*This essay is a snapshot from 2019.*
When the days were unravelling from spring to summer it came to my attention that two bands who regularly lived in my headphones would be touring together. Shakey Graves and Lord Huron were scheduled to play at the Greek Theater in Berkeley for the first Friday in August. Summer is the busiest time of year for me so taking long vacations is out of the question. I dogsit for about six weeks of the season, teach an average of two-hundred swim lessons a month, write and research for this blog, and of course, maintain caregiving duties. Sanity is dependent on the sprinkling of activities and “me time” I allot myself during these months of high workload. A concert is typically a quick treat that puts space between me and the excessive commitments, so the decision to buy tickets was easy. That, and I had been dying to see these musicians perform live for quite some time.
With two tickets purchased I marked my beloved paper planner for August fourth. It seemed a decade away.
The abundance of order and repetition made the weeks go by like clockwork. My schedule was often the same, slightly manic and fast paced and highly structured. By the time August rolled around I was ready to get out of town for a bit, even if it meant driving just an hour away.
I had planned to bring a friend to the concert, but the few I asked had conflicting obligations and then I waited too long to figure out an alternative solution. So, on the Friday of the concert, I called my trusty sidekick to see if she wanted to be my rock and roll date.
Mom agreed but was thrown off by the idea of an unexpected outing. Anything that is outside of her weekly routine can cause her dementia symptoms to flare up. She becomes flustered, unfocused while attempting tasks, and repeats questions with more frequency.
Despite having a few hours to prepare, by the time I arrived at her house for pick up there were no shoes on her feet. At least her outfit was weather appropriate. I helped her complete her outfit and then we hit the road.
An hour before the concert was scheduled to start we claimed some ground level steps a mere thirty feet from the stage. A decade ago I would have stood right up next to it so I could drink in all of the sound waves and arresting musicianship. But this time was different. I was sitting with my mom sharing overpriced wine and curry, braiding her hair, and people watching as bright-eyed concert goers moseyed into the venue.
The first act was a talented singer from Australia who swooned us with luminous vocals and acoustic guitar. Mom hardly paid any mind to her. She had the distant, checked out look that someone with dementia can sometimes wear. Overstimulated and a bit tired, she didn’t respond much to my promptings of silly dance moves and jokes. On to the next act.
Shakey Graves began to play and my smile engulfed me. I even danced, which is a bigger deal than you might expect.
To my right I see Mom bopping out of sync to the music, hint of a smile forming on her face. My heart swells to the volume of my smile. Bringing her was the right decision.
The August night at last equally inky and bright, Shakey Graves left the stage to make way for the headliner. When Lord Huron appeared the set began with no introduction, just the straightforwardness of a song and the enjoyable theatrics of colored lights. The band was accompanied by a background of romantic desert landscapes playing on multiple oblong screens. At one point a disco ball dropped and ten thousand dancing stars showered the venue, animating what the sky above could not.
Mom and I held hands, swayed and swiveled and tapped to the beat. We payed tribute to the moment with our quiet offerings of movement, drowning ourselves in the intoxicating sound waves and starlight.
An hour from midnight the show ended, the overhead lights punctuating the finality. I tensed slightly at the anticipation of navigating through the thick crowd with Mom in tow. Her maternal instinct, or so I assume, took charge and she pulled me through the ebbing mob of people. I had to gently tug her back a few times through our interlaced fingers to keep her from surging too forcefully between bodies. That, and I didn’t want to lose her.
Safely outside we had one more obstacle to navigate. Two flights of stairs were the only path down to the street. The combination of it all, the dark, the unfamiliar setting and the overwhelming amount of people, gave me further hesitation. The last thing I wanted was for my mom to crumble down a set of concrete steps.
Pushing aside an annoying yet brief flash of impatience, I took a deep breath and guided her to the railing. Steadying the left half of herself by gripping my arm we made our way down, slowly and with purpose. Another wave of anxiety flooded me when I made the mistake of peeking over my shoulder to witness the hundreds of people behind us eager to move forward into the night.
“Take your time. There’s no rush,” I coaxed as equally to her as to me.
A few times she tried to move too quickly, closely missing a chance tumble or unnatural twist. Thankfully we avoided any incident or injury, in part to the collaboration of those around us. I am impressed by the graciousness of the college students directly behind us who echoed my sentiments. They gave us space to move and shielded us from any potential surge from the crowd. Not once did they roll their eyes or sigh at the half-speed of our pace.
Past the first hour of morning I pulled up in front of the driveway of Mom’s house. She slept not a wink the whole ride home, proving me wrong for my assumption that she would pass out the moment she tucked into the passenger seat for the return trip.
Unabashedly more exhausted than the woman twice my age, I was eager for my bed to swathe me in a dream state.
I don’t remember any dreams from that night, but I do know that the evening’s events provided enough gratification for a few hours of peace. Such a mighty gift amid the struggle that is disease.