Cast of Characters:
Emma: an inquisitive teen-aged daughter
Father: a neuroscientist with a love of theatre and the arts, Emma’s dad
Mother: a neurologist who loves to garden and grow flowers, Emma’s mom
David: a kind, sensitive nine year old boy who adores his sister, Emma
Mr. Jiang: protagonist of the play Remember Me, Alzheimer’s patient
Ms. Yun: first love of Mr. Jiang, separated during Chinese Civil War
Mrs. Jiang: sympathetic and supportive wife of Mr. Jiang
Nurse: caregiver to Mr. Jiang at the hospital in Taiwan
– – –
OPENING SCENE: VANCOUVER 2005
Setting: Friday family night in the dining room of a pleasant home. A bouquet of freshly cut flowers sits in a vase as a centerpiece on the table.
It is the end of a busy week of work and school for Emma and her family. The family walks into the room carrying restaurant take-out food. They sit down together at the dinner table and talk while enjoying their meal.
Mother: I just love the smell of those lilacs I cut and brought in from the garden.
Emma: Me too, mom. And the smell always reminds me of you.
Father: Emma, have you thought about some possible topics for your science class presentation?
Emma: Yeah. Lots of cool ideas. Hard to narrow it down.
David: Do it on dinosaurs! You taught me so much about them when you took me to the museum. I hope I know lotsa stuff like you do when I get older.
Emma (smiling): Thanks for the suggestion, David. And I love the stuffed animal of YOUR favorite dinosaur that you gave me for MY birthday. I will cherish it always.
Mother (smiling, too): Oh, Emma. It really says something that he chose to give you his best one!
Emma (groaning): I know.
David: Mom? My friend Patrick told me his grandma has old-timer’s disease.
Mother (laughing): Old-timer’s? I think you mean to say Alzheimer’s.
David (blushing): Oops. I guess I didn’t hear him right. Patrick was sad. I wish I could help him feel better.
Emma (putting her arm around David): You’re pretty good at cheering me up.
Father: My dad, your Grandpa, had Alzheimer’s too before he died.
Mother: You were very young at the time, David.
David: I don’t remember that.
Emma: I miss Grandpa. It was strange how confused he got sometimes. Why would that happen, dad?
Father: Alzheimer’s disease is complicated, Emma. It is hard to explain.
Emma: I want to know the details. I love it when you and mom teach me brain stuff…
Mother (interrupting): There is a famous dramatic play called Remember Me that weaves the tragic nature of Alzheimer’s into a beautiful but very sad love story. I think there is a production of it being staged this month here in Vancouver.
Father: I saw an advertisement. It is being put on by my favorite director.
Emma: Let’s get tickets!
END OF SCENE
– – –
SCENE 2: IN THE LOBBY OF A THEATRE ONE WEEK LATER
Mother: I’m so glad we decided to come to this. It reminds me of my childhood. My parents loved the theatre.
Father (excitedly): I really enjoy this director. This is going to be great.
Emma: I know it is sad and romantic, but what is the story about, dad?
Father: It takes place fifty years ago in Shanghai. As young adults, Mr. Jiang and Ms. Yun meet and fall in love. When the Chinese civil war started, they were separated and lost touch with each other. Not long after, Mr. Jiang escaped to Taiwan, got married to a different woman and settled down to work and raise a family. Mr. Jiang and Ms. Yun never saw each other again. Fifty years later, Mr. Jiang still missed his first love so much and longed to find out what became of her. He placed an ad looking for Ms. Yun in the local newspaper, hoping to find her and maybe see her one more time. His wife, Mrs. Jiang, was sympathetic and wanted her husband to be happy, so she found Ms. Yun and asked her to visit Mr. Jiang. Sadly, by that time, Mr. Jiang could not remember who she was because his Alzheimer’s was already at quite an advanced stage.
Emma: You’re right, mom. I don’t think David would have liked it.
