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Caricature by Deano of Sarah as Juliet on a balcony and Eric as Romeo climbing up to her.

Sarah's Chronicles Index

May 24, 2020—Rings True

May 21, 2020—The Ambush

May 14, 2020—Temptation

May 11, 2020—Sonnet 77

May 6, 2020—A Blue Birthday

May 1, 2020—Better with Age

April 25, 2020—Crimini of the Heart

April 20, 2020—A Grinding Grief

April 19, 2020—Going to Church

April 12, 2020—Bunny Business

April 7, 2020—Masked Man

April 4, 2020—Closing the Door

March 28, 2020—The Dishwasher

March 24, 2020—Done Driving

March 21, 2020—The Tip

March 14, 2020—The Menu

February 19, 2020—Stumped

 

On Shakespeareances.com


Shakespeare Plays
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The Prequels to
"Sarah's Chronicles"
Where There's a Will: Shakespeareances Through the American Way

The Shakespeare Canon Project crisscrossed North America to see all 42 Shakespeare-penned plays at 42 different theaters in a single year—a year that the 454-year-old playwright presciently depicted. Back home, a comic subplot twisted into a mysterious drama when, on the morning of a snowstorm, Sarah called my name in a haunting voice of alarm.

The Worst is Never the Worst until the Worst: Finding Comfort in Edgar in Times of Woes

Time's Passages: My Love's Labor Now My Winter's Tale

The Comeback: A Tragedy Overtakes a Blissful Comedy

The Tragicomedy of Errors: A Passion Play

Other Portrayals of Sarah on Shakespeareances.com

A Happy Anniversary: Forever Is Too Long for True Love

A Happy Birthday: Enduring Wind and Weather

Another Happy Anniversary: Passion Play

Commentary: Sarah always on my mind

The Promised End: The Odds On 40 Favorites

A World Series: As Flies to Wanton Boys Are We to the Gods

Hamlet, Ophelia, Othello, Lear, the Macbeths, and Me: When Shakespeare Journeys into the Mind He Reveals His Grasp of Mental Illness

My Falstaff Moment: Would I Were Young For Her Sake

"'Tis the Curse of Service": Iago Is the Soldier's Soldier—That's Motivation Enough

For Mature Audiences: Only Shakespeare Is Not of An Age but for All Ages—Kids Dig Him, Too

Locker Room Talk and Sexual Assault: To Whom Should I Complain?

A Woman's Place: Shakespeare Understood Women Better Than Modern Men Do

On Taming Shrews: Who Is the Misogynist Monster—Petruchio, Shakespeare, or You?

Martin Luther King Jr. Day: The Birth of a Man

Father to Son: A Day in the Life of a Shakespearean Father

Choices: Any Value in Getting All the Way to Broadway?

Bottom in the Cubicle: Many Shakespeare Characters Are Living and Working Among Us

Shakespeare and Baseball: Beware the Tides of October

It's An Omen! Shakespeare Had Much to Say About Predicting the End of the World

Taxing Art: Targeting the Arts in Budget Cuts Slices Out the Heart of Humankind

A Ghost Story: The Real-Life Drama of The Executor

The More Things Change… "Four Centuries of Staging Shakespeare"

On Stage: With Sarah often
by my side…

Antony and Cleopatra: A Dream Vacation

The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Turning Shakespeare's Early Work into A Mirror of Ourselves, Warts and All

Man of La Mancha: It's All Merely Delusional

Troilus and Cressida: Hoo-rah! Shakespeare's War-Soaked Masterpiece Comes of Age

The Trojan Women: The Women of Troy Speak Us Home

Cry "Havoc!" A War Vet Turns to Shakespeare to Heal

Grounded: Dramatic License Clouds the Truths

King Lear: The Magnitude of the Mundane

Our Town: Commedia Dell'Arte Turns Wilder's Classic Into a Theatrical and Personal Epiphany

Watch on the Rhine: A Thriller at Every Turn

As You Like It:The Sound of Silence

A Midsummer Night's Dream—A Chamber Play: It's All in Your Head

16 Winters, or The Bear's Tale: Reflecting on Shakespeare In a House of Mirrors

The Taming of the Shrew: Subversive Misogyny in an All-Male Casting

A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Dream of People, Puppets, and Imagination

Much Ado About Nothing: Comedy Rising to the Heights in the Rose

The Taming of the Shrew: On the Matter of Political Correctness

A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Dream with a Most Palpable Bottom

The Two Noble Kinsmen: It's a Mad, Man's Mad World

Private Lives: A Slice of Lives

Hamlet: The Clown Prince of Denmark

Hamlecchino, Clown Prince of Denmark: Hamlet Was Wrong: Anything So Overdone Can Be to the Purpose of Playing

All the Way: LBJ's Knife Fight: Where Words Are Blades, and Will Changes the Tide

King Charles III: A Shakespearean Reach

Arden of Faversham: The Crime, The Comedy, The Burning Passion

Richard II: Enter Woodstock; Exit Poetical Power

Phedre: Greek Soap, Modern Theater: A Tragic Experience

Romeo and Juliet: Petty Larceny Robs a Grand Design

The Winter's Tale: Shakespeare Play & Ballet Made for Each Other

As You Like It: All the Stage Is a World

Hamlet: Deacon Blues

Antony and Cleopatra: A Love That Even Death Cannot Part

Love's Labour's Lost: Speech-Heavy Comedy As a Speakeasy Musical

Cymbeline: A Cymbeline That Soars On the Magic of Great Stagecraft

Romeo and Juliet: The Extremities of Youth

A King and No King: Shakespeare Meets Arrested Development

Measure for Measure: An Archaic Play For These Archaic Times

Every Man in His Humour: Watching the Other Side of Shakespeare

Anne Page Hates Fun: A Flamingo Takes Flight

Cymbeline: Six Actors, a Trunk, and Eagle-Eyed Clarity

The Critic/The Real Inspector Hound: Great Fun!

Time Stands Still: The Drama of War beyond the Combat

The Winter's Tale: Finis

Hamlet: Hark! How These Angels Sing

A Christmas Carol: Merry Christmas, Every One

DruidShakespeare: The History Plays: Four Plays Stitched with a Common Thread

The 12 Dates of Christmas: One Woman's Epiphany on Love and Romance

No Spring Chicken: Life Begins at 40

The Lady Becomes Him: Indescribable

The Beaux' Stratagem: Championing Second Siblings and Stuck Wives

The Custom of the Country: In Scholarly Pursuit of Sex and Fun

The Importance of Being Earnest: Keeping Clear of the Wilde Side of Life

The 2nd Book of Ruth: Or, the Rabbi, the Blonde, and Their God

The Lover / The Collection: Huh? Huh. Mmnn.

The Government Inspector: A Comedy of Corruption

Romeo and Juliet: A Juliet That Makes You Misty-Eyed

Philaster, or Love Lies a-Bleeding: Out of Archetypes Rises a Splendid Play

… and by herself,
reviewing a play On Stage

Pericles, Prince of Tyre: Understudy's Review of Bootleg Shakespeare

Shakespeareancing

About Shakespeareances.com

Plays seen: The Numbers

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Bard on the Boards:
Where's Playing What

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Top 40 Shakespeareances

2017 in Review and Top 20 + 5 Shakespeareances

2016 In Review

2015 in Review

2014 in Review

2013 in Review

2012 In Review

2011 in Review

A Tournament of Shakespeareances: It's the Play of the Players That Matters Most

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Sarah, gorgeous as ever, stands in the middle of the Folger's Great Hall. Her "brain" is a red Washington Nationals purse hanging over her shoulder down to her waist.
Sarah Smith stands in the Folger Library's Great Hall before a play in the Folger Theatre. Ever present hanging from her shouldeer is her "brain," a purse with her phone, a notebook, and other matter to supplement her limited memory capacity. Photo by Eric Minton.

The Tide of Truth

Sarah's Chronicles

The truth really started about four years ago, in 2016. Maybe earlier, because for a couple years before that, my wife, Sarah, began taking me for granted in noticeable ways. She would repeat news I had just told her minutes before, ignore my requests, take no notice of little treasures I'd leave around the house, and often seemed to be somewhere else when we were together.

Was she under too much stress in her job? A retired Air Force colonel, she was working as a consulting researcher for a firm contracted to the Department of Defense.

Was she slipping into early onset demenia? Her mother had Alzheimer's, which became noticeable in her 50s.

Was she having an affair? She was recalling shared moments with me that I knew weren't actually with me. I even began jokingly referring to this mystery person as "Brisket Man" based on one of those memories. If she were happy with him, great; just let me have the recipe.

