Transcript

269:

Someone to Watch Over Me
Transcript

Originally aired 07.16.2004

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Full audio: http://tal.fm/269

Prologue.

Ira Glass

OK, America, here's something you don't run into every day, a six-month pregnant lady sitting on a tractor.

Susie Drury

Do you want me to start it?

John Drury

Sure.

Susie Drury

OK.

Ira Glass

Susie lived on the farm for years before she ever got onto the tractor. Her husband, John, is the farmer in the family. Susie's here in rural Tennessee because of him.

Susie Drury

I was never like a person who idealized farm life. I didn't grow up on farm, I grew up in the suburbs. We didn't have a garden, like I didn't have any romance about farming. I knew people who grew up on farms and they were just poor. That was my idea of farming, more or less.

Ira Glass

She first got on the tractor because she had to, after John had a scare in the spring with a neurologic disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome. The timing was pretty bad. They'd already done the part of farming where you spend all the money to get the seeds into the ground. And then literally, the day before the first harvest, the day before they were going to take the stuff to market for the first time, when they would first be making money, John went into the hospital.

John Drury

Eventually I was paralyzed, quadriplegic. I couldn't swallow, couldn't walk, talk, couldn't shut my eyes, couldn't sleep. And we had no other help on the farm regularly, so we just decided to write off this year's farming.

Ira Glass

At that point, Susie was five-months pregnant, going to the hospital every day, where John needed more and more help. He's fine now, but at the time they were scared. He was losing all neurologic control of all of his muscles and they had no idea how bad it was going to get.

Susie was also caring for their four year old daughter, and they didn't have much family nearby to rely on. They'd just moved to the area two years before, didn't know people so well. Didn't belong to a church. They knew the farmers in the farmers market, but didn't really socialize with them. They'd never been at each others' homes. for example. And so they were surprised when the farmers at the farmer's market but up a sign in John's booth at the market, explaining his illness, collecting money for him.

Susie Drury

They opened up a fund, which I was-- they said, do you mind if we do that? And at first I just thought, yeah. I said to John or I said to John's sister, does that mean people think we're poor? I felt like a fund? You know, it just felt like well, we kind of need a fund. It's like, all right, right. So I said, OK, fine. So they set up this bank account as the fund and they collected all this money.

Susie and John's next door neighbor came by every day for six weeks and harvested their flowers and sold them from her booth at the market, giving the money to Susie and John.

A customer made two paintings of flowers that Susie and John had grown, and sold the paintings with the money going to Susie and John.

The women in Susie's book club all wrote checks. Then one day, at the height of a farmer's busiest season, when spending any time away from the farm costs them money, 10 farmers came and spent the day working in John and Susie's fields. Which really touched John.

John Drury

They're taking the day off from their own farm. So they're sacrificing their farm to come out here.

Ira Glass

Meanwhile, at the preschool where Susie and John take their four year old, Hannah, a school which is not a small town farm school, but a school in a regular suburb of Nashville that they drive a half hour to get to, Susie was informed that the next few months of Hannah's tuition had been paid for. And one of the mothers from the preschool called Susie in the first week of all this trouble and said--

Susie Drury

If you need help with child care, you're going to need help with this. And she said, are you pregnant? Like you can't eat that hospital food. I said, yeah, but I couldn't coordinate. Like my mind wasn't-- I was trying to try to make sure John was getting the right care and make sure-- I was still trying to keep farm things kind of going. So my brain for coordination was just shot. And she said, we're just going to make a plan here about some of this and we'll just run it by you. And I said, that's great.

Ira Glass

Next thing Susie knew, they were handing her a schedule of parents who were going to bring food to the hospital every night. And families who would take Hannah after school every day for the next two weeks.

Susie Drury

That, to me, was sort of a really-- I mean, I was surprised how much we needed it. I thought we could just sort of patch it together and I could just come home and we just couldn't do it. We just couldn't do it.

Ira Glass

It changes things having people reach out to like that. Before John got sick, Susie sometimes still had a little daydream of what her life would have been like if she had moved to a big city, like her college friends did.

She pictured going out to neighborhood restaurants, hanging out with people. But she says this experience made her feel like she had her life in Tennessee, like she could never move.

Susie Drury

There's always been a feeling of like, how did I land here exactly? And I feel now like it feels like just where we need to be. I just feel like everybody I've told about it, who live in all the places, or have all the lives that I sometimes think might have been mine in other ways--

Ira Glass

People in New York and Chicago and Minnesota?

Susie Drury

People in big cities or in funky, cool places that I sort of think maybe would have been nice or whatever. They all seemed so shocked that people would surround us and help us this way. And I feel shocked at that. I feel like it doesn't feel easy to come by.

Ira Glass

Well, from WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it's This American Life, I'm Ira Glass.

Today on our program, "Someone to Watch Over Me." Stories of people stepping in to help other people, whether they're ready for it or not. Act One of our program today, "Doctoring the Doctor," in which a wife cares for her husband who is the worst kind of patient of all. Namely, a physician. Act Two, "The Over-Protective Kind," in which a husband worries about his wife's safety on a very dangerous adventure that she's undertaking to a beach resort. Act Three, "Are You a Man, or Are You a Mouse." Aimee Bender contemplates what to do if your man changes from one to the other, literally. Stay with us.

