pages The Day My Father Learns He Is Losing His Mind

by Deborah Jiang Stein

Published in Issue No. 162 ~ November, 2010

Table walnut diving. My father says he sees these words swim away.
First one, then the other two, these words float from a once measured
vocabulary that constructed dense paragraph-long sentences which only
sprouted after ponderous pauses of analyzing every word as if a
mathematical problem, only he’s a scholar of seventeenth century
literature. But his little girl wants to talk about Winnie the Pooh,
not Paradise Lost.

The scholar measured language and life as if there were only one way
to the promised land, in a mind disciplined nearly military style. At
dining tables and cocktail parties where chatter snapped off, small
talk devoured by distinguished conversation, he held court and
inflicted silence on a room as he lingered to capture his thoughts.

My father’s roots in a New England flower shop and pool halls set him
on a footpath to Harvard, Yale, and Guggenheim Fellowships — no
reason to sometimes wipe his literary opinion on others.

My father savored aged cheeses and knew the exact vineyard of every
bottle in his cellar collection gathered from regions where our
family wandered in succulent vineyards in France when I was a girl.
He and my mother would sip at wine tastings in dank vineyard cellars
where powdered, dust-coated wooden barrels and corked bottles were
turned with religious devotion.

Now, it’s a glass of milk at the side of his TV dinner in the nursing
home. He dazes at books with the pages turned upside down.

The day he finds out he is losing his mind, the scholar can’t recall,
on doctor’s orders for the simple test, two syllable words and the
bit of conversation after.

Table. Walnut. Diving.

My father says, “Alas I thought as much,” when doctors diagnose

Then, “Don’t much like the idea of an existence without my mind.”

I sat at his side in the neurologist’s waiting room, took his hand,
the size of a large paw which once terrified me, and leaned into his
six-foot plus frame.

“Toenails,” he said, and turned to me, his eyes wet, “After the mind
goes there’s not much left but toenails.”

account_box More About

Deborah Jiang Stein is a writer and speaker, and tours women's prison as an inspirational speaker. She's working on a memoir and short story collection. To contact her e-mail or visit