Alzheimer's walk in city tunnels reminds me of my mom's mental maze there's got to be some dark hu mour in holding a fundraising walk for folks with dementia in a maze of tunnels.
But here we are in the subterranean city families, kids, strollers, young and old, many with photographs of a parent or grandparent pinned to their chests. The winter sun streams through the BCE Place atrium as the participants in the Alzheimer Society of Toronto's 15th annual Walk for Memories tank up on complimentary juice and muffins before heading out through the underground PATH.
It feels a lot like summer; it feels a little like hope.
A lone bagpiper in full battle dress hits a high note, and the converging mass follows him down the escalator like some giant, undulating brain wave. I start my deep breathing exercises and pray I don't get lost.
Most days feel like a losing battle. I'm one of the one in four Canadians who has someone with Alzheimer disease in my family. There's no cure and no treatment. It strikes women twice as often as men.
As things loosen up and the walkers spread out, strangers start to chat. I hook up for a bit with the Eva Marie Saints, a team of mostly young men with fuzzy red halos bouncing on their heads. This is their second year walking in memory of one member's grandmother, Eva, and another's mother, Marie.
Spending a lot of time with my mother and her friends at the nursing home, I've become preoccupied with the concept of memory. What sticks with us? What's first to go? How do we negotiate our way through life when we no longer recognize the markers?
Underneath Scotia Plaza, most of the stores are closed for the weekend, the shoeshine chairs empty. We pass a hair salon and peek in at someone getting a do. An elderly couple lean against a wall, holding hands, the husband clutching a brown teddy bear.
I negotiate a blind bend and run into someone I know. She's convinced Alzheimer's is caused by aluminum in deodorants and that more women get it because more women use deodorant. I wonder if it's just the years piling up like a drystone wall. We agree that it really sucks to watch a parent turn into someone you don't know, and who doesn't know you.
At every twist and turn, fresh-faced volunteers in voluminous blue T-shirts guide us, waving their arms like semaphore signallers. The mood is kept light by en route entertainers a brass quartet, a cellist, a sitar player cross-legged on the floor.
We reach the halfway mark at the Sheraton Centre food court, where the forces stop to chug water, retie laces and sing along to a rousing rendition of Gypsy Rover.
The overheated corridors and hard floors are getting to me, and I'm not a happy wanderer. As I trudge back alone after a bathroom break, I feel like I'm my mother walking, blank-eyed, around and around the hallways looking for her room.
Back in the light, I'm congratulated as enthusiastically as if I'd just run the Boston Marathon and am handed a baby-blue bracelet stamped with the word "Unforgettable."