Act One. Doctoring The Doctor.

Ira Glass

Act One, "Doctoring the Doctor." Douglas Forde spent his life taking care of others, as a physician in Los Angeles. But in 2003, he had some strokes and was diagnosed with a kind of dementia, something called multi-infarct dementia. It's related to Alzheimer's. Douglas' wife, Jo Giese, is a radio journalist, usually for the radio program Marketplace. And she made dozens of hours of tapes over the course of eight months when she was caring for him and had people in and out of the house taking care of him.

The kind of situation that Douglas got into at this point in his life is the kind of thing that happens all the time now, but didn't just 25 or 30 years ago. What's happened is that we've gotten so good at keeping people alive for years that they survive to create a whole community, an economy, a family of people who care for them. Douglas and Jo's house turned into a kind of mini hospital, of people caring for Douglas. Here's Jo's story.

Jo Giese

In January 2003, I found my husband asleep in a pool of blood, the back of his head sliced open from a fall on the bathroom floor. He was hospitalized and his doctor thought he might die.

Six months later he had a massive stroke that left him unable to talk, walk, write. He was incontinent. Again, his doctor thought he might die. It's after this second false alarm with death, and after three and a half years of Douglas being ill, three and a half years of caring for him, not sure what else to do with myself, that I grabbed my tape recorder. I start recording on Father's Day.

Padrina

Is there anything else we need to put on the tape?

Jo Giese

Padrina's 35 and she's from Belize. She has the sturdy body of a weightlifter, which is important because if Douglas falls again I need someone who can lift him. Douglas is so wobbly that for his safety he's confined to the first floor of our two-story house. In fact, he even sleeps downstairs in a hospital bed in the living room. It's just two weeks since his massive stroke. Now he's using a wheelchair, sometimes a walker.

Jo Giese

We're going to close this a little bit. Padrina, why don't you help Douglas come in.

Padrina's not a nurse. She has no professional or medical training. During the week she works at a print shop printing up business cards. She's a caregiver. Its work usually done by new immigrants. I've had over a dozen of them living with us 24 hours a day for the past six months. The caregivers bathe Douglas, trim his nails, shave him, cook for him, dress him. In those long periods when there's nothing to do for Douglas, they also help around the house. They do some light housekeeping. To help Douglas remember Padrina's name, I've written it on all the white boards I've placed around the house since he's been sick. I also made her a name tag.

Jo Giese

And we'll put him over there on that side and we'll just do it buffet style.

In all the pre-party chaos, none of us notice that Douglas is no longer in the living room in his wheelchair. We look for him everywhere. Out on the patio, on the deck. I find him at the top of the stairs clinging to the banister for dear life.

Jo Giese

What happened? How did you happen to go upstairs?

Douglas Forde

I just thought I'd go upstairs.

Jo Giese

He doesn't remember that he hasn't been upstairs in weeks.

Jo Giese

You don't really have the strength to go upstairs anymore.

Douglas Forde

Well, I've been doing it for 84 years.

Jo Giese

Yeah, but we're in a different condition in your life right now.

Were you just going to rest here a moment?

Douglas Forde

Yeah.

Jo Giese

I get him a chair. While he's catching his breath I find Padrina.

Jo Giese

Padrina, come here a second. If I ever ask you to do something like to back him downstairs because people are coming, your main job is to just keep your eyes on Douglas. What happened?

Padrina

Exactly. My job is a nurse, not nurse slash maid.

Jo Giese

OK, but Shoni does housework and she keeps an eye on him. But we've had three examples of this now. This can't go on.

Padrina

It's scary. I guess he's not supposed to stay by himself.

Jo Giese

Well, he's never by himself.

Padrina

Yes, of course, never. Even when I use the restroom, I keep a crack on the door. I use it real quick and I keep peeking on him. It takes one second. That's all it took.

Jo Giese

OK. So in the future we'll just keep an eye on him a little bit more.

Padrina

Exactly.

Jo Giese

OK, well, I'm going to go downstairs and make the lemonade for the party. You're going to stay up here and watch over his shoulder.

Padrina

OK.

Jo Giese

It scares me whenever a caregiver isn't paying attention. I already experienced the shock of finding Douglas once in a pool of blood, I couldn't bear to find him at the bottom of the stairs with a broken neck.

With everything else going on, I'm now managing all these people in my own home. We have two shifts of live-in caregivers. One's Monday to Thursday and the other's Thursday to Sunday. There are six different caregivers rotating in and out, and that doesn't include the visiting nurses and a physical therapist.

Shoni

Good morning, did you get my message?

Jo Giese

Yeah, this I did. This is Shoni. She's 53 years old and from the Philippines. She works the Monday to Thursday shift. Shoni's been with us a month. She's been doing this work forever. She's seen a lot of her clients die. Whenever this happens, she flies back home to the Philippines for a couple of weeks to recover.

