Pretzels were invented by friars who baked them. They just as easily could have been invented by bakers who fried them.
Let that twist around in your mind for a while. It can be your first pretzel thought.
My pretzel thoughts aren’t limited to ones about doughy treats purchased from sidewalk vendors in New York City or giggling teenagers in any decent-sized suburban mall. Or any suburban-sized decent mall.
No, mine are twisted unlimited doughy blobs oozing from my cranial orifices as I attempt to puzzle my way through what were once simple daily chores of life or questions of being.
For instance, CF and I might be chugging down the highway on our way to visit her mother in the next town when she innocently asks me, “Do you think we should stop at the grocery store on our way home?”
Could there be a more innocent question? Could there be a simpler interchange between two people who have lived together for thirty years? Could there be an easier way for things to go wrong so easily, so quickly, so completely?
It is clear that something has gone wrong when I do not answer her. She turns to look at me and sees that my face has twisted itself to somewhat resemble a pretzel (hence the name).
“Never mind,” she says. “I thought it was an easy question.”
“It is,” I sputter, or more correctly squeak, in my post-stroke voice, “it’s just that I don’t—I can’t—I’m not sure—”
And it’s true. I don’t. I can’t. I’m not sure. May we leave it at that? Yeah. Didn’t think so.
See, right now I’m concentrating on riding in the car and being the passenger. That’s not very hard. I’ve gotten pretty good at that, now that I have a sense of balance again. But at the same time I have to think about visiting CF’s mother and what that involves. That is a lot more work.
Her house is small and crowded with furniture, so I will have to walk very carefully. It will be noisy and crowded, because other relatives will be there too. And CF’s mother keeps the heat turned up and the large television turned on, not easy things for me to deal with.
Trying to keep my mind focused on how to maneuver through all of the details of her house exhausts me before we even get there. I have to remember who is going to be there. I have to remember if we are going to be eating a meal or not. I have to remember if it is someone’s birthday or if it is a holiday or what occasion it is. I have to remember why we are there. I have to remember.
When was the last time I saw her mother? Her sister? Her other sister? The grandchildren? Which caregiver is going to be there? I have to get all the names right.
Pile on to this the additional weight of remembering family history, social graces, personal hygiene, common sense, and good manners, and I have a heap of stuff ready to ooze out. I am doing all I can to keep up with everything when CF asks her innocent little question:
“Do you think we should stop at the grocery store on our way home?”
It’s one thought too many. One thought more than my brain can bear. One thought stuck on the same track, running around an endless loop, going nowhere fast, faster and faster. A loop-de-loop that leaves me loopy.
One thought more than a brain fried by a stroke can untwist. One thought more than a brain baked by a stroke can untangle.
When I first mentioned pretzel thoughts, I referred to a ridiculous fight CF and I had 30 years ago over a can of black olives. It occurred as we sat in our car, me wearing a filthy softball uniform after a game, she dressed like a human being. We were on our way to a potluck softball team party, and we were arguing over how many cans of black olives to take. I wanted to take one more than she did.
We nearly broke up over this absurd fight, but it taught us to have a signal to snap our way out of such silly things. (Sometime I’ll tell you about our very important Three Time Rule, which sometimes only takes One Time.)
Once some ooze cleared, I immediately realized that we needed a signal to use with pretzel thoughts, because they were likely to occur at the most inopportune times, especially in the presence of people who might not be aware of my medical history, which would suddenly place a huge burden on CF to explain why my face had contorted itself into a clown-like silence.
My preferred signal is a foppish waggle of my arm, simple and clear. It could be construed to mean, “I’m choking on a piece of strudel; please use Heimlich maneuver.”
Then, if there isn’t any strudel around, maybe we could get some. Maybe at the local sidewalk vendor or suburban mall, where we get our other fine German baked goods.