In 2016, what I had considered annoying episodes of disregard became more alarming in their nature and frequency. This was the year after Sarah's heart (the anatomical one) began malfunctioning and then, unrelated, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. By the middle of 2016, this immensely intelligent woman of great wherewithal, a 29-year, three-time-commander Air Force officer, wasn't able to track my instructions on posting an article to this website (a simple process she'd done countless times before) and couldn't grasp New York City's one-way street grid (we visited the city at least a half-dozen times every year). I was certain something was wrong. Either she had suffered a brain "injury or insult" (in medical terms) from one of her heart-stopped fainting spells of the previous year or from her radioactive treatment for the cancer. Or, she was indeed following her mother's path into dementia at a young age. Her doctors didn't see what I saw, testing proved her mentally fit, and she kept getting praise and bonuses at work. Was I wrong? Maybe Sarah was simply aging and I was overreacting, which seemed to be the doctors' collective opinion. All I could do was watch, worry, and try to adjust to my suddenly stupid wife—I have little tolerance for stupidity.

This chronicle, and the purpose of my posting it on Shakespeareances.com, traces to the Shakespeare Canon Project in 2018 when I set out to, and ultimately accomplished, seeing in one year every Shakespeare-penned play, each at a different theater across the North American continent. Sarah's seizures began hitting in March that year, and as that mysterious ailment worsened, so did her cognitive issues. All of that I included in my Canon Project chronicle as it threatened to waylay the endeavor. Loyal readers and the theater people Sarah and I encountered during that year began sharing their concern and prayers and taking inspiration in our determination. I continued posting updates on Sarah in 2019 as her seizures were finally diagnosed as epilepsy (and appropriately medicated), and, subsequently, she was confirmed to have dementia. The link to those essays, the prequels to this history, are

The Worst is Never the Worst until the Worst: Finding Comfort in Edgar in Times of Woes

Time's Passages: My Love's Labor Now My Winter's Tale

The Comeback: A Tragedy Overtakes a Blissful Comedy

The Tragicomedy of Errors: A Passion Play

Sarah had become a hero in the Shakespeareances.com community, and my accounts, always grounded in some Shakespearean allegorical strand, were appreciated as life lessons. One response to my most recent posting on Sarah, "The Tragicomedy of Errors," came from Christina Lang, a nurse Sarah and I met on our Shakespeare Canon Project travels, who called my essays on Sarah's medical journey "a beautiful script in the process." She described "The way you portray your love and concern for your wife's condition and progress with all the human feelings of fear, exhaustion, anger, and selfishness. Not to say you are a selfish person, it is only human to feel dragged down or put upon in this situation, even though you would do anything for Sarah. Watching the play that is Eric & Sarah is as captivating and enthralling as any Shakespeare play ever written."

She compared me to Shakespeare! Oh my! More importantly, she points out a key ingredient to all of my essays, reviews, and commentary: my honest self-portrayal, which is essential in discussing Shakespeare's acute insights into human nature. Dementia is human nature in one of its most tragic forms, and my way of coping is to write about it with brutal honesty.

"Sarah's Chronicles" will be an ongoing account of some of our journeys' benchmark moments, a front-row view into humanity's duality of strength and frailty. Shakespeareances.com is intended to express Shakespeare's daily relevance in and commentary on our 21st century lives, and I think it's apt to use this website to stage the Shakespearean tragedy Sarah and I are living in real time. I admit I have a selfish intent, as well: Often I feel a dire need to vent, and I can do that here where my audience can choose to listen or not without feeling cornered.

Sarah has read all of my articles for Shakespeareances.com before I post them, including those about her medical issues. She has given her approval to this project, though in time she may not read every entry before posting. Accounting for her memory lapses, I've asked her permission twice, three days apart. The second time she replied "yes" with even more firmness than her first time. Sarah is ever a woman committed to public service and enlightenment.

A friend said to me a few months ago, "She's lucky to have you." "I'm lucky to have her," I replied with the instancy of truth. That she is still my wife continues to be the greatest blessing of my life, and I'm proud to profile this woman of great courage and, still, mighty intelligence.


Wednesday, February 19, 2020—Stumped

Today, we have an appointment with Sarah's neurologist, Dr. Ruben Cintron in McClean, Virginia. He was the first of what are now three neurologists tending to her. Sarah became his patient when she started having those mysterious fainting spells in the winter of 2014, which turned out to be cardiopulmonary in nature: Sarah's heart would inexplicably stop for a few seconds. Dr. Cintron continued to see her every six months due to my concerns about her ongoing cognitive issues. When Sarah began having seizures in March 2018, Dr. Cintron moved to the vanguard among Sarah's tending physicians. Unable to determine the cause of her seizures or their connection to her by-then-obvious cognitive disability, he managed her referral to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, where Sarah was assigned to a second neurologist. There, Sarah's epilepsy was diagnosed and treated, but the cognitive issues were determined to be unconnected to the seizures. Follow-up psychiatric exams revealed dementia, and she's now being treated by a Johns Hopkins neurologist who specializes in dementia.

We still see Dr. Cintron every four months for checkups and counsel—such as today when we tell him Sarah's insurance refuses to cover a PET Scan that her Hopkins neurologist wants to determine the exact type of dementia she has and better direct treatment. Dr. Cintron brings up the possibility of getting Sarah into a research program where she can get the test at no charge and no insurance hassles. We also talk baseball, as he's a Washington Nationals fan like us.

And, he always puts her through a rudimentary dementia test with questions that measure her awareness, her tracking abilities, and her short-, mid-, and long-term memory. He asks her the day ("Wednesday," she says), the month ("um, February"), the date ("19th?"), the year (took a while but she gets it). He asks her to spell world ("w-o-r-l-d"), and spell world backward ("d-l-r-o-w"). He asks her who is the president ("Trump"), who is the vice president ("Pence"), who is the Secretary of State ("Pompeo"), who is the attorney general ("um, oh, Barr"), when is your wedding anniversary (…). This one escapes her. She finally narrows it down to late in June. Dr. Cintron moves on: how long have we been married? She doesn't know that, either.

During these tests, my role is to remain silent and expressionless, offering no hints nor, in this case, snide comments about how she and not me doesn't remember our anniversary date. Dr. Cintron then tosses her a real softball question. "Who is your husband's favorite writer?"

She is lost in either a maze of many potential answers or an absolute abyss: you can't know. She doesn't even hazard to guess. For more than a minute she ponders, physically trying to catch the answer as she shifts in her chair, me sitting by with no expression whatsoever. Dr. Cintron, who knows about this website, patiently waits before moving directly into wrapping up the visit with his summary instructions for follow-up. As we head to the car, I ask Sarah if she still can't remember my favorite writer. She had no idea. Sad, yes, but funny, too, which is so Shakespearean. "I should put this on Shakespeareances.com," I told her.

And so I am.

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Saturday, March 14, 2020—The Menu
Photograph through the office window seat, with the sun casting shadows through the wood shutters.
The window to our world from my home office. Photo by Eric Minton.

The coronavirus has officially turned into a home-growing pandemic and is directly impacting our lives—our Shakespearean lives. I'm spending the weekend monitoring the postponed shows, cancellations, and closures at theaters across the continent so that I can report these developments on Shakespeare News and update my Bard on the Board lists. The latter already are woefully behind thanks to my overburdened schedule. On this Saturday, I'm devoted, I'm energetic, and I'm doing concentrated work—a rarity for me of late.

Sarah sits at her desk adjacent to mine in my home office. She's surfing news sites and rereading the same stories through the day. I pick up a sense of boredom, so I hit on a great idea: "Do you want to help me out with something?" I ask, and she jumps at the chance.

The trick in finding a way for her to "help me" is to come up with a task she can do without my needing to help her, which would negate the task's purpose: to help me. A real, though not urgent, need has occurred to me. We've been reworking our Shakespearecurean meals and adding "matinee" brunches to the effort as we work toward finally, after almost 30 years of indulging in this hobby, publishing the recipes. We have finalized six plays' worth of three-course dinners and buffet-type brunch menus, plus a themed soup and salad for each play. These meals are in their own separate computer file, so what we need is a formal menu listing all the dishes by play that we can pass on to friends (we're at the testing-on-humans phase—once we can have contact with humans again).

All Sarah has to do is list on a single document the names of the dishes in the recipe files. I transfer the files to her computer, set up the master menu document, and show her what to do. I leave her alone with the first menu and get back to my work. After some 45 minutes, I realize she hasn't asked me to point her to the next menu. She hasn't said anything at all. I look over and see her reading the first menu. "How's it going?" I ask.

She tells me she has just finished editing the menu and made some changes. Well, OK, these files had been edited months ago, but I will transfer her new version into my files. I look at the menu document. There's nothing on it; she forgot that was her task. So, I guide her through the first dinner, and actually do the listing myself. "Do you think you can do that?" I ask. She says she got hung up on how to describe the dishes. As she has a vast menu collection (something she started long before I met her), I get one from our favorite restaurant and set that down as an example. Having put her first menu together for her, I tell her to just do the same thing for the rest, and I pull up the next dinner for her.

She sounds tentative in her concurrence. Time for some tough love—gently, of course. I reiterate that if she can't do it, we don't do it, because I can't spend the rest of the day watching over her shoulder to do something that I specifically assigned her that wouldn't take me away from what I needed to get done today. I'm unequivocal on this point but speaking in a matter-of-fact tone: not shrill, not impatient, not frustrated. Or at least I don't think I sound that way—I have made an effort to learn and apply a gentle, nonjudgmental behavior in the face of her condition.