Douglas Forde

Good morning.

Shoni

Good morning, Douglas.

Douglas Forde

How are you?

Shoni

Fine. I'm sorry I am late a little bit. It's the traffic.

Douglas Forde

I understand the traffic's bad.

Shoni

It's bumper to bumper.

Jo Giese

Then there's Evelyn, a visiting nurse from St. John's Hospital. She's kind of seen it all. We enjoy each other. We call each other by our nicknames. She calls me Josie, I call her Evie. On days when Evie isn't making house calls, another nurse, Amanda, stops by. Amanda's style is way too perky for me.

Amanda

OK, I'm going to listen to your heart, and your lungs, and your tummy, and check your blood pressure. And then we'll take you blood and run it to the lab.

Jo Giese

I cringe when she tells my husband that she's going to look at his tummy. The thing that kills me though, is that if Douglas were his old self, he would too. As a physician, he practiced medicine with a certain elegance. Never in a million years would he have spoken baby talk to a patient.

Amanda

Give me a smile. Good.

Jo Giese

And then there's Shirley. She's a weekend substitute. She's from Little Rock, Arkansas. She's 61, stylish, and she laughs easily.

There's also Don, the physical therapist. He comes in three times a week.

And then we have our unofficial maintenance crew. Each time Douglas's condition changes, Brad comes by to install more handrails and grab bars in the house. Bill comes to clean the carpet. He hasn't been here since Douglas fell in January. There's still some blood from that accident to cleanup.

Bill

Sorry to be so nosy. I'm just curious, what do the doctors have to say about him? My dad passed away and he lived in the living room for a year, so I just know that's another step in the progression of downwardness. Sorry to say.

Jo Giese

Having so many people coming in and out of the house, sometimes I feel like I'm getting to know way too many people way too well. At this point, there's not much the caregivers and I don't know about each other.

Take Shoni. At night, she wears a red nightie, and every Thursday she rolls her short black hair in pink rollers.

Shirley spends her off hours at Hollywood Park, the race track, betting on the horses.

And Padrina never misses a Lakers game on TV. In turn, they probably know I'm drinking too much. I need this crowd of people to help me run this mini hospital. Except after six months, I'm fed up with never having any privacy. So I just made a sign from my bedroom door. No entrance. Stay out. Except nobody's paying any attention to my sign. They still waltz right in on me. I'll be sitting on the toilet and there they are.

I've always thought of myself as a go with the flow person, someone with a little grace under pressure. But after months of caregivers living in my home, drinking my coffee out of my cups, packing my refrigerator with their buns and noodles, I have a short fuse.

But I can't blow up at them because then they'll walk off the job. So I suck it up.

Meanwhile, all the simple comforts of marriage are gone. Douglas and I no longer share a bed, and it's Shoni, not me, who tucks my husband in for the night.

Shoni

Okie dokie. While you are sitting, I gave you your medication, OK?

Douglas Forde

OK.

Shoni

Got it?

Douglas Forde

Yeah, I got it.

Jo Giese

Between the medications and the dementia, Douglas's whole personality has changed. He's pulling in to himself. He can't stand it when I touch him. But I still reach out, still try to connect with this man who was once the big love of my life.

Jo Giese

OK, I'm going to go upstairs and take a bath. Shoni will be here.

Douglas Forde

Shoni will be here.

Jo Giese

Would you like me to stay here with you a little bit?

What I want him to say is yes. I want to sit by him as long as I can.

Douglas Forde

No, Jo, don't. Don't bother. I know you're going to have a good bath.

Jo Giese

That's not the point, Doogle. Would you like me to sit here with you a little bit? Would that be a comfort to you?

Douglas Forde

OK. You can do it, Jo.

Jo Giese

Because sometimes it's confusing. I don't know if you are more comfortable just by yourself resting or if it's more of a comfort if I'm here.

Douglas Forde

Well, as a matter of fact, once I receive a notice that I'm going to go to sleep, I'm going to go to sleep. Do you follow that?

Jo Giese

Yeah.

Douglas Forde

I like to go to sleep.

Jo Giese

OK.

Douglas Forde

Do you follow that?

Jo Giese

Yeah. Good night Doogle.

Douglas Forde

Good night.

Jo Giese

Marooned upstairs in my bedroom I lie awake and listen to Douglas breathing on the monitor. Sleep is impossible, so most nights I wander back downstairs and look for Shoni. The rooms are dark. I usually find her in the kitchen watching TV. Then I pour myself another glass of wine or two, or three. Shoni usually has tea. We talk about her son, her new grandchild, how much we both like to dance.

One night in July she tells me she's worried that when Douglas has another stroke the two of us won't be able to lift him. Recently he slid off the toilet and we had to call the fire department to pick him up from the bathroom floor. So far I've had no luck finding a male caregiver, or at least a woman who's Douglas's size. And I just let Padrina go.

It takes weeks to find someone to replace her and during that time I care for him alone three days a week. I hate some parts of the job and I can tell that Douglas hates me doing them too. When I help him with his personal hygiene he gets this pained look on his face.

