June Aman no longer laughs when her husband teases her, which he does fairly often. When she complains about how long it takes Dave to fix something, he says she never told him she was in a hurry. When she says he has no one else to pick on, he responds, “You poor thing.” Sometimes, he speaks about her beauty in the past tense and doesn’t correct it when she needles him about it.
She stiffens when the man she has been married to for the past 56 years pokes at her. His stings hurt June, but they also worry her, because she’s not sure when he’s kidding or when he’s covering up his inability to contribute anything else to the conversation. Three years ago, Dave was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. And when he jokingly says of the doctors who made the diagnosis, “What do they know?” the knot inside June tightens.
Dave and June were born three days apart and have known each other since they were 10, growing up across the street from each other in the northern reaches of New York state. They dated as teenagers, married at 18 and raised six children. They still hold hands and gaze into each other’s eyes, but these days the look in Dave’s eyes is cloudy and glazed. He seems absent, and it’s hard to tell if he’s following a conversation or just pretending to. And June never knows when his teasing is done with endearment or when it’s hiding the fact that his mind is eroding.
Soon, Dave will probably forget who June is. Already, he is incontinent, unable to dress himself and occasionally verbally abusive. They had just sold their farm and begun enjoying their retirement when Dave’s symptoms began. “I get angry with God,” June says.
June and Dave live in the small town of Ontario, New York – just a couple of miles from the shores of Lake Ontario, where they’ve spent their entire lives. The region was covered in farmland until not too long ago. Rochester, the closest city, is just 25 miles away.