Mother: We are lucky he didn’t mind staying over at Auntie and Uncle’s tonight.
Father: Let’s find our seats. I think the show is going to start soon.
(They walk with the crowd of other patrons into the darkened theatre.)
END OF SCENE
– – –
SCENE 3: THE PLAY BEGINS.
REMEMBER ME: ACT ONE
(In the autumn of 1948, Mr. Jiang is saying goodbye to his love Ms. Yun by the Huangpu River in Shanghai.)
Ms. Yun: “This silence is breathtaking! I’ve never seen such a quiet Shanghai. It feels like we’re the only two people in the entire city. That rain was so refreshing and the air smells like mint. Honey, see…the water is reflecting lights from the street lamp. This scene looks like…”
Mr. Jiang: “This scene looks like a dream.”
Ms. Yun: “Yeah…time is still…”
Mr. Jiang: “Time is still… this night is still, the moon is still…the street lamp and the swing, you and me…everything is still.”
Ms. Yun: “The weather is getting colder.”
Mr. Jiang put his coat on Ms. Yun, and then hugged her in arms.
Ms. Yun: “Honey, will you write to me after I leave Shanghai and go back to my hometown in south-western China?”
Mr. Jiang: “I have already written a stack of letters. After you arrive home, I’ll mail you one letter every single day.”
Ms. Yun smiled happily. She took out a scarf from her bag and put it around Mr. Jiang’s neck.
Mr. Jiang was surprised: “For me?”
Ms. Yun: “I knitted this for you out of the love in my heart. You look so handsome in it…after I leave, the winter will arrive. Remember to wear it every day. When you put it on, imagine that my warm arms are around you keeping you safe.”
They gazed deeply into each other’s eyes.
Ms. Yun: “This will be the first time that my family has reunited since the Anti-Japanese War began. My brother and sister are coming back too! Honey, do you know? All families in my hometown would prepare pine needles and dumplings during the New Year…”
Mr. Jiang (looking depressed): “I’m so glad you can go home and be with your family.”
Ms. Yun: “Oh, honey, I know you miss your hometown too. I hope someday you’ll also be able to go home and see your parents in Northeast China!”
Ms. Yun gave him a hug and comforted him: “The war is going to end and we’re still alive. We survived! We should thank God! Life is so tough and full of hardships. We should try to remember these happy moments and forget the sad ones.”
Mr. Jiang: “There are always some things that you can’t forget…”
Ms. Yun: “Promise me that will try, honey.”
Mr. Jiang: “Well, just like these moments between us…do you think it will be so easy for me to forget them?”
Ms. Yun: “Honey, I’m not asking you to forget the special moments between us. I mean the unpleasant things we have faced during these difficult times. The war, the fighting, the death. You must learn to let them go. We have suffered a lot these years, but a new era is coming…” Ms. Yun looked at her watch: “Oh, it’s so late…I have to leave now, or I will miss my train…”
Mr. Jiang: “Ok, sweetheart, take care of yourself…”
They embrace each other passionately.
Ms. Yun: “What do you plan to do after I leave?”
Mr. Jiang: “Wait for you…”
Ms. Yun: “And?”
Mr. Jiang: “Wait for you…”
Ms. Yun: “Then?”
Mr. Jiang: “Wait for you…”
– – –
(In the autumn of 1995, Mr. Jiang is sitting in a chair in his room on the Alzheimer’s ward of National Taiwan University Hospital. Mr. Jiang is gazing out the window, and his nurse is discussing the current condition of Mr. Jiang’s Alzheimer’s with Mrs. Jiang just outside the door to his room. Mrs. Jiang nods and walks away down the hall. The Nurse turns and enters the room.)
Nurse: “Good morning, Mr. Jiang! Did you sleep well last night? The weather is beautiful today. You should have a walk outside.”
The Nurse walks over and helps Mr. Jiang into his wheelchair and hands him a copy of the newspaper China Times.
Nurse: “Mr. Jiang, was that you who posted this notice in China Times?”