One day I'm watching Shoni give Douglas a sponge bath. He's naked on the bed except for one strategically placed towel. And she's scrubbing him with a white terry cloth wash cloth when he turns to me and says--

Douglas Forde

I would just assume that you didn't watch all of this.

Jo Giese

You don't want me to watch?

Douglas Forde

No, I don't.

Jo Giese

OK, I'll go away.

How would you like it, he asks, if I watched you?

It's taken a few weeks, but I've just found a new weekend caregiver. Vicky's from Bulgaria. She's 27. And like most caregivers, she's perfectly qualified for some other line of work.

Vicky

I had my master degree in economics. My specialties marketing and trading.

Jo Giese

Vicky came to the US less than a year ago with her boyfriend, who's trying to get permanent legal residency. She wears green Spandex bicycle pants. She has a beautiful smile. We can use some light an laughter in this house.

Jo Giese

So Douglas, this is Vicky.

Vicky

Hello.

Douglas Forde

Hi Vicky.

Vicky

Good morning, how are you?

Douglas Forde

I'm well. How are you?

Vicky

Fine, thank you.

Jo Giese

Vicky has an easy rapport with Doogle and he's charmed by her.

One morning I walk into the kitchen to find her teaching him the Bulgarian word for French toast.

Jo Giese

So, how are you doing this morning, Doogle?

Douglas Forde

[UNINTELLIGIBLE].

Jo Giese

You went upstairs, you had a shower, you've read some of the newspaper.

Douglas Forde

[UNINTELLIGIBLE].

Jo Giese

Come on, Douglas.

Douglas Forde

[UNINTELLIGIBLE]. What do you want?

Jo Giese

I'm just asking you how you're feeling this morning?

[LAUGHTER]

Douglas Forde

[UNINTELLIGIBLE].

[LAUGHTER]

Jo Giese

Why are the two of you laughing?

[LAUGHTER]

Jo Giese

OK, what are your plans for the day? You guys just going to sit around and laugh?

I'm pleased someone unleashes the laughter in Doogle. But for me, I'm the one who's holding everything together. It feels like I haven't laughed in a year. I wake up angry, I go to bed angry.

As you can imagine, money is hemorrhaging out of our bank account. I'm spending over $1,000 a week on caregivers. I've heard about people who end up selling their houses to finance this kind of care. Since Douglas doesn't drive anymore, a few weeks ago we talked about selling his car. At the time, he thought it was a good idea.

Today, as I'm leaving to show his car to a possible buyer, I remind him about our decision. That turns out to be a big, fat mistake.

Jo Giese

One of the errands I'm doing this morning is I'm taking your car to the Pacific Palisades. Don, the physical therapist, has a client there who might want to buy it.

Douglas Forde

Well, I would really prefer because I'm ready now actually, I would really prefer not selling it and keeping it.

Jo Giese

Why would you want to keep it?

Douglas Forde

To drive it.

Jo Giese

Who drive it?

Douglas Forde

Me drive it.

Jo Giese

You know you don't have a driver's license? You surrendered your driver's license after you had that stroke in January.

Douglas Forde

I really hate it when you refer to that little episode that I had as a stroke. A stroke is not a stroke. A stroke is not what you're talking about. A stroke is where you can't get out of bed because your whole left side is useless.

Jo Giese

That's true, of course. But what he's forgetting is that happened to him. He really did have a stroke. A massive one.

Douglas Forde

You want to talk to your friends about it, you can refer to it as what it was. It was a TIA, a ischemic attack. That's a spasm. A stroke is a clot. You need to go to medical school in order to learn what a stroke is.

Jo Giese

OK.

Douglas Forde

I really mean that.

Jo Giese

Douglas and I fell in love on our third date. For 17 years it was the easiest relationship either of us ever knew. To turn away from your beloved, to waste a single day in anger, that's the luxury of the young. We knew life was too short.

When he was well, Douglas was an extraordinary listener. Now there's no listening.

Douglas Forde

During these four months, she has really not felt well, but has difficulty in describing it.

Jo Giese

Just the other day, I found his old dictaphone, the one he used when he was practicing medicine. And in between notes for patients' charts, he accidentally recorded a phone call he made to me. It begins with a sentence he'd never say today.

Douglas Forde

Hello, I was just phoning you to see how you are. OK, that's what I thought. So I just going to say hello and I will probably be home about 2:30, 3 o'clock. Yeah, what time do you meet him? Well, I'll come over to the house first. Yeah. All right, bye.

Jo Giese

It's the most ordinary kind of phone call in the world. Two people checking in. And today, even though he's the one with that thousand mile blank stare, and he's the one losing his memory, it's like I'm losing mine too. It's hard to get up the habit of talking to Douglas about every little thing. I keep forgetting that an easy husband-wife chat is no longer possible.

Jo Giese

How are you feeling about the caregivers who are here in the house. Vicky and Shoni?

Douglas Forde

I think get them out. I don't like having people around the house.

Jo Giese

But there is a need for them.

Douglas Forde

In what way is there a need for daily nursing? I don't need people here all the time. I notice that when people are here all the time, you're not here. It's as though you're replacing, you're being replaced.

