Many years ago, as a teenager, I would stay up to watch Jack Paar’s late-night show on my salvaged Admiral TV set, with a 17” round picture tube. (I can almost hear someone saying, “What’s a ‘picture tube’?”) The TV was in such bad shape that I had to add a voltage transformer to soup up the high-voltage circuits and get a full-size black-and-white picture on the old cathode-ray tube.
One of my favorite of Paar’s guests was the great raconteur Alexander King. One of King’s several memoirs was titled “I should have kissed her more.” Looking back now, almost four years after Molly died and on what would have been her 78th birthday, my first thought was of the title of that book. In my mind, I said, “Yes, I should have kissed her more!” But then I remembered our last kiss, the day I left on what was supposed to be a short cross-country trip to get the little mobile home in California ready for our first Summer vacation there. I needed to have a wheelchair ramp installed since Molly could no longer climb stairs.
As I was preparing to leave, Molly looked up at me and asked, “Why do you love me?” It was a question on two levels. On the face of it, she may have been thinking of our forty-plus years together and the many problems in our turbulent life together. I don’t mean to suggest that it was a “problematic” relationship; there was much happiness, too. It was not the sort of pairing in which each partner clings madly to what he or she wishes the other to be, all the while striking out in anger at how she or he was being treated and in fear of being abandoned. No, while not denying the pain and distress we sometimes caused each other, it was a deeply committed relationship based on an emotional and intellectual match that resulted in a great net balance of love and joy.
More deeply, I now realize that her question may not have been based on her thinking about our relationship but, rather, on her increasing difficulty in thinking at all, after two decades of struggle with Parkinson’s Disease. I understood this only after Molly’s generous final wish was carried out: the donation of her brain to a long-term Parkinson’s Disease research program. I had not expected to receive the formal final report from the research team that described a degenerative process called “Lewy Body Disease,” not thought to be directly caused by Parkinson’s but often seen along with it. Unlike Parkinson’s, which attacks the cells that make a crucial neurotransmitter chemical, Lewy Body Disease is characterized by tangles of protein within neurons throughout the brain, eventually killing so many that thought itself is compromised. Now I understood why in one of her last hospitalizations Molly told nurses, “My husband has stolen all my money and is out spending it on floozies!”
Months later, out of the hospital, Molly didn’t remember those comments, but we laughed together when I explained to her what went on during those difficult recovery days in the hospital. But the issue didn’t completely disappear. In her final months, our home helper Jean told me how when I was working in the living room with a woman who was helping me deal with medical financial issues Molly would peek around the corner to see, as Jean said, “If they were up to anything!”
When Molly asked me that day, “Why do you love me?” my answer was a kiss. Then I said, “Because I do; love has no reason.” And now, on this day of memory, I know that there was no dearth of kisses, even as, at the same time, I feel that I should have kissed her more.