There’s an aggravating question that’s become a regular presence in my life since Dad moved in with me, and it’s an even bigger part of my life these days: When is something really something, and when is it really nothing at all?

Does this sound confusing? Let me give you an example. I’ve been noticing little memory glitches since Dad’s last hospital visit a couple months ago. First, during the middle of a large family reunion last month, Dad for a few moments talked to me as though I were his twin brother (one of the reunion guests), but we were in the car, which was filled with cousins, so I paused and passed it off as fatigue, since he was only two weeks out of the rehab center. It was really nothing at all.

A couple weeks ago, I made kind of a big deal of moving the antique mantle clock I inherited from my mother’s parents from its usual spot on the living room table where Dad and I usually eat dinner. The table is slowly collapsing on itself, and I had discovered that a crack in one of the legs was growing, so I moved the clock to safer ground one night after dinner and explained the reason to Dad, who agreed with the move. Then, five days later, he looked at the table and asked, “Where’d the big clock go?” When I reminded him of our earlier conversation, just five days previous, he had no recollection. I mentioned the incident to my stepsister, who went on to tell me all the ways her overstressed and aging memory played tricks on her – it was really nothing at all.

Last night, as I was fixing dinner, Dad asked if we were going to be having dinner by candlelight. I asked him what he meant, and he pointed to the two large candlesticks – really, just repurposed spindles from an old knitting mill – on the same living room dinner table. “Well, you’ve got candles on the table,” he said. “Dad, those candlesticks have been sitting on the table in the same spot ever since you moved here a year and a half ago.” He did one of those goofy V-8 commercial forehead slaps and said, “Really, I never noticed them before.” Really, it was nothing at all.

Also last night, while watching TV in my bedroom I heard Dad talking on his phone down in the living room. He was talking to a hotel reservation clerk, about a trip he’s taking a few weeks from now (against my advice), flying to St. Louis and then driving 90 miles to his 60th college reunion in the little town of Rolla, Mo. He’ll be spending the first night in St. Louis before making the drive, spending the next night in Rolla for the reunion dinner, then driving back to St. Louis for a last night before catching the plane back first thing in the morning. The conversation I heard was with the St. Louis hotel, about the two, non-consecutive nights he’d be spending there. After that call, he spoke with his lady-friend in St. Louis, with whom he’ll be having dinner both nights he’s in the Gateway City. A few minutes after he hung up from that call, he called the hotel back and must have gotten the same desk clerk – he wanted to make a reservation for one of the nights he’d already reserved, not 30 minutes earlier. “Oh, I already did that?” I heard him ask. “Yes, I’m fine, I’m alright,” I then heard him respond to the clerk, who was apparently concerned that something might be wrong, but it was really nothing at all.

So, now I’m wondering if all these nothing-at-all’s are, maybe, adding up to something. But, short of some sort of brain scan – if that would even pick anything up – or other kinds of diagnostic testing, there may not be any way to find an answer. My gut tells me there’s something going on, and I’ve learned over time that my gut is often right. However, the thought of what it could be is pretty darned scary, so I guess until I find out something is really wrong, I’ll keep watching for new signs but keep hoping that it’s really nothing at all.

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