Jo Giese

Well, I agree with you. It's a change.

Douglas Forde

Like yesterday, I was really tired of having people around.

See, what's difficult for you to understand is that we are so different.

Jo Giese

You don't need a host of friends coming in?

Douglas Forde

I don't need anybody except you.

Jo Giese

Hearing this gives me a chill. His whole world is now me. Douglas's life has gotten so small, it's confined to the living room, dining room, kitchen, powder room, the deck. But my life also has a short tether. If I go more than 12 miles from the house I get physically nauseous. I never thought that I'd have anything in common with Nancy Reagan, but when I read that when Ronnie was still alive Nancy didn't go any further than five minutes from their home, in a weird way I felt close to her.

It's the end of August. I don't know how much longer I can keep this up. Nine months ago Douglas's doctor urged me to consider a nursing home. But years before that Douglas filled out a medical directive, a standard form with check boxes we got at the stationery store. He marked each box carefully: no life support, must be able to care for himself, communicate meaningfully with others. And then at the bottom of the page in his beautiful, old-fashioned handwriting he added, don't want to go to a rest home. Period. Just want to be at home. Period.

One day at his doctor's office while Douglas sits out in the waiting room with Vicky, I talk about this with Arman, his doctor.

Jo Giese

So, how long does this go on for. I mean, how do people hang in? I mean, I'm really serious.

Arman

Very tough. It could go on for 5 years, 10 years, 15 years.

Jo Giese

We would be totally out of money by then.

Arman

Well, these things can go-- have a life of their own. As long as he eats and has a good appetite and he's cared for, he could do fine.

Jo Giese

Could he get a full-blown Alzheimer's where he doesn't recognize me, doesn't recognize the dog?

Arman

Could he get a full-blown dementia that he can do this? The answer is, it's possible. It's highly probable I think in this case.

With medication, you're slowing the pace of the deterioration.

Jo Giese

In other words, the better we care for him, the longer he'll survive. And the more likely he'll live to the point where he doesn't even recognize me.

Not long after that appointment, Vicky, the one taught Douglas the Bulgarian word for French toast, quits. The hours are too hard for her, she says. And she has a four month old baby.

I call an agency I used once and explained that I need an older person, strong enough to lift my husband, and experienced enough so that when things get worse, they can point the way and tell me what to do.

I end up with Jenny, the youngest, smallest, most inexperienced caregiver of all the 17 people I've hired. She's 23, barely 5 feet tall, has been in the US only 4 months. She's never seen anyone die. She turns out to be perfect for the job.

Douglas continues to decline. By Christmas Eve he's able to sit at the table, but that takes all his energy. He doesn't talk. He just stares. In January, no matter how hot I make the house, Douglas can't get warm. Finally, he slips into a coma and dies February 1 at home of an infection. I just left the room for a second when it happened.

Jenny, his final caregiver, is with him when he takes his last breath. I speak with her a month after he died.

Jenny

Before he took his last breath, his breathing is harder and closer. But then, I said, he's not going to die at this moment. So I just walk to the window. And then in a few minutes I just heard one last breath. It's like [GASPING SOUND]. I said, oh, he's gone. Then I called you. I can't forget that.

Jo Giese

You cannot?

Jenny

Yeah, I cannot.

Jo Giese

Well, what's interesting to me about this process is since you were with him when he took his last breath, and you were with us, I don't ever want to lose contact with you. You are part of the family.

Jenny

What can I say?

Jo Giese

So we've become family, Jenny.

Jenny

Yeah. I feel that I am the member of your family too.

Jo Giese

It's weird, but I miss all the commotion. I miss everything and everyone. I miss the life and death urgency. After Douglas died and everyone cleared out of the house, it was so silent.

It wasn't just that he was gone, everything was gone. The people, the adjustable bed, the medicines, my mini hospital shut down. I suddenly had nothing to do. I was in shock. So I called Jenny and asked her to come stay with me for a few days.

Ira Glass

Joe Giese in Los Angeles.

[MUSIC- "SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME" BY RICKIE LEE JONES]

Coming up, a marriage where they serve and protect. She serves, he protects. Or, maybe it's the other way around. That's in a minute from Chicago Public Radio and Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Two. The Over-protective Kind.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life, I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program of course, we choose a theme, bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme.

Today's program, "Someone to Watch Over Me," we have stories of three couples. In each story one person taking care of the other. We've arrived at act two of our program. Act Two, The Over-Protective Kind. Veronica Chater tells this story. The setting, the Bay Area suburbs. The characters, her own mother and father.

Veronica Chater

Recently, my parents' marriage went through a few weeks of chaos when my mom announced that she was taking a vacation. Turns out, Noreen, her best friend of 40 years, was inviting her to Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, to spend a week in her timeshare.

My parents had been married for 45 years and they've never been apart for more than a day or two. What's more, in those 45 years, they've never taken a vacation. Partly because they've been raising 11 children and helping to raise 20 grandchildren. And partly because my dad's feelings about vacations go something like this.