She understands, takes a breath, readies to work—and stares long and hard at the screen. I place my hands on her shoulders and kiss her head. "If you don't think you can do it," I tell her softly, "Then say so. It's OK."

"I don't think I can do it," she says.

I appreciate the honesty, but her tone of resignation breaks my heart. Nevertheless, I stay light. "I'll get to it before too long," I say and sit back down at my desk. Sarah goes back to surfing news pages, the entire episode already dissipating from her memory. My mind is not so kind to me: the memory of what I just witnessed will stick with me forever. It constitutes a new level of cognitive incompetence for her, another benchmark in the unrelenting slide in her state of mind, a slide that seems to be speeding up.

More and more I land on the same frustrating realization: I cannot comprehend in the least how her mind is working. I'm constantly having to make adjustments, to my expectations and to my reactions. Because she has no spatial understanding, I have learned to give her specific directions to pick up something in plain view on a countertop. Yet, I still tell her the various wines and spirits we use for cooking are arranged "alphabetically." Even if she knows the alphabet, she wouldn't know in which direction to move her searching hands. I have learned to give her instructions one step at a time. For example: "I need a measuring cup. Go to the corner cabinet." She does. "Look on the second shelf." She does. "I need a half cup." She takes down a one-cup measuring cup. However, the sequence more often plays this way: "Go to the corner cabinet. No, the other corner. Right. No, up—the cabinet above the counter. No, to the right of that one. To the right. That's left." She pauses, confused. "There," I say leaning over to point at the target cabinet, which I could have easily opened and gotten the damn measuring cup myself. She opens that cabinet door. "You got it," I say, confirming this small victory. "Second shelf…"

These moments and any frustration she might experience pass in a minute—for her. For me, they linger for a lifetime. I kind of envy her—and I swallow my own sense of being a victim because I know the real injustice has been imparted to her. It's best for her that I don't point that out.

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Saturday, March 21, 2020—The Tip

The day starts off great. I drop Sarah off at Jon David Salon where she gets her hair cut and colored and spends time in the company of her friendly hair stylist, David Bakir, and his attentive staff. I go on to our supermarket to shop for the weekend's Shakespearecurean cooking, take the food home, visit with our neighbor (keeping some 12 feet apart), and then Sarah calls. She is finished at the salon, but she has a question: which credit card should she use? I tell her, and what strikes me wasn't the question but the tone: she sounds frustrated. With me? "Are you ready for me to pick you up?" I ask. She says she is. A tinge of curtness edges her voice.

I remember she didn't have any cash to use for tips, which happened at her previous appointment before Christmas. Having regretted that December oversight, I determine to detour to an ATM to get tip money despite the annoyance I heard in her voice. I reach the salon, park, and as I walk down the sidewalk, she heads my way as pleased as a kid at Christmas. I make much over how good she looks, which is totally honest: she no longer resembles a skunk with a gray stripe at the roots where her hair parted (yep, I mention that to her: she laughs). Then I give her the tip money. "Oh, I needed that," she says, and gleefully goes back into the salon to dispense it.

These are the moments I live for now, when she becomes an embodiment of pure joy, even over such simple pleasures and right outcomes. In spite of everything she's been going through, Sarah's grace and exuberance has never abated, a woman with the style of a cool cat and the demeanor of a puppy dog.

When we get home, I check my emails and discover what struck the chord of disharmony in her voice when she called me: an email warning that one of her other credit cards had been used at an ATM and was shut down because of too many incorrect passwords. The scenario plays out in my mind: She needed cash, the salon has a cash machine, she used the first card, made various password attempts, was locked out, and called me to find out which card she should use to pay the bill (I am handling all finances now). With the email evidence in hand, I ask her to verify if my scenario was correct, and she confirms.

Her inability to remember passwords paired with her stubborn attempts to log on to various accounts until she gets locked out has been epidemic in its occurrence, causing me exponential trouble and time to right things. I can't get her to change this habit, and once again, here I am lecturing about her need to accept her condition and be smart. My tone is kindly, yes, but still: "be smart"? Yep, I still say that, and still expect it, too. It occurs to me—as it always does too late—that the loving voice I use is irrelevant. Her good day has been sidelined as I see her happy demeanor fade into the understanding that she's causing me more trouble. And with that shift in her expression, my good day is sidelined, too.

Why can't I just let these episodes pass without comment? Nothing will change. Nothing can change. It's not that she's going to suddenly learn the lesson, and it's not a matter of spoiling her. It's all about me engaging in a reality she never will be able to track. She's struggling. I struggle to alleviate her struggles and end up reminding her of her struggles while hammering her about my own struggles with her. It's a vicious cycle I could stop simply by swallowing the consequences for me and concentrate on turning the experience into a lesson for handling similar situations better in the future.

This resolve is tested within minutes. I empty the dryer and discover another lapse. "You didn't hang-dry this shirt, and the stain is baked in," I tell her. Kindly, of course.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020—Done Driving

Sarah's driving days are past. With her second seizure in spring of 2018, she, by state law, would not be able to drive until she had been seizure-free for at least six months. The same rule applied when she had her heart-stopping moments in 2014–2015. Six months after her last, near-fatal but ultimately problem-solving fainting episode of that epochal health crisis, we were driving to visit my dad in Charlotte, North Carolina. I pulled off the highway and said, "Do you want to drive?" I'm not sure who was more ecstatic at that moment: Sarah, who finally got to enjoy a new car she had only driven a couple of weeks before the fainting spells took hold, or I, who had grown weary of driving everywhere, every time.

This time, 14 months passed before her seizures were brought under control. Then, before six additional months passed—before the day I had marked in my calendar, "Sarah can drive"—her dementia was firmly diagnosed. She will never drive again. Probably time to sell one of our two cars, but I keep resisting.

However, when our AAA annual membership came time to renew, I figured there was no reason to pay for her to be on the account. Indeed, she was the actual member, and I was an add-on family member. Per instructions I received from AAA, she had to call in order to make me the primary member and remove her from the roles. I dial the phone and put the speaker on. "Ernest" answers, and Sarah gives this opening explanation: "I have a seizure disorder and nobody wants me to drive anymore."

I don't know if she said that as, A), cover, not wanting to say she has dementia as the seizures are under control with meds, or, B), that is what she really believes, perhaps unaware she has dementia. I so want to learn that truth, but I decide not to ask. An answer would likely disappoint, and it makes no difference, anyway.

I inadvertently walk into the answer later. I wrote this and the first three entries before I made the decision to post this chronicle on Shakespeareances.com. In asking Sarah for her permission, I read through the entries for her. She listens to this one and says, "I can tell you why I said that. Do you want me to?" I really don't, but I hem and haw long enough for her to give her reason: One of her cousins has a friend in Maryland who continues to drive, she says.

"What is her condition? What does she have?" I ask, about to ask specifically if she has dementia, but before I can, Sarah replies: "A seizure disorder. But they let her drive, and nobody allows me to."

I shouldn't have hemmed and hawed.

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Saturday, March 28, 2020—The Dishwasher

How often our ego cries out for justice. Its own sense of justice, to be sure, but nevertheless a deeply heartrending cry.

I never knew how selfishly narrow-minded ego could be—an egotistical ego, if you will—until I became my father's caretaker. It wasn't my dad's ego I encountered, as demanding as he could be in his post-stroke struggles to regain the humanity he had been so used to. It was mine.

Umpteen times I'd take him to his various medical appointments, and he always gave me street directions. "I know where I'm going," I'd say. Or sneer. Or harrumph. Or sometimes seethe. Finally, I decided I would head him off. A half-block from the next turn, I'd announce that I'll be turning right. Dad would still tell me as if he hadn't heard to "turn right here." Perhaps he hadn't heard me, the stroke having enhanced his already substantial hearing loss. No problem: next time I shouted my intentions. Or yelled. Or bellowed. Or hallooooo'd. Still, he would tell me to turn right here. One time, he forgot to tell me to turn right here as the turn approached—or so I thought. "Where are you going?" he asked as I made the turn. I patiently told him we were going to doctor whomever today. He didn't reply, so it wasn't until I was nearing another doctor's office that I realized I was going the wrong way that day.

Dad's stroke did not affect his intelligence, just his capability to express that intelligence and get specific parts of his body to carry out its commands. I always pointed this out to doctors, nurses, bankers, state and municipal officials, and customer service reps. I just hadn't pointed it out to myself. When I finally did, my ego found peace. After I'd get him in the car, I'd remind him where we were going, and as always, he started giving directions on how to get out of his retirement center's parking lot. How many thousands of times had I exited that parking lot? But I merely said, "OK," and remained silent or engaged in small talk to the next turn. He told me where and how to turn. "Got it," and I'd turn. Approaching the next left, he told me to turn left. "At the light?" I asked. "Right, at the light," he'd say; then in a panic, "LEFT at the light." "Right, or, rather, left," I'd say a bit cheekily, humor he appreciated as I already was steering into the left turn lane. I even got to the point where, a half-block from the turn, I'd ask if that was my turn. This was a bit more empowerment for him as well as assurance for me. Catering to his intent to always give directions ended up being liberating for me and not at all debilitating to my ego.