The Nurse begins to read the notice: “Ms. Yun, it has been more than 40 years since we were separated in Shanghai…” The Nurse looks over toward Mr. Jiang: “Who is this lady, Mr. Jiang? Could you tell me your story?”
Mr. Jiang: “How old are you?”
Nurse: “I am 19.”
Mr. Jiang: “Then you may not understand my story…”
Nurse: “Oh, please…Mr. Jiang. I will understand it. Please tell me. I can understand all my grandpa’s stories…”
Mr. Jiang smiled and said: “In 1948, I met Ms. Yun in Shanghai. It was the happiest summer in my life. Later, she had to leave for her hometown in the autumn. We kissed goodbye and promised to stay in touch with each other…however, I’ve never received any news from her since then…”
Nurse: “And you have never forgotten her after all this time?”
Mr. Jiang: “There will always be certain things that can’t be forgotten, even after a lifetime…”
Nurse: “A mere summer romance? Don’t be silly! Look at me, for instance. Do you remember my ex-boyfriend, Shen? I think you’ve met him several times.”
Mr. Jiang: “What are you trying to say?”
Nurse: “We broke up two weeks ago. I’ve been trying to think about his face these days…guess what? I can’t even remember what he looks like…”
Mr. Jiang frowns and remains silent.
Nurse: “But it seems strange that you are still holding on to this memory. If you’ve been missing her, why didn’t you look for her earlier?”
Mr. Jiang: “I thought she was still living in mainland China all these years. After I moved here, I had to work hard and make money for family. My body has grown old and my health has deteriorated over the years. I can’t manage travelling over long distances, anymore. I did ask an old friend to seek out any news about her for me in south-western China.”
Mr. Jiang: “However, I didn’t hear any news about her until recently. My friend told me that she also came to Taiwan during the Civil War!”
Nurse: “Oh…how much did you pay for the notice?”
Mr. Jiang ignores her question: “If she were to read the notice, do you think she would come to see me?”
The Nurse smiles: “It has been a long time…well, probably…I think if it was me, I would come…”
Mrs. Jiang enters the room with flowers in her hands.
Nurse: “Good morning, Mrs. Jiang!”
Mrs. Jiang: “Morning!”
Nurse: “Oh, these flowers are so fresh and beautiful!”
Mrs. Jiang looks at Mr. Jiang and asks: “Did you have a good sleep last night?”
Mr. Jiang: “Yeah…it was fine…”
Mrs. Jiang: “Miss Lin (Nurse’s surname), how was Mr. Jiang’s blood pressure this morning?”
Nurse: “It was fine. There is nothing to worry about.”
Mrs. Jiang: “Thanks, when will the doctor be in to see him today?”
The Nurse looks at her watch: “I think he’ll arrive very soon.”
Mrs. Jiang turns to Mr. Jiang: “What would you like to have for lunch today? Let me prepare it for you. Are you hungry for some vegetables and noodles?”
Mrs. Jiang asks the Nurse in a low voice: “Miss Lin…Mr. Jiang seems to be depressed and anxious recently…”
Nurse: “This happens to Alzheimer’s patients sometimes.”
Mrs. Jiang: “Miss Lin, did you read China Times this morning?”
The Nurse hesitantly replies: “Oh…not yet…why do you ask?”
Mrs. Jiang: “Oh…nothing…”
Mrs. Jiang bends down to put the newspaper into the drawer.
Nurse: “Hmm, Mrs. Jiang…Mr. Jiang is really a good man.”
Upon hearing this, Mrs. Jiang smiles at the Nurse.
Nurse: “How long have you two been married?”
Mrs. Jiang smiles: “Oh, many years!”
Nurse: “What did Mr. Jiang look like when he was young?”
