In the winter of 2014, I noted that grocery shopping was becoming more than just a weekly chore that cut into leisure time on Saturdays. At that time, I was the one who would make the short drive to our Market Basket in Somerville.
And if you live in the Boston area, you may vaguely recall that the winter of 2014 was a fairly bad winter. But after the record-setting 108.6 inches during 2015, almost everyone forgot about the snowfall of the year before. But I didn’t. At that time, I was already burdened with the possibility that I would lose my job. I recall one morning at Market Basket when I realized that I’d lost my grocery list. Being winter, the supermarket’s floor was marked by muddy footprints. The first time I dropped my grocery list, I was able to regain it, after about five minutes of harried searching. But the following Saturday, I was not so lucky. This time, I gave up, and called Paula for help. I married Paula for many reasons, but high on the list was her competence. She was able to recall almost every item, without a list. She was peeved, and why not? Fortunately for me, Paula’s short-term memory is superb, and she was able to mentally reconstruct the list, with perhaps one or two missing items. In recent years, Paula and I have been sharing the shopping. I wish I could say that I was truly sharing this task with Paula, but I have been relegated to the fruits and vegetables section only. It’s much easier, say, to find an eggplant or a couple of grapefruits than search for the precise variant of my daughter’s preferred yogurt: “Perfect Peach Cobbler.” But the next week, my daughter had moved onto “Apple Crisp Twist.”
Like many shoppers, Paula and I like to go to Trader’s Joe’s. We tend to avoid impulse purchases, but at Trader Joe’s, that can be difficult. I am especially enamored by the inexpensive dark chocolate (85 percent cacao). Ditto for the steel-cut oats, one of earth’s most nourishing grains. But in the summer of 2017, I had perhaps my worst moment in any grocery store. It happened at a Trader Joe’s in Arlington, which we rarely visit. So when I locked up my bike and entered the store, things looked somewhat unfamiliar. But what really tripped me up was the profusion of items within the same general label. This is not confined to Trader Joe’s outlets. But in its ethos of hipness, people with dementia seem to be unwelcome. This wasn’t intentional. It’s just the chain’s culture. The item that made me lose my composure was a packet of freeze-dried strawberries. An employee did try to help me, but because of my compromised short-term memory, I couldn’t hold on to my thoughts long enough to make myself clear. And by that time, my anxiety had skyrocketed.
Despair is a loaded term. But that was the term I heard in my head. I was still in the store. Most days, if I’m anchored by my writing, I feel whole. But when my dementia is exposed, as it was at Trader Joe’s in Arlington? Was I so demented that I couldn’t collect a few items in a Trader’s Joe’s on my own? The word I set on was lost: lost in a funky major food chain, lost to the life I loved until a ghastly disease colonized my hippocampus, lost to the old age that I took for granted, lost to a dark era, an epoch, night falling, my future foreclosed, the turgid closing of the book of life, bewilderment reigning, and at the end—“when the living will envy the dead.”