So you'd think I would apply that lesson as caretaker for Sarah, whose motor skills are perfectly fine but whose intellect needs direction. I've gotten better at not reminding her how I'd just told her something, reminding myself that with no memory of the moment she has no reason to be reminded. Yet, my ego still comes rising out of the murky depth like a wrong whale of bad intent.

Photo of dish drainer filled with wood cutting boards and bowl, little silver bowls hanging off the side, and a broiler pan dangling off the edge over the sink.
Sarah has become creative in loading up the dish drainer as well as the washing machine. Photo by Eric Minton.

As a freelance writer and editor who usually works at home, I managed the household while she commuted to work for most of our marriage and often deployed on military duty. I did the laundry, I did the cleaning, and I did the dishes (even on weekends, allowing her to savor unfettered time for reading the newspaper, one of her favorite pastimes). So, I have my way of loading the dishwasher. I know how to line up the plates to maximize space availability for the bowls and pots. I know what items are safer on the top rack. I know that you should always, always, place flatware and utensils in the rack one cubby hole at a time from front to back until every slot is taken and then repeat. One does not put them in back to front, and certainly not two items per space at a time. Sarah would start from the back! She'd sometimes skip a space! She'd sometimes, OMG, put two in a space before filling out all the spaces! I'm the graphic designer in this marriage. I am "Son of Patsy," so-called by Sarah herself because my mother was a packer extraordinaire and I can almost match her skills in maximizing the use of space. These days, Sarah has been taking the lead in managing the dishwasher. It is a way she can contribute, so I've learned to give way to her desire, coaching her only when necessary but backing off when I notice perturbation in her demeanor. And, I admit, she did teach me the merits of placing wire colanders over bowls.

Today, though, as I need to clear the sink of dirty dishes before fixing dinner, and she hasn't yet joined me in the kitchen, I partially load the dishwasher. Cleaning up after dinner, she rearranges what I have done. Can you believe that? Sarah rearranges how Son of Patsy had loaded the dishwasher. Is Sarah's rearrangement better? That's beside the point. I am hurt, and I say, "I know your condition can't help it, but it often seems you always only want to undo what I've done."

You want to read that again? Here, let me help you:

"I know your condition can't help it, but it often seems you always only want to undo what I've done."

Sarah looks at me with baffled exasperation. I look at my ego with baffled exasperation. Ego slinks away, but only after having sunk its teeth into whatever pride I had, dragging it down to the murky depths of my self-conscience.

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Saturday, April 4, 2020—Closing the Door

The other day, heading into the second quarter of the year, I was reassessing my professional strategic plan, and I asked Sarah for her opinion. This is an automatic response mechanism in me. When I need wisdom, I turn to Sarah. Only after she starts responding do I realize that, on more frequent occasions, whatever wisdom she could impart will get jumbled up in her difficulty tracking the thoughts emanating from her wisdom. This was one of those occasions, but in her answer emerged a new dimension of her condition: she started interweaving memories from two periods in her life into one memory, evidence that her midterm memory might be wavering. Prior to this, only her short-term memory seemed impacted.

But she was having a bad memory day, anyway: repeating herself (or me) two or three times, losing track of tasks, and frustratedly wondering "how that got there" when it was she who put it there. After one such moment, I told her the kind of day she was having. Her response: a puzzled expression between concern for herself and not believing me. That day, by the way, came after a day in which Sarah was her 2014 self, even landing a couple of sharp puns. This has become frustratingly typical: "good days" when I still get my hopes up followed by days with evidence of further deterioration than I'd seen before. God at his cruelest.

Lately, Sarah has been closing our bedroom door when we go to bed. She didn't used to do that except when we have company. As I'm teleworking now but keeping my regular predawn work schedule, when I head downstairs in the morning I'll close the door so that my music and movement don't disturb her. I thought maybe this was confusing her, so I stopped closing the bedroom door in the morning but closed my office door instead. Tonight, she again closes the bedroom door.

"Leave the door open," I say, making sure I keep the exasperation out of my tone. My comfort level is to have the door open so I can hear any movement in the house, though we do have an alarm system. "Why have you started closing the door all the time?" I ask, even though I know her answer won't stretch beyond "I don't know," or "I just do," or "I'm not thinking." However, she gives a succinct answer. "That's what I've always done in the first-half of my life."

I'm flooded with a sense of "uh-oh," but I move right to humor. "But I wasn't in the first-half of your life," I say. "I'd like you to stay in this half." She laughs, I tease a bit more, and romance takes over.

But the times are a-changing: as in, the times of her memory's existence.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2020—Masked Man

My humor can be weird. I'll make word association jokes that swirl as non sequiturs down a drainpipe of such silliness that I'm not even going to try to replicate the punchline in this story. These bizarre treks of humor, which Monty Python would reject as utter nonsense, have always made Sarah laugh, which is the entire point (shortly after we started dating, she told me she was getting crows' feet by her eyes from laughing so much, laughter being something she said she seldom did before).

Today starts off with an uh-oh moment. I pour myself a glass of orange juice and Sarah a glass of apple juice. As I pick up my glass and start guzzling, she takes her apple juice into the dining room, comes back into the kitchen, and pours herself a glass of apple juice. She responds to my gaping look with assurance that the glass she's using is clean—it just came out of the dishwasher, she says. "But I just poured you a glass," I say. "Did you?" she says looking confused. Somewhat uncertain myself now, I look into the dining room, see the first glass of apple juice, and point it out to her. "Oh," she says, but before she can dwell on it too much, I tell her, "And now you have two glasses. Must be thirsty." I'm getting better at this.

Sarah's day turns remarkable, though, when she decides to make some face masks for us. I will have to go into the Commission office the next two days, and, according to a policy the Department of Defense just issued, I must wear a mask on DoD property during the current COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Years ago, Sarah made curtains for our baseball room, featuring pinstripe fabric. These curtains had stars-and-stripes bunting tiebacks with plastic rings at their ends. Sarah remembers these, finds them among our stock of discarded fabric, and adds laces to the rings, creating a simple but fully nose- and mouth-covering mask. I'll have the most patriotic face in the land. She does this all on her own: determines to make masks, comes up with the idea of how to do them, finds the ingredients (amazing in our black hole of a house), and completes them, all while I am stuck at my desk for a series of teleconference meetings that last all day (sometimes I'd like to extend social distancing requirements to phones).

This evening, as we are doing dishes after dinner, my devolution of stupid humor begins innocently. I thought I heard her doing laundry today, so I ask what she washed. She doesn't remember washing anything. Trusting my hearing over her memory, I asked if she washed the masks, as those tiebacks had lain dormant in a wicker case for at least 25 years. I might not die of COVID-19, I tell her, but I might get the worst cast of fabric poisoning ever recorded. My jokes go downhill from there.

She's not laughing. Instead, she's trying to understand my meaning: did she need to wash the fabric? Did she in fact wash the fabric? Did she forget to take the masks out of the laundry? I'm not sure these are her questions to herself, but her concerned look, gestures, and stopped-short speech suggest they are, and I realize three layers into my non sequiturs that she's not humoring me with feigned confusion. It's real confusion as she tries to track my runaway train of thoughtless comedy. "Never mind, it's fine," I bail.

OK, so I didn't exit from that one very well, but this is something new I'll have to adjust to, yet another facet of her personality that's slipping away from us. This may be one of the hardest adjustments of all.

Still, we were talking about the masks, so I dwell on that. She made those! That's the Sarah I've admired these 30 years, and I'm going to wear that Old Glory tomorrow with tremendous pride in my wife.

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Sunday, April 12, 2020—Bunny Business
Photo of an Easter basket on a table with an Anna Lee doll Santa standing in the background next to a lit Christmas tree and book shelves.
The Easter Bunny leaves a surprise for Sarah, as Santa Claus looks on in our still-Christmas-decorated library. Photo by Eric Minton.

Today is Easter, and our marriage experiences a first for this holiday.

Sarah and I are not big on holidays. Except for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Veterans (Remembrance) Day, we've approached holidays mostly as time away from work and being with each other. Even other special observances, such as Valentine's Day and my birthday, generally pass with little more than token acknowledgement. True, I've always done up her birthday and Mother's Day with appreciative celebration of her existence in my life, but for the most part we're into making every day a special day. Likewise, our Christian faith we were taught to observe as a matter of course rather than according to a red number on the calendar.

When I was a kid, my family did do the Easter basket thing. We'd see them in the living room before we'd head out for the sunrise service. Sarah grew up with Easter baskets, too, and a couple of weeks ago, this came up in conversation; but in the present tense. She was expecting the Easter Bunny to visit us, an example of her increasing tendency to blend long-past memories into her current state. I reminded her that we've never done Easter baskets together, and she paused, sorted out her memories, and said, "Oh, that's right."