Mrs. Jiang: “He was very handsome. But he was always quiet like this…he’s a little solitary. When he has free time, he just makes himself a cup of tea. I often don’t know what he is thinking in his mind. Neither I nor our youngest son dares to ask him. Luckily, we can still respect each other and take care of our family together. It was a few years ago that I noticed his memory began to get worse. He often lost things and forgot what he what he was trying to do in the middle of doing it. There was one time when he and our neighbor Mr. Zhang planned to go fishing one weekend, but he was still watching TV at home when Mr. Zhang was waiting for him. Later, when we asked him about it, he exclaimed, ‘how could this happen? I didn’t remember that we made any plans…’.”
Nurse: “Hmm, disordered memory is a typical symptom of Alzheimer’s at early stages.”
Mrs. Jiang: “Miss Lin, have you seen the results of my husband’s head CT scan that he had done last week?”
Nurse: “Yeah, I just saw it this morning. The doctor said that CT results showed a clear atrophy in regions of the cerebral cortex, especially in the hippocampus. Let’s wait for doctor, and he’ll explain things in more detail to you.”
Mrs. Jiang: “OK, I just wish my husband’s disease won’t get worse too quickly. I hope he will be able to participate in our youngest son’s wedding, when he graduates from university.”
The Nurse holds Mrs. Jiang’s hands and comforts her: “God bless him, Mrs. Jiang.”
END OF SCENE
– – –
SCENE 4: INTERMISSION
(In the lobby of the theatre…)
Mother: Please hold my bag, honey. I need to find the ladies room. Be right back.
Father: Ok, dear.
Father hands a bottle of water to Emma and asks her: How do you like the show so far, Emma?
Emma: I love this story, dad, though it seems to be a little sad…
Emma pauses for a few seconds and then continues: I can’t believe Mr. Jiang had kept Ms. Yun in his mind for half a century…what an unwavering love! It’s so touching, dad.
Father looks lovingly at his daughter’s cute face and smiles kindly.
Emma: But why could he still remember those old scenes so clearly after almost fifty years?
Father: Hmm…those old scenes were stored in his brain as long-term memories. Every time that he recalled them, those memories could be extracted from certain parts of his brain.
Emma: Interesting. Neuroscience is cool. Could you explain more to me, dad?
Father’s face beams with pride that his Emma was such a curious child with a strong desire to learn.
Father: In our brain, there is one area called the ‘Hippocampus’, which is mainly responsible for memory and learning. Short-term memory in our daily life is stored in the hippocampus, and if some information, such as a phone number or a name, is repeated by us again and again, the hippocampus will transfer it into the cerebral cortex of brain where it will become a long-term memory.
Emma: Oh, thus the hippocampus plays an important role in memory formation?
Father: Yeah…the first experimental evidence of human memory formation and storage dates back to 1950s in the last century. A young American patient named Henry Molaison had intractable epilepsy, and his doctor performed a surgery on him to remove two-thirds of his hippocampus…
Emma: Oh my gosh! Sounds risky…then what happened?
Father: His epilepsy symptoms were better controlled after the surgery.
Emma: Wow! It worked!
Father: However, they were surprised to find that, after the surgery, Henry Molaison could not form new memories.
Emma: No wonder that Mr. Jiang would often forget things…I heard the nurse say his CT results showed his hippocampus was atrophic. That means it shrunk, right?
Father clears his throat and continues: Another thing I think you’ll find cool is the concept of neuro-plasticity. It is one of the things we are studying in my lab right now. The brain changes and adapts over time. The neurons in our brain undergo dynamic morphology changes, meaning they can alter their shape and form, especially at their synapses.
Emma: Synapse? What’s a synapse?
Father explains: Synapses allow neurons to communicate by transmitting signals. Each one consists of three parts: the pre-synaptic membrane, the synaptic cleft and the postsynaptic membrane; at a synaptic contact, one neuron secretes neurotransmitters via its pre-synaptic membrane into the synaptic cleft, affecting another neuron via its postsynaptic membrane. In this way, information is transmitted between them.
