cool even when we had nothing to do.
Some of our most epic childhood moments, the ones we laugh about at family get togethers were during those weeks. My sister stepping on a mustard packet and it splattering all over her Buffalo sandals, my cousin piercing a second hole in my left ear while her younger brother held my hand, chocolate milk exploding out of my cousin’s nose from laughing too hard, the year we spilled so much soda and Aunt M never yelled at us, ants in our suitcase from the candy wrappers we threw inside them and hours long discussions over who we wanted to be – Betty or Veronica. And in the background was Aunt M.
My Aunt and Uncle and two cousins lived in a 2 ½ bedroom apartment with one bathroom in an apartment house on a quiet tree lined street. Quite a difference from our spacious digs in Jersey. But we loved sleeping toe to toe especially because my aunt let us fall asleep with the radio on.
Aunt M was adventurous, independent and fun. I wanted her to be my mom. She bought us tickets to Broadway plays and exposed us to New York City. As I got older and she visited NJ, she gushed about our houses and kids and bought you the most unique gifts. She had a talent for being the person everyone wanted to be around. At the end of the day though, she couldn’t wait to get back to Brooklyn. I don’t believe I’ll ever have the same ties to New Jersey as she does to Brooklyn.
She woke up one day and forgot it all. She is about three years into Alzheimers – a cruel joke of a disease robbing us of her personality. As she sits across from me, her blue eyes sparkling, humming her sad song and asking me what my last name is, I want to cry. Like a little kid, I want my weeks in Brooklyn back because once you stripped away the candy store, it was my aunt who made those weeks special. She gifted us Brooklyn every time we visited her home. Although she is lost to me, I hope she is at Coney Island or sitting on her front porch waving to the neighbors. I want her to always have her greatest love, Brooklyn, so I know it’s only me who has suffered the loss.