The moment passed for her. But not for me. This morning, Sarah is directed to the library—still decorated for Christmas, as is the entire house because I haven't had time to take Christmas down, and Sarah won't dare do it without me. There, her Easter basket awaits her. It is the same basket that held the goods from her Christmas stocking, but as she had long ago tornadoed through all that chocolate, the Easter Bunny reused it, filling it with chocolate eggs, bunnies, bees, ladybugs, a chick, a squirrel (I don't know why), and pork rinds—Sarah loves flash-fried cholesterol. My basket from Christmas is still two-thirds full, so the Easter Bunny skipped mine, and I'm fine with that.

Sarah is in a good place this morning, sporting a supernova glow from some incredible romancing we did last night and earlier this morning—I'm still mind-blown, too. She has remembered that it is Easter, and she's pleased with her basket, yet by her behavior I can tell she's still trying to comprehend why she received one. It didn't occur to me that she wouldn't remember our conversation of earlier in the week. I suggest that the basket will serve as a conduit for her quarterly chocolate fix: The Drummer Boy will fill it on Independence Day, and I'll take her out trick-or-treating for Halloween which will get her to Santa's return. She laughs. She's content, and soon enough she's selecting a ladybug and a chocolate carrot for her initial assault on the basket. I decide not to imagine what's going through her mind right now. It's a new memory for our marriage.

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Sunday, April 19, 2020—Going to Church

Today is Sunday. The COVID-19 Pandemic is raging, and the self-centered naysayers are raging even louder and more dangerously, many of them ministers. My anger boils over on Twitter. "Why, in the face of the pandemic's risk, are so many Christian ministers insisting on holding in-person services when Jesus CHRIST himself, in the lead-in to the Bible's most quoted verses (Matthew 6: 9-13), specifically and pointedly advocated for worshiping alone, in isolation?" I tweet. "The answer is obvious," I continue in my own reply. "I've long thought 'fundamentalist preachers' have never actually read the gospels. In this pandemic I've come to realize they have read them not to heed Jesus's teachings but to model themselves after the Priests and Pharisees who tried to silence Jesus."

My chief ministry right now is to make Sarah laugh. Indeed, it seems to me that Sarah has laughed harder and more often so far this year than in a decade's worth of years past, and those decades we filled with great fun. Maybe this seems is of a relative nature, the laughter juxtaposed with my heartbreak. Such a dichotomy is apparently the lot of many comics, including one of my all-time favorites, Robin Williams. I'm sure that in my heightened humor I'm striving for my own solace, but my primary determination is to keep Sarah in a happy state. The problem is, I'm not preternaturally funny—except, perhaps, in unintended ways—and my wit runs at a turtle's pace. Rather, I rely on silliness. Living in a landscape of dementia and all the adjustment that requires, I turn to my own demented side.

A pill organizer on a dresser top, with small dishes adjacent to it each containing pills, and a "Sarah's Pills" yellow Post-it note,
Sarah's medication management center: weekly pill organizer, dishes with today's pills, index cards with the days of the week, and the pharmacy instructions. Photo by Eric Minton.

Sarah has a medicine regimen of seven pills for her heart disease, her missing thyroid, her blood pressure, and her epilepsy (notably, no pill for her dementia). On Sunday mornings we engage in the weekly task of refilling Sarah's pill manager, a plastic box with seven columns and four rows of cubby holes. In these we place the pills she needs to take with breakfast, lunch, dinner, and at bedtime every day. This morning, I use our made bed to lay out the pill box, the pill bottles, and my accounting chart. I made that chart more than a year ago so that she can keep track of which pill goes where, but I've since taken over this weekly task because even the chart couldn't keep her straight. On her own initiative she has put four dishes on her dresser for that day's pills, a reminder tactic that has worked well for her; in my estimation it has cut down the incidents of forgotten pills by as much as 90 percent. Plus, it's easier for me to track her daily doses as I can glance at the dishes every time I pass by during the day.

I kneel next to my workspace on the bed, and that motion and location merges with the particular hour of this particular day. I enter the silly space.

As if intoning a Gregorian chant, I call upon the Levothyroxine Sodium and begin an impromptu homily on the merits of this pill. I have to put the first one in its today's dish on the dresser, so I remain on my knees as I cross the floor like a pilgrim moving toward a holy shrine, then back to the bed to place pills in the rest of the week's six spaces. Next up, Levetiracetam, "otherwise known as Keppraaaaaaa," I singsong, and repeat the pilgrimage. When I get to the gummy multivitamin supplement, the singsong homily turns really ridiculous—think about it, a homily on gummy supplements—but now I now have a rapt audience of one.

Realizing I can mine Catholicism only so much, I switch to Black Pentecostal mode, my sermon of the pills pinioned with Amens and Hallelujahs. I preach, Preacher! using my best Pastor Leroy cadence to press home the lessons of the Lord that we must abide by Ev'ry. Sing-le. Day. Of. The. Week. We're in the row of the lunch pills, now, which includes St. Joseph Baby Aspirin, and I call on the scriptures' recounting of Jesus and the children to drive home my lesson of love for Ev'ry. Sing-le. Day. Of. The. Week. "Can I have an amen!" Sarah looks at me, laughing. "I SAID, can I have an AMEN!" "Amen!" She says.

"Thank you and hallelujah!" I preach, and we're on to the dinner and bedtime rows, one pill for each. So I go Lutheran, drolly naming the pills, referring to the bulletin (the chart) and the schedule of events for the coming week.

It's often said—for I often have heard it said—that preachers' kids (PKs) are the most irreverent Christians. I certainly am. Furthermore, being an Air Force PK, I grew up witnessing and appreciating all of the above worship traditions. Every base had four or five Protestant chaplains and two Catholic priests, so the two Sunday services rotated among them over the course of the month. You want an aerobics workout? Attend a Catholic service. Chaplain Leroy was a pentacostal minister at one base. With its gospel music and sermonizing prayers, his shows, er, worship services were my favorite. My dad, by the way, was Southern Baptist with Anglican trimmings: a weird but wonderful combination.

I'm not making light of any of these faiths or their vital traditions, not at all—though I am making fun from them. Because I'm just making Sarah laugh. Can I get an amen!

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Monday, April 20, 2020—A Grinding Grief

Sarah was scrolling through the Internet yesterday. Her mood was upbeat, but she was noticeably quiet as she went about re-reading news stories at her desk behind me.

I was editing an article I had written on Saturday, and due today, for the magazine Professional Photographer, published by the Professional Photographers of America. My piece is a profile on William Castellana, a New York-based photographer who just finished doing a children's book with his partner, set designer Linda Montanez. Called Inquisitive Creatures, the book features three highly intelligent, juvenile foxes and a dog attending a science academy and building a time machine. Montanez made the creatures out of felt, and the two built 1/16th-scale in a steampunk aesthete, with incredible detail of papers, books, furnishings, and gadgets down to the inner workings of a clock, which Castellana photographed using an illumination technique called light painting. Such was the detail I had to describe in my article that I thought I'd get some backup brainpower.

"You want to help me with this?" I asked Sarah. Of course she did. I airdropped her a PDF of the book and asked her to familiarize herself with it. "Look closely at everything in the rooms," I told her. She can't do that in a real room, but maybe a picture on the computer would be different. However, her first comment after about 15 minutes of reading the book stunned me. "I have a question. These are animals. But they're doing human things, going to school," she said.

I didn't turn around, but said, "Yes?" with a tone that didn't quite mask my puzzlement at her question.

"This is a children's book; won't children be confused that these are animals doing all that?"

Now I turned around. She was truly confounded. "What about Bugs Bunny?" I asked. "Mickey Mouse? Disney's Robin Hood where all the characters were different animals?"

"I don't know about any of that," she said.

This was perhaps the fastest fall from upbeat to alarm I've had yet. Dementia is a condition that crawls on to inevitability, but this is the second time Sarah suddenly leapt into the next stage (about three weeks ago she began interloping memories from different eras of her life). This is all happening too fast for me, and I can't stop the train. We all know how much pressure caretakers are under, but I never anticipated the emotional toll, the grieving that not only becomes endemic in your life but deepens as you go.

Sarah had another mental meltdown moment last night, but I've gotten so used to them I just rolled with it. Sarah had taken her evening pills (I track this every day now) and, as I was lying in bed talking on the phone with my son, Ian, who lives in Seattle, I kind of noticed Sarah doing some other activity but didn't pay it much heed. Then she came over to me with her multivitamin and thyroid pill, both of which she takes in the morning. "Do I need to take these?" she asked. I wondered if she had forgotten to take them in the morning, but remembered she had, as part of my church services routine. I got up, checked her pill organizer and that morning's slot was empty.