Emma: Do you mean neurons can ‘talk’ through synaptic contacts about what’s happening? Thus, synaptic contact is the biological basis for communications between neurons?
Father: Smart girl, you get it. During the formation of long-term memory, neurons in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex are forming new synapses all the time.
Emma: Fascinating! You are so knowledgeable, dad.
Mother: Guys, this old theater is so pretty. Why don’t we take a picture together here?
Emma hugs her mom’s arm: Oh, mom, good idea! I’m enjoying this. I want to remember tonight.
Smiling together, the family takes a selfie. They wait happily for the second half of the show.
END OF SCENE
– – –
SCENE 5: THE PLAY CONCLUDES
(In the winter of 1998, Ms. Yun comes to visit Mr. Jiang at the Alzheimer’s ward of National Taiwan University Hospital. However, Mr. Jiang doesn’t remember her because his Alzheimer’s has worsened and he has become very sick.)
The Nurse is measuring Mr. Jiang’s blood pressure while Mrs. Jiang pauses from serving breakfast to him. An old lady appears at the door of the ward.
Ms. Yun: “Please…could you tell me…is there a Mr. Jiang living in this room?”
Mrs. Jiang smiles: “Oh…you have finally arrived for a visit.”
Ms. Yun smiles and looks down shyly.
Nurse: “Mrs. Jiang, would you like me to accompany you for a walk in the garden?”
Mrs. Jiang: “Sure. The sun is so lovely. Let’s stretch ourselves and get some fresh air.”
Mrs. Jiang and the Nurse leave the ward.
Mr. Jiang looks into Ms. Yun’s face with a confused expression: “You…”
Ms. Yun: “Your wife invited…I saw your notice in the newspaper. How do you feel today?”
Mr. Jiang: “Hmm…fine, thank you…”
Ms. Yun: “I didn’t know that you have been living in Taiwan.”
Mr. Jiang: “You seem…so… familiar…”
Ms. Yun looked at Mr. Jiang’s scarf: “This scarf…”
Mr. Jiang: “Oh…this scarf has a nice color…I like wearing it in winter, because the winter here is so cold…”
Ms. Yun: “how long have you been living in Taiwan?”
Mr. Jiang: “Hmm…I live in my home…”
Ms. Yun: “After we were separated, I returned to my hometown and never heard from you…shortly after the civil war began, my brother decided to take our family and leave China. We escaped to Thailand, then Vietnam, and after a few years, we arrived in Taiwan…we decided to settle down here.”
Mr. Jiang remains silent, staring at Ms. Yun with a puzzled look.
Ms. Yun: “Hmm…Actually, I saw your notice in the newspaper about three years ago…I just…”
Mr. Jiang: “Newspaper?”
Ms. Yun: “Yeah, newspaper…I just didn’t have the courage to come and see you.”
Mr. Jiang, with eyes looking somewhat vacant: “Oh…you look very young…”
Ms. Yun smiles and says: “Thank you. I’m already a grandmother for three kids.”
(There is a short silence.)
Ms. Yun: “…have you thought about me during these years?”
Mr. Jiang suddenly reaches out and shakes hands with Ms. Yun: “…oh…sister! You came back? When did you come back? When will you leave? … ”
Ms. Yun whispers quietly: “like strangers… I should have come sooner.”
Ms. Yun lowered her head slowly and says: “Oh…maybe I should leave…my son is waiting for me outside.”
She gets up from the chair and puts Mr. Jiang’s a small blanket over his shoulders. Then she attempts a smile, but it is strained and sad: “Hmm…take care…I’ll let Mrs. Jiang know we had a nice talk…thanks…bye…”
She leaves the room and closes the door gently. In the hallway she stops, tears begin flowing down from her eyes.
END OF SCENE
– – –
SCENE 6: RETURNING HOME
(While walking on their way back home, Emma holds her parents’ hands.)
Emma: Mom, have you met many Alzheimer’s patients in your workplace?
