Setting: Air Force One, during a heated debate about affirmative action. Toby says both his and CJ’s fathers need the GI Bill to succeed, while CJ says she is the wrong person to talk to about this issue. After further prodding she forcibly says:
CJ: After my father fought in Korea, he became what this government begs every college graduate to become. He became a teacher, and he raised a family on a teachers salary. And he paid his taxes, and always crossed at the green. And anytime there was an opportunity for career advancement, it took an extra five years because invariably there is a less-qualified black woman in the picture, so instead of retiring as superintendent of the Ohio Valley Union Free School District, he retired head of the math department at William Henry Harrison Junior High.
Toby: How is he these days?
Toby: Your dad.
A calm came over me, as I smiled at the script’s utter brilliance. Earlier in the episode, we are aware of CJ’s father’s dementia. CJ didn’t forget who they were talking about, or have a momentary lapse in thought. Her passionate lines, before Toby’s response, are describing someone else: the father she knew. She literally meant “Who are you referring to”.
This is striking, because sometimes we want to know where that person we knew so well, our father, our mother, our sister, or our friend, went. Their image may well be in front of us but something essential is lacking. Maybe their personality, their vibrancy, that spark in their eye that you once knew was reserved for only you. We, their loved ones, want to remember their legacy, and not just their current state.
But sometimes. We just miss them.
And the irony is, if I were to just say that aloud or if CJ said, “I miss him”, you might just ask me “who”?
That is Alzheimer’s.
Thank you, Aaron Sorkin for that honestly clear moment about this muddled, confusing disease.