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Phoebe Ayers @phoebe_ayers
, 15 tweets, 3 min read Read on Twitter
Happy New Year. I just spoke to my father, & here is a small story about the act of speaking.
I live & work with words as a writer, reader, & organizer of written work. My father, though not much of a writer, also loved words. At my childhood dinner table, the dictionary was a common companion. He would make me look up words I didn't know & we would talk about them. 2/
He didn't read as much as my mother did, but then few people do. He read a lot though, and loved books. He also loved to talk. I would have to plan my phone calls for when I had a free hour or two. 3/
I write in the past tense bc now my father had a type of dementia, combined with visual impairment, that makes it impossible to read & difficult to talk. He forgets what he is trying to say halfway through saying it, or can't remember the right word. 4/
He has not forgotten what some people forget: names, or faces. Nor has he forgotten his past or present, beyond some general confusion about what is happening day to day. He gets easily spatially disoriented; otherwise, it's mainly lost words. 5/
Not being able to say what you mean is terribly frustrating. On good days, he has enough self-awareness to talk about it. Today was a good day. I asked if the words were like blanks, or gaps. He said he knows what he means to say but can't express it. The words aren't there. 6/
They are slippery. Sometimes he can put in analogues. He doesn't use placeholders too much (that thing, whatchamacallit). Instead thoughts trail off unexpressed. Whatever causes the words to fade sometimes causes the thought to go too. 7/
What were you saying, dad? I will ask, and he will say I don't know, and sometimes that means confusion & sometimes it means the word is gone. To speak, to communicate, is what makes thought & consciousness visible. To be locked out is heartbreaking, 8/
And I find myself hoping that he does forget, is forgetful, to ease the sting of not being able to say what you mean.

My father is infinitely sweet and gentle; not as angry as I'd be. Whatever stole his words stole some sharp edges too. His life is pretty constrained now. 9/
To speak makes us human. I studied literature bc I believe this: that the stories we tell make our civilization & ourselves what we are. And communicating clearly is the only hope we have to get ourselves out of the jams we are in: to bring peace, to understand our science. 10/
My father cannot tell his own story anymore. He can't easily tell you what he is thinking, or suggest a new restaurant, or casually remark on the news. He can't read the latest best seller & then tell you how bad it is. Small talk is the only kind, & it is momentous. But. 11/
He can listen, and agree at the right moments - wow, he'll say, or maybe that's interesting, or I love you. He can listen, & agree if you give him choices. Yep! He's very easy-going, though his lack of words sometimes leaves him adrift in his own thoughts. 12/
It is only because my father could once speak for hours at a go that I know him. He used those words to teach me, to argue & praise, to tell me his stories. Now I reconstruct, use those pieces of past words like DNA fragments to fill in what he tries to say today. 13/
So in between the quotidian New year's resolutions - the gym and the activism and the work and the flossing and the rest - I want to listen. For the present, for the future. For my father who cannot say much but is still there. 14/fin
PS I should also say: my dad also still laughs at goofball jokes and puns, and sometimes still makes small jokes too. We have a fine time, based on a lifetime of being happily ridiculous.
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