Lyle

I detest shopping. I detest eating out. I detest motels. I detest beaches. I detest anything having to do with what most people go on vacations for. For me, it's the opposite of having fun. It's a purgatory.

Veronica Chater

Mom didn't even think of inviting him along. But as she began preparing for her trip, Dad began worrying. My dad is something of a safety net. He was a police officer and then a corporate security consultant. And as a result, he's the kind of guy who sees danger around every corner and is ready to defend himself and his family against any possible foe.

As I was growing up, whenever our birthdays came around, my brothers and sisters and I always knew the present from dad was going to be a weapon. A hunting knife say, or a rifle.

After I was the victim of a violent crime about 10 years ago, he only got worse. He took me out to buy a gun, a Colt 38 detective special, and taught me how to use it.

Then he wrote a book called The Protection Formula: Thinking like a Cop, to teach ordinary people to be more like him. These days, when he bicycles to work each day on a busy road in the California suburbs, he carries with him a fully stocked survival kit. Ace bandages, iodine, insulating blanket, and just to be on the safe side, a 10-inch long bayonet. He'd carry a gun if he could, but as a former cop, he'd never dream of breaking California's concealed weapons law.

Given all this, when my mom broke the news that she was heading on vacation to a foreign country, it meant only one thing to my dad-- peril.

Lyle

You get two quite naive women down there and my wife still has sex appeal as far as I'm concerned ant that's a case for worry. It isn't only that she still has sex appeal, it's the fact that there are bad people that will do things to compromise a middle-aged woman. They might think she's wealthy. Who knows what a depraved person will think. You don't know, there's plenty of them out there.

Veronica Chater

Do you think he's right to feel afraid?

Veronica's Mom

No, because of where we're going to be. When you're in a place like Puerta Vallarta, which is a resort town, and I've talked to several people that I've come in contact with that have been there, and it's been fine. And we're not that naive, my goodness sakes.

Veronica Chater

Do you really think Mom's being naive to say--

Lyle

Yes, I think she is. We've discussed this before. There's a state of mind that some people do not have. They don't have a vigilance about them. They don't suspect and that bothers me.

Veronica Chater

Dad had plenty of ideas about what might happen to mom in Puerta Vallarta. Someone could slip a Mickey into her drink. They could copy her hotel room key and follow her back to her room. Dad stewed about this for two weeks, and then one day he announced to my mom that he had no choice, he was coming with her. It would be the only way to ensure her safety.

Mom was stunned and stammered that of course, he'd be welcome to come. And then she quickly called Noreen. This wasn't the vacation either of them had in mind and they had to do some last minute juggling. They had to figure out sleeping arrangements. They had to buy another plane ticket. And while Mom went about shopping for swimsuits and suntan lotion, Dad started preparing for the trip in his own way. By faxing a letter to the Mexican consulate asking which weapons of self defense he could legally bring into the country.

I asked Dad to read a sample from the latter.

Lyle

Presumably, guns are not allowed there for travelers, but what about pepper spray and knives? I'm retired from law enforcement and therefore I know intimately, our state laws on bladed weapons, which are very specific as to length of blade, concealed and et cetera. And because I want to stay within the law in Mexico, I'd like to know specifics. What is the language of the laws as to blade length, concealment, folders versus fixed blades, gravity knives, and so on. Also, the laws on pepper spray or the like. And a final question, if we decide to rent a car and drive in the hinterland, is it possible to hire protection? For instance, off duty policeman.

Veronica Chater

Dad never did get a response to his letter. But he did hear from his law enforcement buddies that bringing a weapon into Mexico could land him in jail indefinitely. He began to worry that announcing his desire to enter the country armed might not have been the best way to introduce himself to the Mexican authorities.

Meanwhile, my mom began worrying about how my dad was going to fare on the trip. He's a creature of habit with a nightly ritual that he follows religiously.

Veronica's Mom

He comes in the kitchen, he has one shot of gin and he has a beer. And he's got his little hor d'oeurve there. He has certain things: radishes, carrots, onions, cheese. He's now into Gruyere. He likes the Gruyere. Then he sits down and has his meal. And then he has to go right to bed. That's it. And so there's no visiting. You don't do any-- I mean, he's got this thing. He does it. Every night, same thing. And he's so routinized it drives you crazy.

Veronica Chater

Does he watch a movie every night?

Veronica's Mom

Yeah, well not a movie. He never watches a movie. He's got six to eight pieces. He watches pieces of this, that, and the other. He's either looking for something and it a car that he saw, or there's a diner. Or there's a particular scene that reminds him of something. Or I don't know, he's just got his little-- yeah, all that stuff.

Veronica Chater

For a week my dad vacillated on his decision to go. Finally, he told mom he'd decided to stay home, blaming his change of heart on back pain. Mom was secretly relieved. The night before she left, as Dad offered last minute instructions on how to jam the hotel door shut with a chair, she wrote out her flight details and gave Dad a list of household chores. The next morning, she was gone.

Four days later, I dropped in to see how Dad's getting along. When I show up, the front door is locked. Something that never happens when Mom's around. I have to knock loudly twice. When he finally opens the door, Dad is unshaven. His white hair uncombed. All the windows are closed and the curtains shut.

