Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Old Man thinks he's John Wayne!

"The Old Man" is my stepfather, who's been in an Alzheimer's hospice since February of 2008. As his mind deteriorates, he's gotten more and more prone to violent outbursts (threatening my mother is what got him put in the Hospice).

This past Friday evening, he got into a brawl with one of the other patients, and I have to wonder if either of them even knew what the fighting was about. I wonder how much of "him" is even still in there. The last time I visited, on Thanksgiving, he was lucid enough to recognize me, my mother, and my sister, but he was convinced that we were all in some restaurant in Tallahassee, and that I'd driven in from somewhere.

We were all fabulously wealthy. Did you know my stepfather owns Florida State University? Talk to me--I'll hook you up.


I've thought of him as "The Old Man" for quite some time--more than a decade, maybe two. He adopted me when I was about 5. It only took him a few years and some pretty brutal beltings to alienate me.

He wasn't the sort of man who simply administers a few swats to let you know you've messed up. Nope. His approach was more like a frenzied lashing with that wide, black leather belt. He got so unhinged once that the buckle slipped out of his hand and cut me just above the waistband of my shorts. I was 6. I don't even remember what I did, but I can't imagine that I ever did anything to deserve whippings like those. I can still see the blood. There wasn't a lot, mind you, but does there need to be?

There were other things, like threatening to take an axe handle to me or hitting me for not wanting to eat dinner.

But thinking of things like these, it's no wonder I've got contempt for authority and some pretty deep-set anger issues.

Anyway, I've had that in the background for 35 years, and it's hard to set aside, but I hate seeing him dying by inches. The trigger for the "full-on Alzheimer's" was a "mini-stroke" in January of 2006 that also brought on Capgras Delusion (the belief that a close relative is an imposter). My mother was now her own twin sister, the guy in the mirror was an imposter, and there were people coming out of the photos on the walls.

He would freak out over the mirror and the photos. He couldn't tell time. He could barely find his way to the part-time rent-a-cop job he took in 2006. Couldn't fill out his timesheet. He accused his wife of infidelity. He kept hallucinating people--he saw people screwing in the family car. At one point he asked me the number for 9-1-1.

Given the choice, I'd rather die of a stroke, in my sleep, than go on for a few more years after that in a waking nightmare like his.

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