Stars Go Blue
A Novel
Laura Pritchett
Ben Cross has Alzeihmer's. He knows it, and his wife, Renny knows it too. Because that is what the doctor told them.

Ben is getting to the stage where he is writing notes to himself, even though, sometimes, the words have turned meaningless. He tries to explain to people: "My mind's not working so good" ... "It's off my radar screen" ... or

    I just can't find the right words. I know I can't find the right words. But that doesn't mean I'm not thinking them. That I don't know what I want to say. I do know. I do have things to say.

As Wilfred Sheed wrote, when the body or the mind starts to go, people will always be kind. But sometimes it gets to be too much, especially for people around them. For example, Renny: "She's so tired of explaining things to a two-year-old in a grown man's body." She finds herself looking for someone, anyone "to tell these things to."

She's mostly alone out there on their ranch in Colorado with Ben. The ranch they bought so many years ago, and with the kids and the cows and the horses and the aspen over the hill, a place of which they were so proud (even though, with some irony, they called it Hell's Bottom).

§   §   §

Alzeihmer's Disease, as many of us know, is a heartbreak for everyone involved. Five million people in the United States are living with it now ... in the early stages, or later, when it gets even more scary, despairing, dangerous. I recall a documentary on PBS many years back, long before they did "The Forgetting." It showed us an artist living in San Francisco with her mother, who had once worked as a social worker --- a bright, well-read woman, a great mother ... and we realize before long that she doesn't remember her daughter at all.

It was an excellent program because it didn't dwell. With all the tragedy built into the picture of a mind gone astray, there was --- had to be --- some absurdity: pathos mixed with a thin reed of unintended comedy. They call it "black humor" but there are times like these when all humor manages to turn black.

Pritchett has done a good job of building a picture of Ben --- as he was, as he is now and the strain on everyone. He writes a note to Renny before he can write no more:

    It's just that I'm not ready to go. I still want days to walk the farm and see the willows and visit with the grandkids ...

It's all there. And it's too much. For Renny. For Ben. For the reader.

Because in a story as troubling as this one we need stability. A writer can give us nightmares, but an artist will give us balance. How to do it? Humor? Relief? A breathing space? There are dozens of ways out. Just don't be unremitting. I damn near threw in the towel when Renny started to wonder if she had cancer. God: Ben fading out ... and now this.

She thinks maybe she should call up the doctor, get some pills for her depression. "Do it," I thought, and I wanted to ring Renny (or the author), tell her to get some meds at once. Because this mooning around is driving all of us crazy. Ben's lost it, she's beginning to go, and I'm a bit on edge meself.

Ben goes missing. Should she call someone? No, she can't. "She has no friends." "If he were to die" --- he's been broadly hinting at suicide --- "there would be everything from casseroles to people pestering her endlessly to her grief." So having Ben pop off isn't even a solution.

But: steady yourself. Stick with it. Hang in there ... all the way through the quote from Romeo and Juliet,

    When shall he die,
    Take him and cut him out in little stars,
    And he will make the face of heaven so fine.

These little stars we just cut out are going to turn blue. It may be snowing, but soon it'll be coming up roses. Or aspens ... and you won't be able to set it down until the last page. I swear.

Ben turns hero (a fool out of Shakespeare). Renny blossoms. The bad guys get cancelled out ... and no, I'm not going to spoil it for you.

Slog on with Stars Go Blue dear reader,

You will be well rewarded.

--- Lolita Lark
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