Last night's video, Cast Away, sits on the TV set. I tell Dad he looks like he's the one who's stranded on a desert island. He pretends to find the joke funny, but he can't muster a smile.

Lyle

OK, so we go 011.

Veronica Chater

I suggest we call mom to check up on her.

Veronica's Mom

Well, we're just out. We cannot believe the humidity here, the heat. We've just had to stay in the hotel almost the whole time. It's dirty out there. Just dirty.

Lyle

You had to stay in the hotel?

Veronica's Mom

Yeah, we've just had to stay in here because we can't stand the heat.

Lyle

Oh my gosh. Well, that makes me feel better.

Veronica's Mom

It makes you feel better?

Lyle

Yeah. I'm almost to the point of being in a full depression here with you being away.

Veronica Chater

Mom knows just the words that will get Dad's attention: heat, dirt, thieves, danger all around.

Veronica's Mom

Well, we walked by some people and Noreen and I, we were just hanging on to our purses. We thought oh my gosh, Lyle was right. He should have come. For Pete's sake we're like, what are we in here? This is ridiculous. I don't know, but anyways.

Lyle

Haven't you done any shopping or gone--

Veronica's Mom

How can you shop? You can't even breathe out there.

Veronica Chater

Dad leans back in his chair. He's beaming. He looks genuinely pleased that he was right about everything. That mom is stuck in her hotel room, having no fun at all. Finally, when she knows Dad is all worked up, she drops the bomb.

Veronica's Mom

OK, now you want the real scoop now? You ready?

Lyle

Yes.

Veronica's Mom

OK, it's fabulous. Absolutely fabulous.

Lyle

Now I'm getting depressed again. I'm sorry, but I'm going to tell the truth here. Oh my gosh. In fact, we weren't here because we were laying by the pool.

Veronica Chater

The trip was just as they'd imagined it would be. No, better. The people were the friendliest she'd ever met. She and Noreen were buying tacos from street vendors, bartering with the local merchants, and attending mass in a Mexican church. You could hear in her voice that she was having the time of her life. And this was even before we saw the pictures of the young waiter pouring tequila and grenadine down her throat at dinner one night.

As Mom goes on, Dad's face slowly sinks into a frown. He looks disappointed and confused. Not a single bad thing happened? It was all good? He waits for Mom's effervescence to run out of fizz. And when it doesn't, he jumps in at the first opportunity.

Lyle

Let me interrupt. I couldn't find the freezer key.

Veronica's Mom

It's hanging above the washer. I showed you.

Lyle

OK, I'll look. And I couldn't find your checkbook.

Veronica Chater

Then, when Mom asks Dad how he's doing, he gives her all the grisly details of the lousy time he's been having in her absence.

Lyle

Those packaged foods things you bought me are awful.

Veronica's Mom

You're kidding?

Lyle

Our best meal since you've been gone has been Jack in the Box.

Veronica's Mom

Did you put those in the oven?

Lyle

Yeah, I cooked them.

Veronica's Mom

Oven or the microwave?

Lyle

In the microwave.

Veronica's Mom

No, oven is always better for those things.

Lyle

Well, it's too late.

Veronica's Mom

Those are expensive. Those should be really good, Lyle.

Lyle

Well, they weren't.

Veronica Chater

When Dad hangs up the phone, he sinks further into self pity. All these years he'd been living under the misconception that he was the one in charge. The man with the badge, worried and over-protetive, and laying down rules. But in fact, she is the one who takes care of him. Without Mom at home to look after him, Dad was defenseless.

Lyle

I wanted her to go and have a good time I'm just nervous. I'm so used to having her presence here. It's incredible. It's physical. You can't see it coming. All of a sudden she's gone. She's not here. There's a different aura in the house.

Veronica Chater

What does the house feel like?

Lyle

Cold. She really is, she has a radiance about her. And she brightens things and it's gone.

Veronica Chater

My mom survived the trip and my dad did too. And he even found his way to the right location at the airport to pick up Mom. True, he did arrive more than an hour late. Mom let him know she wasn't too happy about that. And once she got home she reprimanded him for being a hopeless housekeeper and a terrible gardener. But Mom could have scolded Dad all she like. He was enjoying every minute of it. You could see it in his face as she lined up the sliced radishes, counted out the correct number of olives, and made his salad just the way he likes it.

Ira Glass

Veronica Chater in Northern California.

[MUSIC- "SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME" BY STING]

Act Three. Are You A Man Or A Mouse?

Ira Glass

Act Three, "Are You a Man or Are You a Mouse?"

Well, we close our show with this story of a woman taking care of her man. Who, like the other men on today's program, is not always doing so well. Aimee Bender tells the story. A warning to listeners that she mentioned sex in here.

Aimee Bender

My lover is experiencing reverse evolution. I tell no one. I don't know how it happened, only that one day he was my lover and the next he was some kind of ape.

It's been a month and now he's a sea turtle. I keep him on the counter in a glass baking pan filled with salt water. Ben, I say to his small, protruding head, can you understand me? And he stares with eyes like little droplets of tar. And I drip tears into the pan, a sea of me.

