Jonathan was sat upright in his chair, staring hard at the television in front of him. On it was some daytime program about buying houses, the usual cheap and mindless rubbish they filled the morning schedule with. I sat next to him, in a matching chair, and watched it with him.
We were sat together in the Care Home’s TV Lounge, a smaller lounge with a large flat-screen television fixed to one wall, with the chairs grouped in front of it. We were the only people in it, occasionally another resident would wonder in there but just as quickly they’d wonder out.
Previously, Jonathan had hated television. He would mock me whenever I wanted to watch it and he’d snap at me if I had the television on in the background. As his mind had deteriorated he’d become more interested in television. Now he’d watch it twenty-four hours a day, if we let him, but sometimes I’d use it as a distraction when I visited him, so we could just sit together quietly. If the television wasn’t on he’d chatter on endless about bloody Dom Richards.
It had all started by him forgetting numbers and words he used every day. He couldn’t remember what his keys were called, what our meal was called, what colour his shirt was. The day he forgot my name was heart-breaking, he’d stood in front of me in tears because he couldn’t remember my name. It was then he admitted there was a problem, it wasn’t just his age, and finally he agreed to see his doctor.
After an almost endless round of tests and scans, and a referral to a Specialist, Jonathan was finally given his diagnosis; he had Alzheimer's Disease. It was so final and complete, no hope of treatment and cure, only pills to slow its progression. We had both withdrawn with that diagnosis, Jonathan into denial and me in hopelessness.
Jonathan’s ten years older than me and I had always expected that his health to fail before mine, I’d even silently prepared myself for it. I’d expected it would be something like cancer or heart disease, a slow disease that would gradually take away his physical abilities, and I would care for him throughout all of this. I never expected that it would be his mind that would fail, while his body remaining as healthy as mine.
To begin with, as his mind forgot the names of more things, Jonathan had reacted with anger. He’d get frustrated at his inability to remember and lash out in anger, rarely at me but usually at the object in question – at that time he broke three different kettles. Then, almost overnight it seemed, he forgot that he couldn’t remember. His lack of memory seemed of no concern to him, and he settled down into a happy fog of his Alzheimer's. At first, I’d been relived the anger had stopped, it was an anger that I couldn’t do anything to prevent. Only much later did I realise he’d begun to forget about me.
Even when he would forget my name he’d still remember who I was, his lover, but in that happy fog he forget who I was. He’d been calling me Dom for nearly two weeks when I realised what was happening. He’s forgotten about me, now he called me by the name of his first lover because that was all he could remember. When I realised that, I locked myself away in our bathroom and wept.
He’d met Dom Richards back in the seventies. Jonathan had come to London to be gay, a desperate teenager from the valleys, and Dom was only the third man he’d slept with yet they fell into a relationship. Dom, though, was the cliché of the self-hating closet case. He was terrified that anyone would find out he was gay; he would only meet Jonathan at gay clubs or at his own flat, nowhere else. Dom drank heavily which would lead to fights and they often ended with Dom hitting Jonathan. They would breakup, only to be back together a week later, with drunken sex. As abusive as their relationship was Jonathan couldn’t break away from it, the pull of sex with Dom was too great.
His escape came when Dom was arrested and later jailed for attacking another man outside a club. Dom was gone from Jonathan’s life for six months and with that absence Jonathan was finally able to break away from their relationship.
It was many years after this that I meet Jonathan but part of him was still hurting from that relationship and it shocked me how much. I was such an innocent back then. But the longer we were together the less hold and hurt Dom Richards had over him. I was quietly proud of that.
When Jonathan called me Dom it broke my heart. I struggled on for nearly six months after that but as each day passed I coped less. Jonathan would chatter on about things he’d obviously done with Dom Richards and inside I would scream with frustration. I should have been the one he remembered, not that bastard. In the end I told our social worker I couldn’t cope and she made the arrangements for Jonathan to move into this Care Home.
The staff here are so good with Jonathan and they treat me the same as any other spouse, but I still feel a failure. I’m his lover and I should be the one looking after him, allowing him to move in here has meant that I’ve failed in my promise to him. I visit him every day but it still isn’t the same, I should be doing more even if he doesn’t love me anymore because he’s forgotten who I am.
“Dom, remember that day we went down to Brighton?” Jonathan suddenly announced.