Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey


What was it I came in for? I feel in my pocket and find a piece of blue paper with my writing on it: Eggs. Milk ? Chocolate.

It’s easy to imagine losing my mind.

I watched my grandmother lose hers. I’m sure it was a gradual process, but from my kid perspective she was fine and then she was all hazy around the edges. She was cooking reasonable dinners and then she was serving raw meatloaf. She was cooing to snakes on the terrace and then she was sitting in a rocking chair, her whole being projected into one hand weaving in the air to Irish music.

This book, Elizabeth is Missing, is lovely and terrifying. Maud slips further every day into the inescapable chaos of her own dementia and we get to witness the process from inside her head, which meshes the past and the present together into a tangled braid of discomfort. It’s one of those books that, though the mystery gets resolved, leaves you with dread because nothing will ever be truly okay with Maud, ever again.

Is this really what it’s like? I think yes, mostly. Those blanks she talks about, those are familiar. Who doesn’t suffer from blanks? But when they increase in frequency and size and we’re coherent enough to KNOW that there are things we DON’T KNOW that we SHOULD KNOW—that’s where terror lies.

And this happens to me! Every day! Or least every other day. Maybe every third or fourth day. Isn’t that a lot? Shouldn’t I be panicking?

In the book, Maude tries desperately to keep track of her world by jotting hundreds of notes to herself that multiply in her pockets and spill into the couch cushions, and that’s me, right there. Look at my desk at work: hundreds of little notes. Dig into my coat pocket: hundreds of little notes. Open my word program: hundreds of little notes. They don’t often help me remember much, but they do make for nearly fascinating reading months down the road.

What was I talking about?

Today at the Movie Market a woman tried to make me understand why she was adding $16 credit to our account and I just couldn’t. I was in a hurry, that was part of the problem, and also I just wasn’t interested, and also it was a very warm day. I wanted to stop her and gently explain that I wouldn’t be able to remember anything she was saying in another hour anyway so she could save herself some time and simply do whatever she needed to do. But that seemed rude. So I suffered through it and nodded like I understood. It was the easiest way to get out of there.

Now, though, I’m curious. Why do I have $16 in credit? I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Lord knows we eat that much a week in late fees. Another shred of evidence that I’m losing my mind! The last time I returned a movie on time I was six months pregnant! With someone, not sure who!

Losing one’s mind is not the worst thing that could happen. It’s worse on other people, I bet. For Maud that’s certainly true. Her daughter, her poor daughter. I watched my mother go through what Maud’s daughter went through, and it’s not a kind way to lose a parent.

If you meet me in the street and I have my pants on backwards, be kind, dear ones. Take me out for a cup of coffee. I promise to try and behave.


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