So was this morning's slots. She had two of the this morning's pills in her hand. The third, her seizure medication Keppra, was missing. Did she already take that? If she did, she would have taken two of them in the same time frame, and the instructions are explicit: don't do that, even if you miss a dose. She insisted she only took one. Evidence told me otherwise, and I warned Sarah to let me know the moment she felt bad. She said she would, but she said it a bit too glibly, I thought. I reiterated the potential seriousness. She reiterated that she understood.

My concern was right on target. This morning, Sarah was suffering vertigo when she woke up. She's not in any danger, and, as I'm typing this around noon, she just now got up and is finally ready to start her day. Plus, I actually feel a sense of victory: not in the I-told-you-so sense, but the clear evidence that she at least is acting on an instinctual sense of her limitations. Last night she did something that I've been constantly repeating to her: when she is uncertain about something, ask me.

Nevertheless, the trend of her mental deterioration continues, and I'm finally understanding the pain I'm feeling. It's grief. Not the shocking grief of loss but the grinding grief of impending loss. No amount of intellectual understanding can alleviate that gut feeling. It's not just that I know what's coming, but that some of what makes Sarah Sarah has died already, and with it the life I've grown accustomed to. Plus, the remainder of her is expiring at a faster rate than I anticipated, yet still slowly enough to maintain the flame of hope for a future that was like our blissful past. That's a tough double punch to the soul.

I've even begun envisioning the certainty of life without her, and that is also making me miserable. It's a common conciliatory concept to believe, at the point of death after a prolonged terminal illness, that "she is in a better place now…" The rest of the phrase left unspoken is, "and so is he." The freedom from caretaking is seen as a relief. But for us caretakers, death of our loved one comes well before the caretaking ends. And the grieving starts long before that, as it has for me. Nor will it necessarily end when her life ends. In fact, I can't imagine my grief will ever end. I will miss her sorely.

But not yet. Not quite yet.

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Saturday, April 25, 2020—Crimini of the Heart

We spend, oh, five minutes together at the mushrooms counter in Wegman's produce section.

I give Sarah simple instructions: she needs a half pound of crimini mushrooms for her mushroom salad recipe. I leave her so that I can gather some get-them-quick-while-you-can-during-this-pandemic items: shortening, double cream, eggs. A stocker is putting 5-pound bags of flour on the empty shelves as I walk through the baking goods on my way to dairy. I hold out my arms and he hands off a sack as I pass by. Paydirt!

Arms full of goods, I hurry back to Sarah, worried that she had moved on from the mushrooms and was looking for me. Nope. She is just then putting two one-pound packages of bella mushrooms in the shopping cart. Um, Sarah, you need a half pound of crimini mushrooms. Well, there were no criminis, so I ask her which she wants, baby bella or white mushrooms. She wants baby bellas, so I pointed to what I think are six-ounce packages, tell her to pick one, and I hurry off for a few more get-them-quick-while-you-can items. Heading back to the produce section, I encounter Sarah steering the cart into the supermarket's main central aisle. Two one-pound packages of bella mushrooms sit in the cart. I gather up my patience, take her back to the mushrooms, and point, again, to the six-ounce packages. I leave her as I get some produce across the way, come back, and she at last has a six-ounce package—well, she has two, in fact. Putting one back, I notice it's only five ounces, so I suggest a 10-ounce package, as that's just over the half pound called for in her recipe. She agrees, picking up a package of shitake mushrooms. No, the baby bella, I tell her. Right, she says and puts two one-pound packages of baby bellas in the cart. Jiminy Crimini!

Sarah's having a bad brain day. Really bad. I pick out a 10-ounce package myself.

A big brown teddy bear sits at a dining room table, recipes spread in front of her, and a dish of food at the seat next to hers
Nanna was one of 3,000-plus plush toy refugees from my parents' home after my mom (who collected them) died and my dad had a stroke. We took in several dozens, including Nanna, who now assists us in the kitchen and oversees Shakespearecurean recipes. Photo by Eric Minton.

This shopping trip is heralding a significant shift in our long-term Shakespearecurean project. Beginning in 1990, as our courtship was heating up, she and I began cooking menus inspired by Shakespeare's plays. Being the freewheeling, artistic cook, I built mine around the plays' themes, imagery, and characters. Being a cuisinologist with hundreds of cookbooks covering all eras and regions, Sarah created historical recipes attuned to the plays' settings. We shared our first several recipes with my father, he combined them into a makeshift cookbook that he shared with the rest of the family, and my uncle shared his copy with a professional chef. Sarah and I decide to stop sharing and started earnestly working on a publishable cookbook. We settled on a two-phase approach: My allegorical recipes would be Volume One, Sarah's historical efforts would be Volume Two.

With our individual and mutual busy schedules, the project spurted on and off over the years. My culinary skills improved, my insights into the plays deepened, and my menus broadened to include soups, salads, and omelets. Pairing wines became part of the adventure. My son suggested that what we called the "off meal" matinees (some lunches, some breakfasts) should be approached as full-scale brunches. Meanwhile, Sarah's historical cooking efforts tailed off.

About five years ago, we began a concerted effort to revisit and finalize our 30 existing menus and create the remainder. Then, dementia snuck up on us. Now, I have come to accept that there will be no Volume Two; I haven't quite accepted that Sarah probably won't be around intellectually to see the completion of Volume One.

Some of our favorite Shakespearecurean recipes are Sarah's, however. I also can not accept dropping her unique contribution to this passion. I decided to merge some of her recipes into my dinner and brunch menus, including Insalate di Funghi Crudi (Raw Mushroom Salad, baby bellas replacing criminis) from her original Cymbeline breakfast menu that is now a dish in our Cymbeline brunch. For the plays I've done that do not have her historical menus, I decided we would work out her contributions together. That's what we are doing tonight.

It's not easy. I'm trying to get Sarah to channel her former self, telling me how she approached the plays. She can't even identify cookbooks she used. In fact, she picks out her father's Good Housekeeping cookbook: it's old but it doesn't feature Ancient Roman, medieval, or Elizabethan recipes. I start searching the shelves for anything among her 300-some texts that might work for any of the menus we've otherwise finalized.

I come upon a cookbook with recipes for England's monarchs, including King James I's favorite chicken soup. We don't have a historical menu for Macbeth, which Shakespeare wrote for James: did that link merit replacing my Chicken Cawdor for the play's soup? A bloody chowder using pureed roasted red bell pepper as a base for the broth, Chicken Cawdor is one of my faves and thematically perfect. True, James's chicken soup carries the "chicks" element of the play, and it uses eggs as a thickener, so there's the play's progeny theme. But the recipe looks hard to make and not all that appetizing.

Sarah should decide, I decide, even if her capacity to decide between two (or more) options is limited. I lay out the pros of each soup. Without pause, she chooses the James soup. I'm disappointed. Adopting an I-know-Shakespeare superiority tone, I point out that King James is only periphery to the writing of Macbeth.

"But he's in the play," she says. I chuckle because, yeah, James did consider Banquo his ancestor. "James is a character in the play," Sarah replies. She's in earnest, holding me in a steady, clear-eyed gaze. What in the world is she talking about? It hits me: in the witches' last apparition showing Banquo's lineage of kings, the last specter holds up a mirror in which Macbeth sees King James I. Scholars even theorize that in the play's premiere production at court, the king could see himself in the mirror.

"Oh my god, you're right!" I shout. I jump out of my chair and start a victory dance. This is Shakespearecurean history! What a perfect addition to our Macbeth menu (so long, Chicken Cawdor)! What a brilliant wife! God, I love this woman.

"Bad brain day" my ass.

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Friday, May 1, 2020—Better with Age

I was pouring the wine. Her glass was on one side of the table, mine on the other.

I poured wine into her glass. I poured wine into mine. Usually, I count as I pour, and I did for hers, but forgot for mine. I scoot my glass next to hers to compare. Perfect. The level of wine is exactly the same. Truth be told, I've been pretty good at this lately, an acquired skill that I can only chalk up as luck, if not the second sense that comes with a couple of decades' worth of pouring wine.

"You're good," Sarah says.

"I am," I say. "I'm getting better with age. And don't you forget it."

"I won't forget it," she says.

Yes, you will, and soon. But I don't say that out loud.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2020—A Blue Birthday

My birthdays are a bother. Not because they mark another year down and one fewer year to go, but because they pick at psychological scabs. I'm not keen on people making a fuss over me; but I always hope they do. When they do, I'm humbled and slightly uncomfortable. When they don't, I'm dejected and greatly discomforted.

It's only my birthdays I don't like. I mark loved ones' birthdays with notes and calls. For my father's last birthday on earth, I stepped out of the elevator into the hallway of his assisted living residence during shift change, when he would sit across from the elevator greeting everybody. I timed my seven-hour drive to Charlotte for that very moment. "What are you doing here?!" he said in shock. Perfect.

