Cloud, tree, chair, shoe. Nose. Hat. These are just a few of the many, many words that my dad no longer knows. He can still put together a coherent sentence, usually – as in, “here, have some” (when trying to share his lunch) or, “go that way,” (when I’m pushing his wheelchair to take him outside). Object names, though, are lost to him. As are most descriptive terms.
Except for one, and that is FAT. Fat, he remembers very well.
“Look at her,” he’ll say, chuckling, nodding toward a nurse or aide. “Fat, huh?”
The nurse or aide will pretend she didn’t hear and maybe put rat poison is his dessert later, who knows. I will say “shut up!” under my breath, but by now he has forgotten all about it and gone silent. You have to wonder what he’s thinking about, at those moments. Maybe it makes him happy to get something right, for once. Maybe he’s clinging to fat as his last known adjective, and wants to throw it around whenever possible. Whatever. The rat poison won’t kill him so I let it go.
He’s never called me fat, or at least, he’s never used the word directly. One day he told me, “You’re different . . . there’s more of you.” If ever you need to tell a person they’ve gained weight, I suggest this particular wording. More of me! How can that not be a good thing? It was practically a compliment. Except not.
Another time, the only seat available in the TV lounge was a smallish metal folding chair, which I pulled up next to him. He watched in horror as I sat down. “Jesus,” he said. “You’re lucky that thing didn’t break.” I laughed, because it was funny. I mean, coming from a dementia patient. If a guy sitting near me in a restaurant said it I guess I’d have to stab him.
It’s sort of amazing to me, how “fat” has become such an insult. Like, you could describe a person as tall, and no one would be mad at you. But fat – really, just another word to describe shape or size – is enough to make me want to crawl under my seat when my dad says it about a nurse. If I could fit under my seat. Which I cannot. Dammit.
Say we were living in a society where food was scarce. In that case, we’d all be praying for fatness. Instead, we live in a world where food is in sometimes appalling abundance, and so for that reason, it is most virtuous to avoid it. Even if you must take drugs to do it, or to take a stapler to your internal organs, or worse.
My husband, I think, has worried that I’m on some kind of fat crusade. Like, I’m purposefully rebelling against the system to make a point. That is not the case. I became fat because I wanted to learn how to be normal, and it turned out that weight gain was an inevitable byproduct of ditching 30-plus years of dieting. I think I am closer to normal now than I have been since approximately 1984. I have not eaten ice cream in probably two weeks or more, and not because I’m on a diet, but because I didn’t want any goddamn ice cream. I try new things. I cooked Brussels sprouts and liked them. I had never eaten Brussels sprouts before that.
I think this is progress and I think it’s health. And too bad for anyone who looks at my appearance and thinks otherwise.
As for my dad, I will go to see him later today, and he will likely look me up and down and laugh, or poke me in the stomach and say, “that’s big!” And I’ll say, “I might be fat, but you’re the one who’s trying to drink coleslaw through a straw.” And then I’ll laugh, and he’ll laugh along with me, because as we all know, insults only hurt when we agree that they’re insulting.
My family and I will participate again this year in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. You can join our team or make a donation here. We will not cure my dad, and I will continue to write ‘POA’ after my name even when it’s totally not needed because I have just gotten that used to it. All the same, I’m pretty sure future generations will thank us if we can put this nonsense behind us once and for all.