Mother: Yes, darling. There are many Alzheimer’s patients in our hospital. The number of people with this disease is rising sharply in Canada as the number of elderly people within the population expands.
Emma: Do they suffer memory loss as well, like Mr. Jiang in this show?
Mother: Yes, the most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is failure to remember newly learned information, because of a variety of pathological changes. These are things like nerve cell death and tissue loss, typically beginning in the hippocampus, that affects memory and learning.
Emma: Dad told me the hippocampus is responsible for memory formation.
Mother continues: As the disease advances through the brain, patients tend to experience more severe symptoms, including disorientation, mood and behavior changes. They often get confused about time, place and events.
Emma: And people too?
Emma (looking a little sad): Mr. Jiang can’t recognize Ms. Yun…
Mother: You’re right…Sometimes Alzheimer’s patients can’t even recognize their family members, and friends. In the final stages, it’s also difficult for them to speak, swallow and walk.
Emma: Why does this happen…I mean, why do some neurons die in their brain?”
Mother: Good question. It likely involves a protein called Tau. Normal tau proteins help stabilize the cytoskeleton of neurons. But in Alzheimer’s patients, abnormal tau proteins collapse into twisted strands and form neurofibrillary tangles inside neurons. When the structure of their cytoskeleton is destroyed, these neurons will eventually die.
Emma looks carefully into her mother’s eyes.
Mother: In addition to this, there are also plaques formed between neurons, which are abnormal clusters of β-amyloid protein fragments. These plaque clusters may block cell-to-cell signaling at synapses, affecting biochemical communications between neurons.
Emma: I see. I guess these tangles and plaques spread from the hippocampus to the cortex as Alzheimer’s progresses.
Mother: You’re very bright, darling.
Emma smiles and blushes: Thanks, mom. I’m wondering though, how can doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s?
Mother: Doctors make judgments based on symptoms, neurological and neuropsychological exam, blood tests, brain imaging, a multitude of factors. However, there’s no specific test now which can accurately confirm this disease. Researchers and doctors are working together to develop better diagnostic tools to help diagnose Alzheimer’s.
Emma: Are there good methods of treating Alzheimer’s?
Mother: Some medicines may help slow down patients’ symptoms in the early or middle stages of Alzheimer’s, and good diet and exercise are also helpful. But there is no effective treatment to stop this disease at the present time. If you’d like to know more about Alzheimer’s, I’ll give you some medical textbooks to look through later.
Father: Emma, you’ve learned a lot today, haven’t you?
Emma said happily: Ha-ha, both of you are good teachers. Thank you, mom and dad. I’m lucky to have you.
The three of them walk slowly in the shadow of moon and stars, heading back towards their warm home.
END OF SCENE
– – –
SCENE 7: VANCOUVER 2065
Six decades later, elderly Emma is sitting against the window in the Alzheimer’s ward of a hospital, and watches the flowers in the garden. There is a faded picture in a frame sitting on top of her desk with a middle-aged couple and a young girl smiling in it. Perched atop her dresser is a small stuffed dinosaur.
Emma turns and sees the picture. She stands and picks it up.
Emma (aloud to the empty room): I know these people from somewhere. I remember that they were a lovely family.
There is a knock on the door frame and in walks an elderly David carrying flowers. Emma’s face lights up with a happy grin.
Emma: It’s you!
David: Good morning, Emma. How are you feeling today?
Emma: A bit better, I suppose. Come. Let me have a sniff of that beautiful bouquet.
David: Fresh cut lilacs.
Emma leans in and smells them.
Emma: Mother! Oh David. I miss her so much. Where is dad?
David helps Emma over to a chair to sit down.
David: Dad passed away earlier this year, Emma.
Emma begins to cry.
Emma: He did?
David nods his head and sits down beside her. He puts his arm around her.
David: The weather is perfect today. I will take you out for a stroll later, sis.
Emma rests her head on David’s shoulder.
The lights go dark and the curtains close.