Sarah's birthday is November 7, and every year from the dawn of our relationship, I've given her the commodity I value most in my life: time. On November 1, I observe a ritual of offering as her birthday gift the use of my time in whatever way she wants, and then she has seven days to tell me her wish and for me to bring her gift to fruition. In 30 years I've altered from that tradition only twice. After we moved into our new, first-owned home together, her birthday arrived with nary a mention from me. That morning, I was slow to get the newspaper, and when she went out to retrieve it, I locked her out. She rang the doorbell, I opened the door and shouted, "Surprise!" took her by the hand and walked her through the house, room by room, asking her to make any wish for each room. For her 60th birthday, I kidnapped her for a romantic oblivion getaway. I use the term kidnap loosely, because once when I did kidnap her for a romantic getaway, she stayed late at the office, ignoring her secretary's pleas to go home, and we almost didn't make our reservation. That's too much stress for romance, so now the kidnap is just not telling her where we're going. Not until we changed flights in Minneapolis did she find out our destination was San Diego (an alternative, as a hurricane wiped out my initial bookings). Not until we got into the taxi in San Diego did she find out we were spending the next five days at the Hotel del Coronado.

Sarah has generally given my birthday scant notice. It either sneaks up on her or she takes at face value my desire to not be fussed over. Expecting the birthday blues to descend, I started empowering myself to make my own big deal about it. Yet, every year, my self-made plans falter for reasons beyond my control. This year I planned big. What was I thinking?

At the beginning of our Year of the Romance Passion (as explained in The Tragicomedy of Errors: A Passion Play), we decided to do another oblivion vacation in which I would kidnap her to an unknown destination, the original planned locale for her 60th birthday, which I've not yet revealed to her. Out of the question was doing it for her birthday in November, in hurricane season and with the National Commission on Military Aviation Safety report going to press that month. I also was becoming increasingly concerned about how much more time I'd be able to take an "oblivion break" with Sarah. It is an emerging dilemma: constant caring for her is one of my stress sources from which I could use a no-responsibilities oblivion break, but I don't want to do oblivion with anybody but Sarah. The earlier, the better, so we set the trip for the week of my birthday. That seemed to time out well with my Commission duties, as we'd be pivoting from research to writing the report, and a cleansing break to refresh and recharge my brain would be perfect. I booked our trip.

It was work, not COVID-19 that intervened. The Commission shifted course of action, and suddenly my birthday landed in the middle of what was destined to be a tremendous crunch of work (and so it has been). The fact that northern Virginia was locked down and the destination shuttered due to the pandemic only meant that I got my deposit refunded (will we ever get to that destination, a place I've never visited and consider the most perfect oblivion setting I can think of?).

Despite the restrictions of place and time, I wanted to provide Sarah the chance to give me a special birthday, though I'd have to help her do it. On Monday, I broached it with her. She said she was working to get me something* and didn't need my help. Then she laid out my special day.
"I want us to sleep in…"

"Stop right there," I said. I get up at 4:30 to beat the D.C. commute to my Commission office, and I've continued doing so during teleworking because those first three hours of the day, when I can focus solely on my work, have become something of a solace for me. "I want that time on my birthday, of all days," I told her. She accepted, and continued: we'd shop at Wegmans together for a meal of my choosing which we would fix in the evening. Cool.

This morning, I get up with the 4:30 alarm. Lots of work to get done today, and I have a late morning telemeeting. I told Sarah last night we'd need to head to Wegmans by 8 a.m., so at 7, I wake her up and remind her we'd leave in an hour. She acknowledges, and I head back to my office downstairs. An hour later, Sarah is just getting up. Too late, I tell her, since I've got to be back at my desk in two hours for the meeting. She's disappointed, but I go alone. I'm disappointed, too. I gave her an hour's notice, but she chose to stay in bed, and the day's work is already crowding in.

On my way to Wegmans I choose my favorite dish for the meal, chicken and yellow rice I learned from my dad, and on the side another longtime fave, eggplant casserole that my mom's mother introduced me to when I was 14. And, of course, angel food cake with strawberries and whipped cream. The vagaries of pandemic stocking strikes. Wegmans has no whole chickens, and the yellow rice I want is out of stock. I at least get a nice eggplant. Now what? I finish the rest of my shopping before reconsidering my birthday meal, but upon returning to the meat counter, I see dozens of whole chickens. I grab one (OK, I grab three; it's my birthday, and that will be my explanation if I'm questioned at checkout). I go back to the rices and get a brand of yellow rice that neither I nor my dad ever used: how different can they be, right? I find the angel food cake with the strawberries, run back to the dairy for heavy cream, get through checkout with all three birds, and head home.

Sarah is sullen. I unpack the groceries by myself and get back to work and begin receiving birthday greetings from my brother and my Commission colleagues (we do birthdays up big at the Commission). Time to fix dinner, but Sarah doesn't come in to help. The meal itself is a dud: brands of yellow rice can be very different, I discover, and the substitute hardly has any flavor. I screw up the eggplant casserole, the wine I choose is mediocre, and the angel food cake is slightly stale.

Another birthday bust. For Sarah, too, which haunts me most. As I head to bed I'm slipping into a full-on depression. I desperately need a break: especially from my birthdays.

[*"Something" never materialized.]

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Monday, May 11, 2020—Sonnet 77

The moment is at hand, a moment that comes every day this year. I pull from a stack of 155 outdated business cards, 154 of them numbered, the other bearing a large X, which marks the point when I've drawn each of the other 154 cards. I look at the number on the back of the card I pulled: 77. I pick up and open the illustrated book of William Shakespeare's sonnets on my desk, turn to Sarah, and announce, "Sonnet number 77: Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear."

The illustrated book of Shakespeare sonnets opened to Sonnet 77, with an Anna Lee elf sitting on it, the bottom edge of desktop iMac in the background.Then I read:

Thy glass will show thee how thy beauties wear,
Thy dial how thy precious minutes waste;
The vacant leaves thy mind's imprint will bear,
And of this book this learning mayst thou taste.
The wrinkles which thy glass will truly show
Of mouthed graves will give thee memory;
Thou by thy dial's shady stealth mayst know
Time's thievish progress to eternity.
Look, what thy memory can not contain
Commit to these waste blanks, and thou shalt find
Those children nursed, deliver'd from thy brain,
To take a new acquaintance of thy mind.
     These offices, so oft as thou wilt look,
      Shall profit thee and much enrich thy book.

I let this sink in. "Thus ends the daily reading of our Shakespearean sonnet," I intone. But we're both pretty gobsmacked.

That Shakespeare, man, looking over my shoulder, always.

*  *  *

On our walk today, Sarah points out a vanity license plate. The Washington Nationals curly W logo adorns the left side of the plate, and the letters spell "INEPUG." I try to aurally work out the puzzle: In E pug? Ine pug? I nep ug?

"Include the Nationals logo," Sarah says.

A moment. "Winepug?" Still makes no sense, so I Google "Winepug" and discover an impressive amount of bandwidth devoted to wine pugs (dogs that are both, respectively, connoisseurs and cute). That surprise doesn't bump the bigger moment: that Sarah easily grasped the license plate's puzzle. All her otherwise hampered cognitive skills—logical sequencing, contextual thinking, spatial understanding—suddenly firing on all cylinders.

Oh, that it could be I've suddenly awakened from a weird dream or we've lived through a giant misunderstanding. But I know it's just the wicked mystery that is the human mind. It's a moment I treasure nonetheless, not taking for granted its occurrence, as I would have five years ago; and not juxtaposing it with "time's thievish progress to eternity," as I've been wont to do lately. I take this new acquaintance of her mind and profit much.

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Thursday, May 14, 2020—Temptation

Oh, the temptation is so great.

You know, I put up with a lot around here. I'm doing all the cleaning, I'm doing all the cooking, I'm doing all the ledgering, I'm doing all the household chores. All of this on top of balancing, effectively, 2 1/2 jobs (which rises to three full-time jobs two months out of the year when I am supervising a magazine to publication). Sarah does the dishwashing, yes, but this morning I had to clean out two big pots just so I could get to the sink.

Oh, and I have to do all the thinking around here, too. That's a lot.

This morning I have to go to Wegmans. Sarah has said for two days she wants to go with me. Well, last week she wanted to go with me, too, on my birthday, and she didn't get up even after I gave her an hour's notice. So here we are again: she's still in bed, and I've got to leave in an hour.
Oh, and though she has made trash and recycling management one of her tasks of habit, I had to get the trash out this morning. Second week in a row it fell on me because she didn't get up.

I should just let her stay in bed. Wait until I'm ready to leave, tell her I'm leaving, kiss her disappointed face, and lovingly assure her I'll be back as soon as I can. That will learn her. She wants to do things with me, get the hell up!

Oh, the temptation is so great. To show her that she needs to step up, to get up, to woman up, to colonel up. Though, in one respect, she certainly is womaning up. Even now I'm recalling our glorious moment last night, another in 30 years of such delectable moments. When my alarm went off at 4:30 this morning, I stayed in bed for another half hour of just holding her.

