In many ways, our story is one of wanting.
I was twenty-four, and I wanted to meet an older man—a man who knew who he was, what he stood for, and what he wanted. Who knew how to love.
I met a man who was forty-one. He was tall, sinewy, and relaxed, like an assured athlete before he moves. Wild Irish brows arched above eyes that held me in a steady gaze.
I wanted him and he wanted me—want, in the sense of a strong attraction. Want, in the sense of desire. I wanted to listen to his sonorous voice, to drink it in. I wanted to drink him in and savor his otherness.
I wanted to love with abandon and to be loved with abandon. I got what I wanted.
I wanted to be by his side, to raise his three children and partner in our writing and our work. I wanted to sustain our dialogues and debates, to pursue questions and aspirations together. I wanted to divine what I was made of, as did he.
We wanted to live intentionally, quietly, and simply. We wanted to be aware of the sun’s station in the sky, season-to-season. We wanted to live our quotidian lives—scooping water, tending fire—with regard. So five years after we met, we built a small log cabin in Minnesota’s north woods. We did not want for much.
And thus we lived for twenty years. Then his memory began to wane, when he was sixty-six. I didn’t want to see the signs. I didn’t want to say, “My beloved has dementia.” I wanted him back: the vivid, sexy, witty, quick and curious man. But I could not will the disease away. I could not stay its incessant advance. For all my wanting, I could not, would not, be able to get him back.
I wanted to make meaning of it all, so I recorded our passage through the seventeen years of his decline. I needed to shape sentences into some kind of order in the midst of dementia’s disorder. I wrote onto the silence of a blank page in the silence of the night, while he slept. I wove our story into essays.
I wanted to tell the story of our experience, as I understood it—the story of dementia as it uniquely manifested itself in Dick Cain. I wanted to respect his dignity while bearing unflinching witness. Often, I had to speculate: I wonder. Perhaps. Possibly. Maybe.
I wanted to compass his thoughts. I wanted to make note of his observations, neologisms, notes, jokes, songs, and anguished cries. I entitled my essays with his words—words he spoke or wrote over the years of his decline.
I wanted to be with him, even late in his life, when he was toothless, stooped, his hair disheveled, beard unkempt. I told him he was my beautiful husband. And he was. Even as dementia altered him and the life we’d built together, I wanted to live in the light of his love.
I did not want him to die. But he did.
I wanted him back, so I could make amends for the unraveling of my patience, for flare-ups fueled by fear. I wanted to reassure him that I survived, my joie de vivre unscathed. To say, once again, that our love abides.
I felt a profound longing, a deep want—want in the original meaning of the word, the Old Norse vanta, to be without. Uprooted, I hung in midair, hopelessly aching to be earthed in my husband again.
So I storied my beloved back into the world with these words.
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