By Zach Semel
A few months after I get back from Europe, I’m in the back seat as my dad drives down East 72nd Street toward 2nd Avenue, luxurious building lobbies flashing by in golden blurs.
Thirteen floors up, we knock on their apartment door. My heels tap anxiously on the hallway carpeting. The door opens, letting out a dull glow.
“Hi, sweetie,” my grandma says, strained, wrapping me in a warm Columbia-sweatshirt hug. I kiss her on the cheek. We put our coats down in the corner. The living room and dining room are one open space furnished with a long, maroon, leather couch and a wooden coffee table streaked to appear aged.
“How’s Grandpa?” I ask.
“He’s asleep,” she says.
Past the closed door of the quiet bedroom, the bathroom smells barren—no more of that familiar shaving-cream air. As far as I’m concerned, his lifelong brand was classic Barbasol in the stubby navy-blue bottles—the ones you trip over in the street the day after Halloween. He had always smelled like it, as if he had just gotten back from a 1980s barbershop. But he doesn’t use that stuff anymore; my dad got him an electric razor because he’s been cutting his cheeks up so badly. I see the shampoo he used to use, too—Pert, those bright green bottles like apple-scented cleaner. The mirror seems dirty now, and they don’t keep many pills in the medicine cabinet, “or he’ll hide them.”
In all the stories I read about Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s or whatever—the disease makes people forget these peripheral things. Where they put the electricity bills, bank statements. Where their favorite restaurant is. Who their children are. But what I was not prepared for was how he forgot how to take care of himself.