He is shedding a million years a day. I'm no scientist, but this is roughly what I've figured out. I went to the old biology teacher at the community college and asked him for an approximate timeline of our evolution. He was irritated at first. He wanted money. I told him I'd be happy to pay and then he cheered up quite a bit.

I can hardly read his timeline. He should have typed it. And it turns out to be wrong. According to him, the whole process should take about a year, but from the way things are going, I think we have less than a month left.

At first, people called on the phone and asked me, where was Ben? Why wasn't he at work? Why did he miss his lunch date with those clients? His out of print special order book on civilization had arrived at the bookstore, would he please come pick it up? I told them he was sick, a strange sickness, and to please stop calling. The stranger thing was, they did. They stopped calling.

After a week, the phone was silent and Ben, the baboon, sat in a corner by the window wrapped up in drapery chattering to himself.

The last day I saw him human he was sad about the world. This was not unusual, he was always sad about the world. It was a large reason why I loved him. We'd sit together and be sad and think about being sad and sometimes discussed sadness.

On his last human day he said, Annie, don't you see? We're all getting too smart. Our brains are just getting bigger and bigger and the world dries up and dies when there's too much thought and not enough heart. He looked at me pointedly, blue eyes unwavering. Like us, Annie, he said. We think far too much.

On his last human day, he put his head in his hands and sighed. And I stood up and kissed the entire back of his neck. Covered that flesh, made wishes there because I knew no woman had ever been so thorough, had ever kissed his every inch of skin. I coated him. What did I wish for? I wished for good. That's all. Just good.

I took him in my arms and made love to have, my sad man. See we're not thinking, I whispered into his ear while he kissed my neck. We're not thinking at all. And he pressed his head into my shoulder and help me tighter.

Afterward, we went outside again. There was no moon and the night was dark. Then he told me he wanted to sleep outside for some reason. And in the morning, when I woke up in bed, I looked out to the patio and there was an ape sprawled on the cement. Great, furry arms covering his head to block out the glare of the sun.

Even before I saw the eyes, I knew it was him. And once we were face to face, he gave me his same sad look. I sat with him outside and smoothed the fur on the back of his hand. When he reached for me, I said, no, loudly and he seemed to understand and pulled back. I have limits here.

We sat on the lawn together and ripped up the grass. I didn't miss human Ben right away, I wanted to meet the ape too. But I didn't realize he wasn't coming back.

Now, I come home from work and look for his regular size shape walking and worrying, and realize over and over that he's gone. I pace the halls. I chew whole packs of gum in mere minutes. I review my memories and make sure they're still intact. Because if he's not here, then it is my job to remember.

I think of the way he wrapped his arms around my back and held me so tight it made me nervous. And the way his breath felt in my ear-- right.

When I go to the kitchen I peer in the glass and see he's some kind of salamander now. He's small. Ben, I whisper, do you remember me? Do you remember? His eyes roll up in his head and I dribble honey into the water. He used to love honey. He looks at it and then swims to the other end of the pan.

This is the limit of my limits. Here it is. You don't ever know for sure where it is and then you bump up against it and bam, you're there. Because I cannot bear to look down into the water and not be able to find him at all. To search the tiny clear waves with a microscope lens and to locate my lover, the one-celled wonder, brainless, benign, heading clear and small like an eye floater into nothingness.

I put him in the passenger seat of the car and drive him to the beach. Walking down the sand I nod at people on towels, laying their bodies out to the sun and wishing.

At the water's edge I stoop down and place the whole pan on the tip of a baby wave. Ben, the salamander, swims out. I wave to the water with both arms, big enough for him to see if he looks back. I turn around and walked back to the car.

Sometimes I think he'll wash up on shore, a naked man with a startled look who's been to history and back. I keep my eyes on the newspaper. I make sure my phone number is listed. I walk around the block at night in case he doesn't quite remember which house it is. I feed the birds outside and sometimes, before I put my one self to bed, I place my hands around my skull to see if it's growing and wonder what of any use, would fill it if it did.

Ira Glass

Aimee Bender. Her story "The Rememberer" appears in the book The Girl in the Flammable Skirt.

[MUSIC- "SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME" BY AMERICAN DRAFT]

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, that song performed for our show by the band American Draft. You can download an MP3 of what we believe is the world's only metal cover of this Gershwin classic at our web site, www.thisamericanlife.org. You can also listen to our programs for free there.

Our program was produced today by Lisa Pollak and myself, with Alex Blumberg, Diane Cook, Wendy Dorr, Jane Feltes and Sarah Koenig. Our senior producer is Julie Snyder. Elizabeth Meister runs our website. Production help from Todd Bachmann and Will [UNINTELLIGIBLE].

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

You know you can download audio of our program at audible.com/thisamericanlife. They have public radio programs, bestselling books, even the New York Times all at audible.com.

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who listens to our program each week this way.

Jo Giese

He's naked on the bed except for one strategically placed towel.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of this American life.

Announcer

PRI, Public Radio International.