Back to the temptation to teach her a lesson. You know, she probably doesn't even remember we were going to go to Wegmans this morning. She doesn't know what day it is to remember the trash (she's had noticeable trouble tracking her days on the calendar the past two weeks). Punishing her for a condition she can't help? Demanding of her something she has no control over? Last week when she didn't get up in time to accompany me to Wegmans, she wasn't disappointed in me—except, perhaps, that I wouldn't wait another half hour while she showered and dressed; she was disappointed in herself.

OK.

I go upstairs, gently wake her by turning the light on in the hallway as I enter the bedroom. I see her head lifting to look at me. I give her the one-hour, ten-minute notice (the duration of the Elton John CD I'm about to play as I work), and if she'd like to go with me, decide now, or sleep in. "After all," I remind her, "you have to get up early tomorrow" because we're going to do a pesticide bombing of the house before we go into my Commission office first thing in the morning. Sleeping in today could be more appealing to her, and I wouldn't blame her for giving in to that temptation.

I head back downstairs, and I'm at my desk. I don't know if she's up or not. Doesn't matter. She's now empowered, which she may or may not have been before I checked in on her. A half hour later, she's standing next to my desk, ready to go.

Oh-so-much better than giving in to the temptation.

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Thursday, May 21, 2020—The Ambush

She didn't cry. She didn't pout. She didn't sigh in resignation. No. Her face instead went to a place I've never been.

Last night, I forgot to monitor Sarah's pills. Stupid, stupid, stupid: that's one stupid for each pill she forgot to take. My biggest stupid, however, came this morning.

But first, an update on Sarah's medical care. Out of nowhere, Johns Hopkins called us back in April to schedule Sarah for a PT Scan. The doctor's appeal to our insurance provider, Tricare, apparently went through, so we celebrate, again, this stroke of fortune and set a May 8 date. We were wrong, again. On May 1, Johns Hopkins called to cancel: the test was denied yet again. It is considered experimental.

I shot an irritable note off to Sarah's psychiatric neurologist, Dr. Muhammad Haroon Burhanullah. He calls us. He says he did do the appeal and thought he had fully explained the need for the test, but Tricare just will not cover that particular test as a diagnostic tool for dementia. We've learned that few insurers do, even though neurologists apparently believe in the test's efficacy. Dr. Burhanulla offers an option. Upon further studying Sarah's MRIs, he has concluded that rather than vascular dementia, she has Alzheimer's. Nevertheless, he couldn't rule out her seizures being a factor, which is why he wanted to do the PT Scan. In order to get more leverage with the insurance company, he suggests prescribing Donepezil, a pill that has been shown to slow memory regression.

Big problem: Sarah had been taking that for 1 1/2 years before the seizures started in March 2018, and the EEG tests on Sarah at Johns Hopkins a year ago found that the Donepezil was, at least, exacerbating the effects of her seizures. Once she was taken off the drug and she was put on a smaller dose of Keppra, her epilepsy is now nearly under control. After I explain this, Dr. Burhanullah suggests Memantine, a similar medication to Donepezil, but with less chance of seizure-causing side effects. (His words. Amazing what we learn going from one doctor to another doctor: seizures is a side effect of Donepezil? I can't say it did or did not help with Sarah's memory when she was first prescribed it in 2016—I certainly didn't see any improvement—but a rapid cognitive disintegration came in tandem with the onset of her seizures which may have been due to the Donepezil).

After I succinctly explain all of this to Sarah—we're on speaker phone with Dr. Burhanullah—she chooses to proceed with the Memantine. Dr. Burhanullah prescribes one pill every evening for two weeks. He instructs me to monitor the effects, and if she has no side effects, double the dose, one pill in the evening and one in the morning.

Sarah didn't take her three pills last night, including her Keppra and the Memantine. I note this upon getting up this morning, and point it out to her. I tell her to go ahead and take her cholesterol pill from last night, and we'll put away the other two. But I don't put away the other two myself right then. When you think it, do it, I've been telling her, a sermon I've been trying to hold myself to, as well. We're making our weekly Wegmans run this morning, she's dressed and ready to go, and I check to see if she's taken her morning pills. She has—and I notice that last evening's pills are missing, too.

"Did you put those away?" I ask.

"I took them," she says.

I point to the empty slot in her pill management box. "You also took these?" She isn't sure.

Truth pounding away at me, I interrogate her more, and she's getting nervous but can't answer with any surety. I know we'll never have clarity, so I have to assume she has double-dosed both the Keppra (which has caused her vertigo when she's done that before) and the Memantine (cousin to the potentially-seizure-causing Donepezil). "We can't risk it," I tell her. "I can't take you with me."

Sarah's face seizes every negative attitude you can think of: frustration, anger, disappointment. Defeat. Her eyes, mouth, cheeks cramp with the anguish of a defeat so deep she can't even cry. She just stands there, a tornado in her expression, her shoulders trembling as her emotions swirl through her sinews. She might be mad at me, she is probably angrier with herself, but whatever the target of her feelings, she is standing before me as the image of profound despair. I can't let her go there, either.

"This is my fault," I say. "I failed to monitor you closely." Anger increases its grip on her cramping body; she knows that no matter how much I care, I'm ultimately not responsible for her failings (I would beg to disagree, but not now). I hug her and feel her stiffen. When I step back, I see the slump of resignation in her shoulders. I'm losing this moment fast, faster than I can think. "I can't leave you here alone, though," stalling for resolution to come of its own accord. She gives me a withering look: great, she's ruined my day, too. Yes, I've determined to forego or postpone the supermarket run, but this is the only opportunity for me to shop before the weekend.

"So, you can go with me," I say, "but you have to take great care, tell me immediately if you start feeling funny." She looks relieved. "I will," she says. I continue: "We'll stay together, and we'll shop by priority in case you start having trouble." She nods. I get stern. "You have to tell me if you start having any trouble so that I can get you to a seat." "I promise," she says.

The shopping takes three times longer than I scheduled for because we don't shop aisle by aisle but retrieve items according to most need. I can't leave her to pick out produce while I run to get toilet paper and eggs and the like. But she makes it through without issue. She is happy. She is alive. No, I truly couldn't leave her home alone.

Everything about this episode results in a discombobulating day. I don't recover the lost time or my own emotional stability needed to work efficiently. I don't begrudge that, nor how upbeat Sarah is for the rest of the day. I don't ever want to see again her face cramped with intense disappointment. I demand diligence of her, but I must demand more of myself.

I've written about my grief, but today I fully understand that, while she is not fully aware of her memory loss, she is aware enough to grieve that loss. This morning I saw the intensity of that grief as it coursed through her body. She probably grieves her inevitability as much as I grieve it—maybe moreso. My sense of helplessness in all of this is tied up in a sense of selfishness. Her sense of helplessness is a state of being, a state so anathema to the Sarah that hasn't yet given up on her former self.

When I broach this with her, she asks, "What grieving?" Is she being strong for my sake? Is she in denial? Is she that unaware of the state and extent of her condition? Am I wrong about everything? Good gracious: I can't answer these questions, nor need I. I can only take Sarah at face value, from day to day, moment to moment.

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Sunday, May 24, 2020—Rings True

Burlington in Nationals boxer shorts watches the ring unveiling on a desktop iMac, showing the side of the ring with "Fight FInished" moto and 5 stars representing five postseason elimination games won.Tonight, the Washington Nationals unveil their World Series Championship ring. Sarah and I, along with Burlington, the Nationals' number one teddy bear fan, watch the program on my desktop computer.

The ring's design is nicely done: simple, laden with jewels but not gaudy, and each jewel perfectly symbolic. The team's "Go 1-0 Every Day" motto is on the bottom of the ring, and Baby Shark is on the inside. After revealing the ring, the program switches to an interview with the manager, Davey Martinez, whose "Just go 1-0 today" mantra kept his players focused as they climbed out of a 19-31 start to the season all the way through the playoffs to Game Seven of the World Series and the title. Today, in fact, is the one-year anniversary of the team's 19-31 nadir, and some around here want to make the date an annual holiday for its message of perseverance.

Martinez is doing the interview from his home, and hanging on the wall behind him is a sign that reads, "Today is always the best day."

It occurs to me that Sarah lives by that standard. She's has always had a positive attitude, except during a period in the Air Force when she was serving a monster of a wing commander. Now, in these days of dementia, when her memory doesn't capture much of what happened yesterday and she has trouble tracking her tomorrows, she is pretty much forced to take every day on its own terms.

And she makes every day the best day ever. If the standard is "Go 1-0 Every Day," she's got a record of, oh, 142-3 so far this year. There's a standard we should all strive for.

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From my 2015 review of Man of La Mancha at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, "It's All Merely Delusional":

"My first wife told people that I suffered from delusions of grandeur. She was right, and I still do. This website is ongoing self-incriminating testimony. Evidence A is how, in the aftermath of that first marriage crumbling, I deluded myself into thinking that a hot, intelligent, competent, professional woman named Sarah would ever give me the time of day, let alone like me, let alone want me, let alone love me, let alone marry me, let alone remain my wife for 23 years and, best I can tell, plans to continue being so for at least a couple more years. That has been one incredible delusion, but it's resulted in a life of grandeur, I can tell you that."